By LESLIE MILLER, Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON - The latest warning from the Homeland Security Department that al-Qaida may be plotting an attack is renewing calls for stricter security on cargo planes.
The department advised law-enforcement officials Friday night of threats that terrorists may fly cargo planes from another country into such crucial U.S. targets as nuclear plants, bridges or dams, Homeland Security spokesman Brian Roehrkasse said.
Leon Laylagian of the Coalition of Airline Pilots Associations security committee, said the government must take air cargo security as seriously as it takes air passenger security.
Laylagian said it's essential for Congress to pass a spending bill that would also allow cargo pilots to carry guns in the cockpit, something passenger pilots now are allowed to do.
"There's urgency to get that passed," he said.
Separately, the U.S. Embassy in Saudi Arabia said it would close its diplomatic missions in that country Saturday for an undetermined period because of credible information terrorists are about to carry out attacks.
"The U.S. intelligence community remains concerned about al-Qaida's interest in carrying out attacks on us overseas," Roehrkasse said.
A federal official said the information about the cargo planes came from a single source overseas.
"It has not yet been corroborated," the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity. "We're in the process of trying to corroborate this information."
"We also remain concerned about threats to the aviation industry and the use of cargo planes to carry out attacks on critical infrastructure," the official added.
Homeland Security and the FBI (news - web sites) prepared an advisory alerting state and local authorities to the threat, Roehrkasse said. The advisory also was being directed to officials responsible for security at such facilities as nuclear plants, bridges and dams, he said.
Connecticut's homeland security director, Vincent DeRosa, said state officials have been in contact with the Millstone nuclear power complex in Waterford about the threats. He said the state will not raise its terror alert level, but will focus on increasing security at the plant.
"The more we do on a day-to-day basis, the less likely it is that we'll have to raise the alert level," DeRosa said.
Roehrkasse said the national color-coded alert will remain at yellow, the middle level on the five-color scale and indicating an elevated risk of terrorist attack.
He noted that cargo carriers already have security measures in place.
Critics have said the Transportation Security Administration, part of the Homeland Security Department, hadn't done enough to make cargo planes safe. Those criticisms intensified when a New York shipping clerk packed himself in a crate and was flown undetected to his parents' home in Dallas.
The government is considering regulations to plug holes in air cargo security, which has received less attention than airline passenger security since the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.
Only a small percentage of freight is checked before being shipped in cargo or passenger planes. Neither air marshals nor armed pilots are aboard cargo planes, and freight-handling areas at airports are not as secure as passenger terminals.
On the Net:
Transportation Security Administration: http://www.tsa.gov
Homeland Security Department: http://www.dhs.gov
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