Taiwan’s Civil Aeronautics Administration (CAA) and the Aviation Police Bureau both confirmed yesterday that they had received information on a potential terrorist attack at the Beijing Capital International Airport last week, adding that police were still verifying the authenticity of the report.
The information surfaced after the Malaysian Ministry of Transport confirmed that two people had boarded the vanished Malaysian Airlines flight MH370 with stolen European passports, leading some to suspect the plane’s disappearance was linked to terrorists.
CAA Deputy Director-General Lee Wan-li (李萬里) said the agency was informed by China Airlines (CAL) on Tuesday last week that the airline received a telephone call alleging that there would be a bomb attack at the Beijing Airport.
The CAA relayed the information to National Security Bureau, Lee said.
Aviation Police Bureau Director Wang Lung (王隆) said that CAL said the caller was a man who claimed he belonged to an anti-terrorism organization in France.
“Speaking in French, at first, and later in Mandarin, with a Cantonese accent, the man said the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) had planned to launch an attack at the Beijing Airport that would be similar to the one carried out at the Kunming Railway Station earlier this month,” Wang said.
“He was trying to call the airport in Beijing, but the line seemed always busy. He called CAL instead, hoping the airline would help send the message. However, the airline did not write down his telephone number. We think the call should be from somewhere overseas and are still verifying the information. We have told the Public Security Bureau in China that they should be on alert,” Wang added.
The ETIM is a Muslim separatist group founded by militant Uighurs, members of the ethnic majority in northwest China’s Xinjiang Province. The group was accused by the Chinese authorities of instigating the massacre in Kunming on March 1, that killed 29 civilians and injured more than 150 others. Wang also said that the nation has yet to raise the terror alert level, which remains at “green,” because the target of the alleged terrorist attack was not Taiwan.
Nevertheless, he said the bureau will not take any chances and will continue to investigate the matter.
This would mark the first time that the nation’s Aviation Police received a tip on a terrorist attack, Wang said.
He added that the bureau had asked all its units to step up security measures at the nation’s airports, particularly on flights heading to China.
Office of National Security Director Shih Tseng-kang (石增剛) also said the office instructed the National Police Agency to step up security measures at the nation’s airports soon after it received the threat information from the CAA.
Meanwhile, Coast Guard Administration (CGA) Minister Wang Ginn-wang (王進旺) said Taiwan yesterday sent two coast guard vessels to assist in the search for the missing plane.
The vessels will be joined by ships from Taiwan’s navy, Wang said, without specifying how many ships will contribute.
The Coast Guard vessels are expected to reach the search area more than 1,000 nautical miles (1,852km) away at about midday on Friday, Wang said before attending a legislative committee hearing.
Wang said CGA personnel will work with search-and-rescue teams from other countries, but he could not give an estimate of how long the Taiwanese patrol vessels will stay there.
President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) is said to be closely following news of the missing airliner and called for Taiwan to take part in the international mission to search for it.
Presidential Office spokesperson Lee Chia-fei (李佳霏) added that Ma also asked the military to strengthen the patrol missions it conducts with its frigate and aircraft in the South China Sea.
The navy and air force are to beef up their patrol missions in the region, the defense ministry said.
Additional reporting by Shih Hsiu-chuan, Rich Chang and CNA