Aug. 10 (Bloomberg) — London’s anti-terrorist police said they foiled a plot to blow up airliners bound for the U.S. using explosives smuggled in hand luggage, five years after the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center in New York.

U.K. authorities arrested 21 people overnight, Deputy Metropolitan Police Commissioner Paul Stephenson said today. The U.K. and the U.S. raised their terror alerts to the highest level. Sky News said six aircraft were targeted. Heathrow, Europe’s busiest airport, said as many as 440 flights may be canceled.

“This was intended to be mass murder on an unimaginable scale,” Stephenson said in a televised briefing. “We are confident that we have disrupted a plan by terrorists to cause untold death and destruction.” A “number” of addresses in the U.K. are being searched, he said.

Britain raised its terror alert to “critical,” the highest category in a five-point scale, indicating an attack is expected “imminently,” according to the Home Office Web site. Airports were instructed not to permit hand baggage aboard flights, the U.K. Department of Transport said. BAA Plc, the world’s biggest airport operator, told passengers to avoid Heathrow.

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Meanwhile, British Airways has issued advice for Heathrow passengers:

The following is a statement from British Airways giving advice on disruption to flights and restrictions on hand luggage following the introduction of heightened security measures in the United Kingdom.:

British Airways, along with all other airlines, is experiencing major disruption to its operations at London Heathrow today (Thursday, August 10), because of the severe airport congestion, following the introduction of new security arrangements.

All British Airways shorthaul (UK and European) inbound and outbound flights to and from London Heathrow up until 3pm (BST) this afternoon (Thursday 10 August) are cancelled.

Any customers (both longhaul and shorthaul) who do not need to travel today to or from London Heathrow (Thursday August 10) are advised to stay at home.

It is likely that there may be a number of longhaul cancellations from London Heathrow during the day.

Customers due to depart from UK airports who do not wish to travel today or tomorrow or are due to travel on cancelled flights can re-book up until December 1, 2006 or obtain a refund.

Customers in the UK can call a special freephone number – 0800 727 800.

Passengers who do decide to travel from any UK airport, may only take through the airport security search point, the following items:

Travel documents essential for the journey (eg passports, tickets and visas)

Pocket sized wallets and pocked sized purses plus contents (for example money, credit cards and identity cards). Handbags are not permitted.

Prescribed medicines essential for the duration of the flight, except in liquid form unless verified as authentic.

Spectacles and sunglasses, without cases.

Contact lenses, without bottles of solution For those traveling with an infant: baby food, milk and sanitary items essential for the flight.

Keys (but no electrical key fobs).

Every other item must be carried in customer’s hold luggage.

For clarity, passengers are advised that no electrical or battery powered items including laptops, mobile phones, ipods, remote controls etc can be carried in the cabin and must be checked in as hold baggage.

In the U.S.:

The government said it was banning liquids including beverages, hair gels and lotions from flights, explaining only that liquids emerged as a risk from the investigation in Britain.

Passengers complied at the Kennedy airport terminal housing British Airways, throwing those and other products into bins.

At Chicago airports, the terror alert level was raised to orange, requiring all bags to be screened. Chicago aviation commissioner Nuria Fernandez said the only exceptions to the ban on liquids would be breast milk and fruit juices for small and nursing children. She urged passengers to arrive early for flights and to consider not bringing carryon luggage.

Full article here.