Airline Blames Lax US Security for Bullet Incident

By Mike Wendling | July 7, 2008 | 8:14 PM EDT

London ( - Investigations continued Thursday on both sides of the Atlantic into how a man boarded a Washington-London flight with bullets in his pocket. The airline operating the plane blamed the incident on lax U.S. security procedures.

A Sudanese man was arrested by British police on arrival at Heathrow Airport yesterday. After originally being held on firearms charges, police said he was later being questioned under the Terrorism Act.

London's Metropolitan Police said the man was stopped during a routine security check as he tried to board a connecting flight to Dubai and that the suspect wasn't carrying any weapons capable of firing the bullets.

Police said a forensic team was examining the ammunition. The airline, Virgin Atlantic, said the security breach was the fault of U.S. officials.

"Screening of passengers at Washington Dulles airport is the responsibility of the Transportation Security Administration," the airline said in a statement.

Virgin added that the bullets "did not pose a threat to our aircraft."

Under post-9/11 revisions of the Terrorism Act, police can hold suspects for up to a week without charge, as long as a judge approves.

Several London-Washington flights were disrupted because of terror fears earlier this month, but those planes were operated by Virgin's main U.K. competitor, British Airways.

Virgin was the first British carrier to fully agree to accept armed air marshals after U.S. officials announced plans to require the officers on some international flights.

Earlier this week, British Airways CEO Rod Eddington said his company would also accept sky marshals, pending negotiations with the U.K. government and pilots.

The British Air Line Pilots Association (BALPA), which has been skeptical of sky marshal program, said Wednesday's incident shows the need for a greater focus on ground security.

"Doubtless questions are being asked in America as to how he got through their ground security and onto the plane," said BALPA General Secretary Jim McAuslan.

See previous story:
Largest British Airline Will Accept Armed Air Marshals (Jan. 13, 2004)

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