Britain, U.S. ease terror threat levels slightly


LONDON -- With air travelers facing a fifth day of delays, cancellations and restrictions on carry-on baggage, Britain and the United States lowered threat assessment levels yesterday as the British police continued to hunt for clues in the reported plot to blow up American airliners.

In Britain, the government sought to mold a political response to a nightmare vision evoked by officials of shadowy Islamic terrorists hatching dozens more conspiracies in mosques, bookstores and other meeting places.

Officials met with Islamic representatives to work out a strategy for what Ruth Kelly, the government's community secretary, called "a battle of hearts and minds to be won within the Muslim community to take on the terrorist and extremist elements that are sometimes found within it."

British security officials met early yesterday and announced that the nation's threat level was being lowered from "critical," meaning an attack is imminent, to "severe," meaning an attack is "highly likely."

The United States, which had raised the threat level on flights from Britain to Code Red, went to Code Orange for all domestic and international flights while maintaining a ban on most liquids and gels in carry-on luggage. For the rest of the country, the threat level remained at Code Yellow.

The change at British airports meant that carry-on baggage was allowed but with restrictions and not immediately at all airports.

The British Airports Authority said that as of today each passenger would be permitted a single item of carry-on luggage measuring no more than about 6 inches by 14 inches by 18 inches.

To the relief of many travelers, the new rules will permit laptops and cell phones to be carried on board. But the airports authority insisted that liquids - except baby formula and certified prescription medications - would continue to be banned from cabins.

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