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Tue, Sep 09, 2003

Saudis Seize Missiles

...or Did They?

Last month, there was a rash of high-ranking officials' talking about the dangers posed to airliners by SAMs -- surface-to-air-missiles. British Airways suspended service to Saudi Arabia, and said it was considering fitting its airliners with anti-missile systems. [That service was reinstated last Friday --ed.] Australian PM John Howard even said publicly that such missiles were more of a danger to airliners than hijackers. Just what precipitated those, and similar, announcements was unknown... until now.

Last month, the Saudi police intercepted a truckload of missiles, near Jeddah. They were in an enclosed car-carrier trailer; and their discovery was made, we're told, by chance.

The BBC said the shipment came from Yemen; but no one will say whose missiles -- Russian, Chinese, French, or American -- they were. No one is saying whether they were shoulder-launched items, or more-sophisticated designs. The BBC's Frank Gardner reported, "Documents were found in a car revealing that members had mapped out the exact location of checkpoints and other security measures."

Just what the connection to the British Airways suspension of flights to Riyadh had with the discovery was, is not being discussed openly; and it is unknown whether other airlines may have received a heads-up on the missiles' discovery, or not.

Interestingly, within hours, the BBC's official site seemed to have pulled Gardner's story, and in its place was a retraction. Apparently, Gardner must have made up the whole thing, including the references to "confirmation by both British and Saudi officials."

We wanted the real truth, so of course we called our own Transportation Security Administration. Our call to the TSA's Lauren Stover resulted in a referral to Brian Roehrkasse, at the Department of Homeland Security, whose answering machine took our questions yesterday morning. He never returned the call.



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