Britain is facing a new Al Qaeda terror threat from suicide ‘body bombers’ with explosives surgically inserted inside them.
Until now, terrorists have attacked airlines, Underground trains and buses by secreting bombs in bags, shoes or underwear to avoid detection.
But an operation by MI5 has uncovered evidence that Al Qaeda is planning a new stage in its terror campaign by inserting ‘surgical bombs’ inside people for the first time.
Security services believe the move has been prompted by the recent introduction at airports of body scanners, which are designed to catch terrorists before they board flights.
It is understood MI5 became aware of the threat after observing increasingly vocal internet ‘chatter’ on Arab websites this year.
The warning comes in the wake of the failed attempt by London-educated Nigerian Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab to blow up an airliner approaching Detroit on Christmas Day.
One security source said: ‘If the terrorists are talking about this, we need to be ready and do all we can to counter the threat.’
A leading source added that male bombers would have the explosive secreted near their appendix or in their buttocks, while females would have the material placed inside their breasts in the same way as figure-enhancing implants.
Experts said the explosive PETN (Pentaerythritol Tetranitrate) would be placed in a plastic sachet inside the bomber’s body before the wound was stitched up like a normal operation incision and allowed to heal.
A shaped charge of 8oz of PETN can penetrate five inches of armour and would easily blow a large hole in an airliner.
Security sources said the explosives would be detonated by the bomber using a hypodermic syringe to inject TATP (Triacetone Triperoxide) through their skin into the explosives sachet.
PETN – the main ingredient of Semtex plastic explosive – was used by Richard Reid, the British Al Qaeda shoe-bomber, when he unsuccessfully tried to blow up American Airlines Flight 63 from Paris to Miami in December 2001.
In November, a Somali man who attempted to board a flight carrying a syringe, liquid and powdered chemicals was arrested before take-off.
The airliner had been due to fly from Somalia’s capital Mogadishu to Dubai.
The Somali was carrying a nearly identical package to that of Abdulmutallab, who tried to detonate it by injecting TATP from a syringe.
Abdulmutallab had stuffed explosives down his underpants as the Northwest Airlines flight from Amsterdam made its final descent to Detroit carrying 280 passengers.
But the detonator fluid set his clothes on fire rather than the device, and he was overpowered.
Security sources fear the body-bombers could pretend to be diabetics injecting themselves on airliners, Tubes or buses in order to prevent anyone stopping their suicide missions.
Companies such as Smiths Detection International UK, which is based in Watford, Hertfordshire, manufacture a range of luggage and body scanners designed to identify chemicals, explosives and drugs at airports and other passenger terminals around the world.
These include high-specification X-ray equipment that could identify body bombs.
But one source with expertise in the field said: ‘They can make as many pieces of security equipment as they like but there is no one magic answer that can spot every single potential terrorist passing through.’
Conservative MP Patrick Mercer, chairman of the Commons Counter-Terrorism Sub-Committee, said: ‘Our enemies are constantly evolving their techniques to try to defeat our methods of detection.
‘This is one of the most savage forms that extremists could use, and while we are redeveloping travel security we have got to take this new development into account.’
Senior Government security sources confirmed last night that they were aware of the new threat of body bombs, but were not prepared to make any official comment