Two charged over Australia plane plot amid major airport security concerns

Sydney: Two men have been charged with terrorism offences after Australian police thwarted an alleged plot to blow up a plane, authorities said on Thursday, as pilots warned of major airport security gaps despite efforts to tighten screenings.
Four men were arrested in Sydney on Saturday accused of planning an attack using an improvised explosive device, prompting authorities to increase security at airports across the nation.
One of the four was released on Wednesday, while two others — aged 32 and 49 — were each charged with two counts of “acts done in preparation for, or planning, a terrorist act”, Australian Federal Police said.
They face maximum sentences of life imprisonment if found guilty and are due to appear in a Sydney court on Friday.
The charges came as pilots — who have to be screened alongside air crew, retail workers and passengers at airports — said similar requirements were not in place for ground staff, who are instead issued with security cards.
“Pilots and cabin crew are routinely screened along with passengers but a lot of ground staff can access aircraft on the tarmac without the same level of scrutiny,” Australian Airline Pilots Association president Murray Butt said late on Wednesday.
“We believe it would enhance airport security if all airline staff who have access to aircraft, were screened to the same level as personnel entering through the terminal.”
The concerns followed a report by Sydney’s Daily Telegraph citing sources who alleged that the plot involved using an unwitting passenger to carry a bomb onboard, with Etihad Airways confirming this week it was helping the investigation.
Aviation experts have also warned of loopholes, such as the use of private-sector security guards instead of government employees at airports, and no photo ID checks for passengers at domestic terminals.
Butt said Australia needed to emulate the US requirement for photo ID checks for passengers, while a former Sydney Airport security chief said security databases should be linked to booking systems.
“The scary thing is domestic airlines have no idea who is really on their aircraft,” Mike Carmody told The Australian Financial Review.
“There is very little coordination. Unless you happen to be someone who really stands out, you are going to fly right through security.”
In response to calls for ID checks, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said on Thursday airport security measures were “constantly under review”. — AFP