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US air traffic control radio hijacked threatening to crash plane into US Capitol to avenge Soleimani

The U.S. Capitol Building. (Dreamstime/TNS)
January 06, 2021

The FBI and FAA are investigating after someone hijacked air traffic control frequencies with a threat to fly a plane into the U.S. Capitol building on Wednesday, to avenge the death of Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani.

CBS News exclusively obtained the threatening audio recording and reported multiple air traffic controllers in New York heard the message on Monday evening. On Tuesday CBS Evening News tweeted, “BREAKING: The FBI and FAA are looking into a breach of air traffic control frequencies after a threat was made about flying a plane into the Capitol tomorrow. The threat is not considered credible, but the breach of aviation communications is alarming. Here’s @jeffpeguescbs.”

In the recording played on the CBS news segment, a voice can be heard saying, “We are flying a plane into the Capitol on Wednesday. Soleimani will be avenged.”

The threat came in the days after the one-year anniversary of the U.S. airstrike, ordered by President Donald Trump, that killed Soleimani as he traveled in Baghdad, Iraq. The Pentagon has linked Soleimani to the proliferation of weapons used to kill an estimated 600 U.S. troops in the Middle East and, at the time of his death, the Pentagon assessed he was involved in plans to attack Americans in Iraq.

The message threatening to attack the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday also comes ahead of scheduled a joint session of Congress to certify the electoral college votes in the 2020 presidential election. Sources told CBS they believe the threat is meant to suggest the plane will hit the Capitol on the same day as the vote certification, which is expected to affirm Joe Biden as the winner of the election despite challenges to the election results from Trump.

Demonstrations are ongoing in D.C. on Wednesday, in support of Trump’s election disputes and dozens of Republican lawmakers have said they will challenge the electoral vote certification.

Sources told CBS News that the Pentagon and other agencies were briefed about the threatening recording on Tuesday.

While it is unclear who sent the audio recording, the threat to attack the capitol was deemed to not be credible. Investigators are, however, looking into how air traffic control broadcast frequencies were breached. A breach of such aviation frequencies raises the risk someone could interfere with air traffic communications, including instructions pilots get to help avoid collisions with other aircraft.

Sources told CBS that air traffic controllers have been reminded to immediately report any threat or sign that an aircraft is deviating from its flight path.