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UK raises threat level to critical

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A statement from Scotland Yard said it believed the attacks would have targeted UK flights to the U.S.

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(CNN) -- The UK Home Office has raised the terrorism threat level in Britain to its highest state, "critical," which is used when an attack is considered imminent.

Home Secretary John Reid said Thursday morning that the decision was taken at 2 a.m., as a number of arrests were made overnight in London by the Metropolitan Police Department's anti-terrorist branch and security service.

Scotland Yard said the arrests disrupted what police believe was a major terrorist plot to blow up aircraft in flight, likely between the United Kingdom and the United States,

Reid said the increased security measures put in place at British airports Thursday morning by the Transport Department would cause "major disruption."

But he said that "as far as possible, we want people to go about their business" as normal.

He said police would have more to say about the security operations later in the day.

Transport Secretary Douglas Alexander said the stepped-up security measures, which now require passengers to be hand-searched and the checking-in of all passenger hand baggage -- with some exceptions -- would result in immediate and severe disruptions, resulting in significant delays.

Alexander said the measures would be kept under review and would only be in place for as long as necessary.

He said that he recognized that the measures meant that airline passengers would face immensely difficult circumstances.

CNN's Richard Quest said that 186,000 people fly in and out of London Heathrow daily. He said the "massive ramping up" of security entailed in the new measures would inevitably mean a lot more delays.

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