WASHINGTON (Talon News) — An international plan to smuggle into the United States a shoulder-fired missile designed to shoot down a commercial airplane was interrupted by the FBI on Tuesday.
Three people were arrested, including a British man in Newark, New Jersey. He attempted to sell a Russian SA-18 Igla missile to an FBI agent involved in a covert operation as a member of a militant Muslim group according to an anonymous federal agent.
The actual arrest took place near Newark International Airport shortly after the man departed from his plane which arrived out of London, federal officials report.
The other two arrests happened in Manhattan at a gem dealership. Both of these men were arrested on charges of money laundering.
The discovery of this international plan resulted from a combined effort between U.S., British, and Russian federal law enforcement officials.
The five-month long investigation began when Russian officials warned the FBI that an arms dealer was looking for weapons in St. Petersburg, Russia. British intelligence began tracking the man as he plotted and planned to smuggle weapons into the United States.
The undercover FBI agent was scheduled to be the buyer of the weapon with the understanding that it would be used to crash a commercial airliner.
The actual missile was customized in Russia for this specific plan and delivered to the United States by ship. The Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement as well as the Secret Service were in on the operation.
At this time, the British man has no known connections to any terrorist group and there is no evidence of an impending attack against the United States, federal authorities said.
The names of the arrested men were not made available at press time. Each of them is scheduled to appear in Newark federal court Wednesday morning.
The Justice Department would not comment on the case since it is under a court-ordered seal.
This latest plot against the United States once again raises fears by Americans who are afraid to fly on commercial airliners.
Warning signs about the possibility that terrorists could use shoulder-fired missiles to bring down a commercial airplane sprung up in November 2002 when two SA-7 missiles were fired at an Israeli passenger jet departing from Mombasa, Kenya. The missiles missed the airplane, but al Qaeda was thought to be responsible for the attack. A simultaneous hotel bombing took place.
Shoulder-fired missiles are readily available for purchase on the world market for as low as a few thousand dollars.
Chechen rebels have utilized these weapons against Russian military aircraft, including a helicopter last week that killed three Russian troops. Last year, a helicopter carrying Russian soldiers was shot down killing more than 100 troops.
The Department of Homeland Security has requested assistance from high-tech companies to look into creating anti-missile protection for commercial airliners. Several members of Congress are concerned that Homeland Security is not moving fast enough to implement this technology.
Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) are backing a plan that would require every commercial airplane in the United States to have anti-missile defense in place. The estimated cost of this bill is $10 billion.
“The danger of an airliner being shot down by one of these missiles is now staring the Homeland Security Department in the face,” remarked Schumer. “The fact that DHS is planning to take at least two years to develop a missile defense prototype to outfit the U.S. commercial fleet verges on the dangerous.”
U.S. experts are checking security measures at airports around the world to see if they can withstand a shoulder-fired missile attack.
A plan was set in place in June at a meeting of world leaders in Evian, France that would attempt to deter the sale of these weapons.