Britain scrambles fighters as Pakistani airliner diverted

LONDON (Reuters) - Britain launched fighter jets on Friday to escort a Pakistan International Airlines passenger plane arriving from Lahore in Pakistan to an airport near London after it was diverted from Manchester, the Defence Ministry said.

Britain is on high alert after a soldier was hacked to death on a London street on Wednesday in what police are treating as a terrorist incident, but a security source said early indications were that the diverted plane was not the target of a terrorist attack.

Flight PK709, carrying 297 passengers, landed at Stansted Airport, northeast of London - one of London's less busy airports, preferred as a location for handling airplane security incidents. A spokesman for the airport said the plane was being held in an isolated area and that the rest of the airport was operating as normal.

Police in Essex, where Stansted is located, said an incident had occurred on the flight and they were investigating. Essex County Fire and Rescue Service said 10 fire engines had been sent to the airport.

"Typhoon aircraft from RAF Coningsby were launched today to investigate an incident involving a civilian aircraft within UK airspace; further details will be provided when known," the Defence Ministry said. RAF Coningsby is a Royal Air Force base in Lincolnshire, central England.

The Pakistani plane was a Boeing 777, according to the flight tracking website

Britain launches military planes to intercept unidentified aircraft when they cannot be identified by other means, for example when the aircraft is not talking to air traffic controllers.

(Reporting by Peter Griffiths, Kate Holton, Rhys Jones, Brenda Goh, writing by Estelle Shirbon; Editing by Kevin Liffey)