Flights to U.S. Canceled on Terror Fears - KTRE.com | Lufkin and Nacogdoches, Texas

01/31/04 - London

Flights to U.S. Canceled on Terror Fears

British Airways and Air France on Saturday announced the cancellation of seven flights to and from the United States because of security concerns. The United States has indications of al-Qaida's continued interest in targeting international flights to America, a government official said.

BA canceled four flights between Heathrow Airport and Washington on Sunday and Monday and one from Heathrow to Miami on Sunday. Air France canceled two Paris-to-Washington flights. There are no plans to raise the terror alert in the United States because of the latest threats, Homeland Security Department spokesman Brian Roehrkasse said.

"We remain concerned about al-Qaida's desire to target aviation, especially international aviation," Roehrkasse said.

"The U.S. intelligence community continues to gather specific credible threat information on international flights, as we have done in an ongoing basis in the past few weeks. We have shared this information with our international partners, and will work with them to put in place the appropriate security measures."

A government official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said based on threat reporting there are a handful of specific flights on three airlines - Air France, British Airways and a U.S.-based carrier that flies internationally - that are of concern. The official declined to identify the third airline or provide information about its flights.

The official said that while some of the canceled flights were scheduled for Sunday, when the Super Bowl is being played in Houston, there is no direct intelligence to indicate a threat to the football game.

Trent Duffy, a White House spokesman, said the cancellations show that "the administration is going to stand guard and protect the American people." He added, "The steps taken today are to preserve our security."

BA Flight 223 to Washington's Dulles airport will not fly on Sunday or Monday, but departed Saturday at 4 p.m., just under an hour late because of heavy winds, said an airline spokeswoman. No extra security was visible around the jet. Flight 222 from Washington Dulles to London also was canceled Sunday and Monday, the airline said.

Dennis Lopez, 48, a lawyer from Tampa, Fla., boarding the plane, said the cancelations were unnerving.

"I'm a little worried and if I had another flight arrangement right now that could take me there I would definitely take advantage of that," he said.

He added that he had just arrived from Kuwait, and "I breathed a sigh of relief when I landed in London, thinking I was out of the area of most concern. ... It hadn't occurred to me that this flight could be a possible target."

BA Flight 207 to Miami will not fly on Sunday, the airline said, but had departed Saturday morning.

Air France canceled its Flight 026 from Paris to Washington on both Sunday and Monday "for reasons of security," spokeswoman Veronique Brachet said.

The BA spokeswoman, who declined to be identified, said BA had made its decision on the advice of the British government. She cited security fears but gave no further details.

"The safety and security of our operations is our absolute priority and will not be compromised," the airline said.

BA's Flight 223 had been the subject of concern early in January, when it was canceled twice because of security fears and then delayed for hours several more times.

Six Air France flights were canceled between Paris and Los Angeles on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day after security talks between U.S. and French officials.

U.S. officials said Friday that new intelligence indicated Flight 223 and Air France flights from Paris to an unspecified U.S. city could be terrorist targets.

The department said it could not immediately say why the flights were canceled, or specify the source of the intelligence - U.S., British or another government's - that led to BA's decision.

A British Department for Transport spokesman said only that the decision to cancel the flights was made "in the light of information received."

"Aviation security measures are adjusted from time to time, and occasional cancellations may be necessary," he said on condition of anonymity. "The first priority is always the safety of the traveling public."

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Associated Press reporters Leslie Miller, Curt Anderson and Katherine Pfleger contributed to this report.

Copyright 2004 Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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