An eyewitness to the weekend terror attack at Glasgow International Airport in Scotland said that if the vehicle that burst into flames outside the passenger terminal hadn’t been stopped by concrete barriers, people were sure to have been injured or maybe even killed.
“If that car had gotten into the terminal and exploded in the terminal, goodness knows how many casualties there would have been,” Jim Manson, a program director for Scottish Television, said during an interview Monday on TODAY. Manson estimated that with the holiday season, there were about 35,000 people at the airport at that time.
“I had never seen anything like this,” Manson told TODAY’s Lester Holt. “It was quite dramatic … I think people were just stunned. They were looking at it, wondering if it was a crash, but I realized within a second it wasn’t a crash, because that kind of fire doesn’t happen with a simple crash.”
Manson was picking his wife up at the airport Saturday afternoon, in the middle of a busy holiday weekend, when he heard a vehicle screeching down a road adjacent to the terminal. Then he heard the crash.
“I could see a Cherokee Jeep on fire, with the driver desperately trying to push that vehicle into the terminal building,” Manson said. “He had a very, very stern look of determination on his face.
“There was a small explosion, and then suddenly there was a large explosion, and the whole Jeep seem to blow up, with flames shooting up 20 or 30 feet, which caught the side of the airport and set it on fire.”
Two men were apprehended at the scene, and firefighters quickly contained and extinguished the blaze. So far, seven people have been detained by police for questioning and a search is under way for additional suspects.
British authorities say the suspects appear to be a part of a nationwide cell with ties to the al-Qaida terrorist network.
The airport attack in Scotland and the attempted bombings in London put a damper on Sunday’s star-studded concert in memory of Princess Diana, who would have turned 46 this weekend. More than 60,000 fans joined Princes William and Harry for the six-hour concert, which featured Elton John, P. Diddy, Tom Jones and a host of other celebrity performers.
Terror techniques from Middle East
The vehicles involved in Saturday’s attack in Glasgow and two failed bombings Friday in London appeared to be relatively low-tech attempts to create destruction and kill or injure as many civilians as possible, said former British intelligence analyst Crispin Black, another TODAY guest.
“I think those attacks would be very familiar to your GIs in Baghdad and our soldiers in Bazra, rudimentary bombs jammed into the [trunk], very often of Mercedes cars,” Black said. “In a sense, I think some of the techniques that have been perfected, or tried or honed in the Middle East, are now arriving in Western Europe. We expected these.”
So what can the U.S. expect?
Government officials have said they assume al-Qaida is plotting another major attack on U.S. soil, but are not sure if the group responsible for the worst terrorist attack in history has the organizational structure left to carry out something on the scale of 9/11.
NBC News terrorism analyst Roger Cressey said that whether al-Qaida attempts an attack misses the point. The terrorist group has spawned sympathizers on the fringes or outside the network, which is just as worrisome, he said.
“Al-Qaida the organization suffered some serious setbacks since 9/11. It has morphed. It has evolved,” Cressey told TODAY host Meredith Vieira. “Now you also have al-Qaida the movement, individuals with maybe indirect links with al-Qaida but support the ideology or are motivated by it. In some respects, it's the worst of both worlds. The organization is alive in a new version, and you have a movement of individuals willing to be recruited and conduct attacks.”
Black, the British terrorism expert, said the U.S. is fortunate that the country is somewhat removed geographically from the Middle East.
That leaves Britain, America’s closest ally, which appears to be on the frontlines of the global war on terror for now.
“You luckily have the Atlantic between you and the rest of the world,” Black said. “It is very, very easy for radicalized, Jihadist extremists to move into and around Europe. It is real difficult to gain physical geographic access to the United States, especially after 9/11.”