Al Qaeda has been revitalised and is planning to commit new and spectacular attacks on the West, according to a senior British minister.
The group, which committed the 9/11 hijackings in 2001 that killed almost 3,000 people in New York City, is now trying to plot attacks on airports and develop technology that can bring down airliners.
British Security Minister Ben Wallace, in an interview with The Sunday Times, said Al Qaeda posed such a threat that it was keeping top ministers "awake at night".
Such technology may include drones with explosives attached or miniaturised bombs capable of being smuggled on to airliners. The Times reported that intelligence services discovered sketches of drones designed to use bombs.
“They have explored other ways of getting bombs on planes. We've talked publicly about an insider threat issue. If you can't get in the front door, you're going to try to get in the back door,” the minister said.
“In 2019, we should be alert to Al Qaeda. They are reenergising some previous links and support and their ambition towards aviation is real. We saw in Australia that terrorists do what works and they don't give up.”
The group’s most powerful wing is in Yemen and is known as Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, but it also has a presence in Syria, Somalia, Afghanistan and the Maghreb. It is still led by Ayman Al Zawahiri, the former deputy of Osama bin Laden, after his death in a US special forces raid in 2011.
His comments come only days after US President Donald Trump decided to withdraw US troops from Syria. Experts and diplomats have given warnings that the withdrawal may embolden militant groups such as Al Qaeda, which has used the chaos of the civil war to plot attacks on the West.
British officials only heard news of the US withdrawal when Mr Trump tweeted it out on Wednesday.
The militant group, which has had a reduced profile in recent years after the growth of ISIS in Iraq and Syria, has long targeted aviation for spectacular attacks.
In 2006, British police discovered a transatlantic Al Qaeda plot to bring down airliners using liquid explosives disguised as soft drinks. The result was increased security measures on flights regarding the carrying of liquids.
Three years later, Al Qaeda’s top bomb maker Anwar Al Awlaki discussed a plot with a young Nigerian volunteer in Yemen, sending him on a mission to bring down an airliner with explosives in his underwear.
His explosives failed to detonate when his underwear caught fire as the plane approached Detroit on Christmas Day. Awlaki would later become the first American citizen deliberately killed on the orders of a US President without charge because of the threat he posed to national security.