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Cargo planes draw more concern

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Acts of terror

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Department of Homeland Security on Friday issued an advisory to the air cargo industry and state and local law enforcement agencies, informing them of a possible al Qaeda threat to use cargo planes as a weapon.

Department spokesman Brian Roehrkasse said the advisory went out to those responsible for protecting the domestic infrastructure including dams, bridges and nuclear plants.

Separately, a senior U.S. official told CNN there has been "chatter" suggesting that al Qaeda terrorists might try to fly cargo planes from outside the United States into facilities inside the country such as nuclear power plants.

U.S. Rep. Edward Markey, D-Mass., a senior member of the House Select Committee on Homeland Security, said that the "most important thing we can do to protect our nuclear power plants, our dams, other tall buildings is to make sure that al Qaeda cannot successfully hijack a cargo plane.

"Cargo planes in the United States are at the top of the terrorist target list for al Qaeda because they know that if they could use one of them as a flying bomb it would once again psychologically devastate our country."

Security concerns about cargo grew in September when a New York man shipped himself inside a crate to his parents' home near Dallas, Texas. Charles McKinley wasn't detected inside the crate until he arrived at his destination and kicked out the side of the container.

Labels on the crate indicated it contained computer equipment.

Last month, three industry groups recommended the Transportation Security Administration upgrade air cargo security since most cargo on planes is never screened. (Full story)

The industry groups -- representing airline pilots, airlines, cargo companies and victims of the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, among others -- make up the Aviation Security Advisory Committee.

They also recommended changes for cargo airlines. Chief among them: improving perimeter security at air cargo facilities, instituting random screening for anyone with access to ramps, securing unattended aircraft and controlling access to cargo sitting on the ramp.

For cargo on passenger planes, the groups urged beefing up the "known shipper" program by developing a federal database to check more thoroughly each shipper before its cargo is placed on a plane.

Currently, a shipper must be registered with the TSA. The airline or cargo company checks out the shipper to make sure it is legitimate. Airlines cannot carry cargo from a company or person they do not know or who is not a "known shipper."

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