LOS ANGELES, March 25 (UPI) -- National Guard troops equipped with Humvees will begin patrolling the outskirts of Los Angeles International Airport this week in a move ordered by the state's governor to increase security at the nation's third-busiest airport.
Calling LAX a "California landmark," Gov. Gray Davis said Tuesday the airport was both a vital component of the state's economy and a likely target for terrorists, particularly with the war between the United States and Iraq reaching a pinnacle.
"LAX is not just a California landmark; it's an international gateway essential to the commerce that sustains us," Davis said in a conference call. "California will continue to use every resource at our disposal to keep our citizens safe and secure, including the National Guard. Keeping Californians safe is job No. 1."
A platoon of Guard troops will begin their stint at LAX on Thursday. Unlike the Guard's deployment to airports after Sept. 11, 2001, their primary duty will be roving patrols around the perimeter of the airport in Humvees, and manning security perimeter checkpoints; the Guard will not be inside the LAX buildings, however, unlike following Sept. 11 when they maintained a high-profile presence inside the terminals.
"This mission is designed to protect the integrity of the airport, not activity within the terminals," Davis said. "Federal and city officials will continue their roles in the passenger screening and terminal checkpoint areas."
Mayor James Hahn formally asked Davis last weekend to post the Guard at the airport. While there was no apparent immediate threat to the facility, LAX is considered by state officials to be the most likely place in all of California to be hit by terrorists.
The airport was the target of an actual terrorist operation scheduled to occur during the millennium New Year's celebrations. The plot by an Algerian militant Islamic group was foiled in late 1999 when Ahmed Ressam was arrested at a border crossing in Washington driving a car with its trunk loaded with explosive bomb-making materials.
Davis said the Guard would remain at LAX for as long as the national threat condition was at orange.