DUBAI – The United Arab Emirates’ national airline said on Tuesday that it is working with Australian police in their investigation into an attempted airplane attack, suggesting it may have been a potential target.
Australian authorities have said they thwarted a credible terrorist plot to down an airplane by smuggling a device onboard. They have provided few details, including the precise nature of the threat or any airlines involved.
Etihad Airways, the smallest of three long-haul Gulf carriers that fly to Australia, confirmed its involvement in the probe in a brief statement.
“The Etihad Airways aviation security [AVSEC] team is assisting the Australian Federal Police [AFP] with its investigation and the matter is ongoing,” it said. “Etihad is complying fully with the enhanced security measures at airports in Australia and monitoring the situation closely. Safety is the airline’s number one priority.”
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The Abu Dhabi-based carrier refused to elaborate on its role in the probe or confirm whether one of its planes was targeted.
Etihad operates direct flights to four Australian cities: Brisbane, Melbourne, Perth and Sydney. The airline has built strong ties to the country, buying a stake in alliance partner Virgin Australia, featuring down-under stars including Nicole Kidman in advertising campaigns and sponsoring Melbourne’s soccer team and its home stadium.
Australian media outlets have reported that the conspirators wanted to target a flight to the Middle East, possibly the Emirati city of Dubai, but they failed to get the device onboard so changed their focus to an Australian domestic airline.
Etihad’s hub in Abu Dhabi is 130 kilometers (80 miles) from Dubai’s main airport, the world’s busiest for international flights.
Dubai-based Emirates, the largest Mideast carrier, said its Australia flights are subject to additional security procedures but did not say whether it is involved in the investigation.
“Emirates is cooperating fully with the relevant entities to implement the additional measures,” it said in a statement.
Police arrested four men in raids in Sydney late Saturday — two Lebanese-Australian fathers and their sons— in connection with the investigation.
Australia’s Nine Network television reported on Tuesday that one of the suspects had tried to check in on an international flight, and that might have been a test run to see if they could get a meat grinder on board as carry-on luggage.
Officials have refused to comment on media reports that the plot was to conceal explosives or chemicals that would emit toxic gas inside a piece of kitchen equipment.