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Britain tightens air security after Yemen bomb scare, renewing civil liberty concerns

After criticism of its initial response to the threat of Yemeni cargo-hold bombs, Britain is moving to close loopholes surrounding freight transportation and tighten vetting of travelers.

By Correspondent / November 2, 2010

Cargo containers are driven past signs at the cargo center area of Heathrow Airport in west London on Nov. 1. Britain's Home Secretary Theresa May said on Sunday security around all international air cargo arriving in Britain was being reviewed after a bomb sent from Yemen was found aboard an aircraft at a regional airport.

Toby Melville/Reuters



Smarting from criticism of its initial response to the threat of Yemeni cargo-hold bombs, Britain is now moving not only to close off potential loopholes surrounding freight transportation but also to tighten its vetting of travelers.

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“We are doing all we can to make sure that there are no gaps in our defenses," said Home Secretary Theresa May on Monday as she outlined US-style procedures such as no-fly lists for suspected terrorists and passenger profiling alongside the banning of unaccompanied air freight from Yemen.

After a bomb originating from Yemen was detected at a British airport in a cargo plane as a result of an intelligence tip-off rather than from scanning, the British government was left scrambling.

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Despite the renewed spotlight on an Al Qaeda threat, security hawks in Britain are hardly being praised by the public.

In fact, an increase in airport security is fueling a growing backlash from travelers and the airline industry just as, coincidentally, the government faces an emerging rebellion from libertarian-minded MPs in its own ranks over the retention of what are widely perceived as draconian counterterror measures in the wider society.

At the heart of the debate

Enter the issue of "control orders," essentially home curfews imposed on terror suspects – one of the most sensitive civil liberty issues for ministers.

A review of counterterrorism powers was set up immediately after the general election, with a specific directive to look at the effectiveness of the practice.

Up to 50 coalition MPs could vote "no" if the government seeks to keep control orders amid reports that Prime Minister David Cameron fears a split coalition.

Its junior half, the Liberal Democrat Party, is vehemently opposed to the orders, inherited from the previous Labour administration, while Mr. Cameron and Ms. May are under pressure from the security services to retain the measures.

Cargo bombs exasperated already tense mood