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Update Air travellers were being stripped of electronic devices at UK airports this morning after authorities said they had disrupted a plot to blow up as many as 10 US-bound airliners.

Authorities have jacked up the terror alert to critical, meaning they believe an attack is imminent. Home Secretary John Reid went on air early this morning to outline the plot and the authorities’ response. Around 18 people were arrested over night, according to reports.

In a briefing this morning, Metropolitan Police Deputy Assistant Commissioner Paul Stephenson, said the authorities were confident they had thwarted “mass murder on an unimaginable scale”.

The move has thrown the UK’s airports into chaos, with unprecedentedly tight security precautions.

Hand luggage allowances have been stripped back to little more than wallets, travel documents, verifiable prescription medicines, contact lenses or glasses, essential baby items, female sanitary items, tissues (unboxed). Food and drink, other than baby milk, has also been banned. Parents, apparently, must "verify" baby milk by tasting it in front of security staff.

Keys are allowed, but NOT electronic types, including remote car locking types.

All electronic items – laptops, ipods, phones, etc – are verboten and must be stashed in suitcases.

The crackdown on electronic items has fuelled speculation that the plot could have involved some kind of remote detonation, using a mobile phone or electronic car key for example, or some kind of device that would be assembled once on the air plane. At the same time, the ban on liquids suggests authorities suspect the alleged plot involved some type of liquid type explosive.

Unsurprisingly, the additional security measures are causing massive delays, with some flights being cancelled.

The armed forces have been deployed at at least one airport, The Register has heard. Security personnel have apparently been taking a very hard line with anyone who isn't taking the situation with anything other than utter seriousness, with reports of airline staff being fired on the spot for being abusive to security personnel.

The search for information is taking its toll, with BAA’s website unable to offer anything other than a recap of hand baggage restrictions and a warning to expect delays. All other info, such as flight cancellations, has been pulled due to the number of visitors visiting the site. The BBC has a round-up of airport info here. ®

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