Schuster: Al Qaeda's playbook evolving
CNN's senior investigative producer Henry Schuster
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ATLANTA, Georgia (CNN) -- British authorities have arrested at least 21 people suspected of plotting to blow up passenger jets heading from Britain to the United States. U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said the plans were "suggestive of an al Qaeda plot."
CNN's Tony Harris discussed the plot with senior investigative producer Henry Schuster.
HARRIS: Henry, first of all, talk to us, if you would, about the details of this plot and how those details to conceal liquid explosives into carry-on luggage bags is indicative of kind of the evolving thinking of these terrorist groups.
SCHUSTER: Well, Tony, I spoke just a little while ago with a former Scotland Yard inspector who was involved in many of these counterterrorism cases, and he says that there is a couple of things that you have to pull away from this.
One is that obviously we're talking about, as he said, initiated devices, suicide bombers.
Two, how would they over the period of years from 1994, when we first saw from al Qaeda this sort of planning to put bombs on airplanes. In fact in 1994, al Qaeda actually pulled off a test run of one of these bombs that was assembled on an airplane using liquid explosives and a detonator. In that case, it was a Casio watch. Here the thinking is that it might have been one of these electric key fobs.
So he says ... we're only talking about a small amount of explosives. Look at what Richard Reid, the shoe bomber, had. That was only a small amount of explosives, yet it was enough to bring down a plane, and that was much evolved from what happened in 1994.
In 1995 and 1996, there was a plot to bring down up to 11 transoceanic flights from the Pacific into the United States. This plot is very reminiscent of that. So you begin to see where there's an evolution of the al Qaeda playbook here.
HARRIS: Let me just ask you, why continue to target aircraft? Are there vulnerabilities that the terrorists are aware of in the system to protect all of us?
SCHUSTER: Well, there's a couple of reasons, Tony. And the first one is that -- and I spoke to someone this morning who said, you have to remember, they do what they know how to do. And in this case, they've been trying aircraft, they've been trying public transportation for more than a decade.
I mean, you could look back to 1994. So this is what they know. I mean, we expect them to be much more sophisticated and ... we say, why aren't they going after shopping malls? Why aren't they going after other targets? But this is what they know.
And there is -- think about this -- I mean, mass murder on an unimaginable scale is the way the British talk about what would have happened. So the impact here...
HARRIS: I see.
SCHUSTER: And then you have Osama bin Laden earlier this year saying, we have plots under way against you that you don't even know about. Now, you know, these guys do have a tendency to say what they mean, even if some of what they're doing is propaganda. They don't make idle threats.
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