Terrorism alert issued to airlines

Fearing that al Qaeda may soon strike again, the Homeland Security Department has warned commercial airlines carriers to be on alert for potential hijackings. The department has not, however, increased the national threat level which remains at yellow, indicating an "elevated level" of risk.

"The U.S. intelligence community has received information that al Qaeda continues to be interested in using the commercial aviation system in the United States and abroad to further their cause," department spokesman Gordon Johndroe said in a statement. "We continue to investigate the credibility of this intelligence. The advisory was provided so that security personnel can be informed, review their procedures and take any additional steps that may be necessary."

The advisory was issued to airlines, as well as state and local authorities, but not to the nation's airport directors. Alerts to the aviation industry are sometimes split between the two segments. In contacting the airlines, the department is asking that carriers review their security procedures and increase scrutiny of passenger lists, according to industry sources. Beyond that, officials did not divulge what increased steps they are taking.

Homeland Security officials did not comment beyond Johndroe's written statement.

The advisory comes at a time when the Transportation Security Administration is in the midst of revamping its baggage and passenger screener workforce. Facing budget cuts, the agency was forced earlier this year to announce that they would lay off 6,000 full-time screeners in 2003. To fill in some security gaps, the agency plans to hire about 1,300 part-time screeners across the country.