WASHINGTON — The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) warned airlines Wednesday to watch for explosives hidden in the shoes of passengers flying into the United States from overseas, officials said.
The alert was based on new intelligence indicating that a shoe bomb may be used to blow up a U.S.-bound jetliner, said two law-enforcement officials who described the bulletin on condition of anonymity.
Officials said the threat was not specific to a particular airline, flight, country or time. It also was not related to the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, they said.
The alert was issued “out of an abundance of caution,” a Homeland Security official said. The agency declined to discuss specifics of the warning sent to airlines.
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Airport screeners at international airports were instructed to step up scrutiny of passengers boarding flights for the United States.
Screeners will increase use of swabs that can detect traces of explosive powder on shoes, bags and hands. They also are likely to pull aside more passengers for pat-downs and full-body screening, officials said.
A U.S. intelligence official told The Associated Press that the notice reiterated that liquids, shoes and certain cosmetics were of concern, all of which are covered under existing Transportation Security Administration (TSA) security policies.
The official said “something caused DHS concern, but it’s a very low threshold to trigger a warning like this.” The official spoke on condition of anonymity.
Earlier this month, Homeland Security warned airlines with flights to Russia to be on the lookout for explosive devices possibly hidden inside toothpaste. The TSA banned passengers from bringing any liquids in their carry-on luggage on nonstop flights from the United States to Russia. That warning became public just days before the opening ceremonies of the Winter Olympics.
In December 2001, three months after the Sept. 11 attacks, British national Richard Reid made the world aware of shoe bombs when the al-Qaida operative boarded an American Airlines flight from Paris to Miami with explosives packed in his sneakers.
Passengers and crew members subdued Reid when he attempted to ignite the explosives. They failed to detonate and Reid was arrested after the plane made an emergency landing at Logan International Airport in Boston.
Reid pleaded guilty to eight counts of criminal terrorism in federal court in 2002 and is serving a life sentence in prison.
Air passengers in the United States have had to take off their shoes at airport security checkpoints since shortly after Reid was arrested.
TSA in recent years has changed some procedures to allow young children and passengers 75 and older to keep their shoes on. There also are programs that allow some passengers to avoid having to remove their shoes, jackets and small amounts of liquids packed that are packed in carry-on luggage.