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Blazing jeep rams into airport

Two men rammed a Jeep Cherokee spouting a trail of flames into the main terminal of Glasgow airport Saturday, crashing into the glass doors at the entrance, witnesses said.
UPDATED ON JUL 01, 2007 03:06 AM IST

Two men rammed a Jeep Cherokee spouting a trail of flames into the main terminal of Glasgow airport Saturday, crashing into the glass doors at the entrance, witnesses said. There were no reports of victims.
Police wrestled the driver and a passenger, both described as South Asian, to the ground, arresting them and taking one to the hospital. Witnesses said one of the men was engulfed in fire and spoke "gibberish" as an official used a fire extinguisher to douse the flames.

The green SUV barreled toward the building at full speed shortly after 3 p.m., hitting security barriers before crashing into the doors and exploding, witnesses said.

Hundreds fled screaming from the building as one of the men poured gasoline over the SUV as the driver tried to force the Jeep further inside the terminal, witness Lynsey McBean said. Scotland's largest airport was evacuated and all flights suspended. Firefighters were tackling flames that had consumed the Jeep _ reduced to a charred hulk _ and spread to the terminal building.

Saturday was the first day of summer vacation for Glasgow schools, and the airport was bustling with families heading out on holiday.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who is Scottish, was holding a meeting of the government crisis committee later Saturday and was being kept updated by officials, Downing Street said. A British government security official said the incident was being treated as "possibly terrorist related at this stage." The official spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the information.

Security officials had no direct intelligence linking the incident to a thwarted plot to bomb central London on Friday but "are keeping an open mind," the official said.

He said there had been no intelligence warning of a potential plan to attack Scotland, but stressed Britain's threat level remained at severe, meaning attacks are likely.

Police and MI5 would be examining any potential links between the three incidents in London and Scotland, as they all involved vehicles, the official said _ stressing there were no confirmed connections.

Scottish police did not say whether the SUV that struck the airport was carrying explosives.

On Friday, Police in London discovered explosives packed into a Mercedes near Piccadilly Circus and another Mercedes parked nearby and towed to a lot near Hyde Park. Both bombs were defused before they could explode.

"One has to conclude ... these are linked," Dame Pauline Neville-Jones, former head of Britain's joint intelligence committee, told Sky News television. "This is a very young government, and we may yet see further attacks. ... We are seeing a pattern of attack in the early days of a new government." U.S. President George W. Bush also was being keep updated, the White House said. "We're in contact with British authorities on the matter," said Gordon Johndroe, a spokesman for the National Security Council, in Washington.

Strathclyde Police spokeswoman Lisa O'Neil confirmed two men were arrested at the scene and one of whom was taken to the hospital. Police said the Royal Alexandra Hospital, in neighboring Paisley, was evacuated after the suspect arrived.

"The car came speeding past at about 30 mph (50 kph). It was approaching the building quickly," witness Scott Leeson said. "Then the driver swerved the car around so he could ram straight in to the door. He must have been trying to smash straight through." McBean said one of the men took out a plastic gasoline canister and poured a liquid under the car. "He then set light to it," said Bean, 26, from Erskine, Scotland. She said the Jeep struck the front door of the airport but got jammed.

"They were obviously trying to get it further inside the airport as the wheels were spinning and smoke was coming from them," she said.

The incident comes exactly one week before the second anniversary of the July 7 bombings that killed 52 people and the four British Muslim suicide bombers.

AP photographs from the scene showed the car had hit the building at an angle and was poking into the terminal, but had fully entered. The Jeep struck the building directly in front of check-in desks, where dozens of passengers were standing in line to check in for flights, police said.

Leeson said bollards _ security posts outside the entrance _ stopped the driver from barreling into the bustling terminal at Glasgow's airport.

"If he'd got through, he'd have killed hundreds, obviously," he said.

The incident carried reminders of a foiled plot in December 1999 to attack Los Angeles International Airport, when customs agents stopped an Algerian-born man in a car packed with 124 pounds (56 kilograms) of explosives. He was jailed for 22 years and prosecutors said he was intent on bombing the Los Angeles airport on the eve of the millennium.

Witness Stephen Clarkson told the BBC that a large South Asian man emerged from car engulfed in flames.

"His whole body was on fire.... He was just talking gibberish," he said.

He said an airport official ran out with a fire extinguisher and put out the fire "but most of the man's clothes had already burned away."

Witness Richard Grey said police struggled with one of the men in the car.

"An Asian guy had been pulled out of the car by two police officers he was trying to fight off and they'd got him on the floor," he told the BBC.

Boaden said police "wrestled him to the ground _ the fire was burning through his clothes _ and finally put him out with a fire extinguisher."

Leeson said an airport official he spoke to did not think the incident was an accident.

"He said the men in the car got out and started throwing petrol about _ that must be how it caught fire," he said. Another witness, Fiona Tracey, described a "bang" coming from the SUV. The vehicle was on fire and "every now and again there was a bang coming off it. ... There was definitely a bang," she told Sky News.

Contrary to some witness reports, Grey said the car didn't explode. "There were a few pops and bangs that seemed to be the tires and the petrol."

Glasgow airport is Britain's sixth-largest, handling 8.9 million passengers a year. More than 40 airlines fly from Glasgow to more than 80 destinations, including cities in Spain, Canada, Germany, the U.S., Greece and Portugal.

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