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Sat, Jan 03, 2004

Terror Concerns Force Big Changes In Overseas Flight

Delays And Cancellations

If you're a British Airways passenger hoping to take Flight 223 between London and Washington Dulles International (VA), you're probably wondering just what in the hell is going on these days. On New Year's Eve and New Year's Day, the flight from Heathrow has been canceled -- as has the return flight. What gives?

ABC News reports the flight has been targeted by al Qaeda operatives who want to turn the commercial jet into a guided weapon and aim it at the Capitol.

British defense analyst Paul Beaver says, "There seems to be very hard intelligence coming from the United States that there is a serious threat to Flight 223 — the British Airways flight," Beaver said. "It's flight-related, not passenger-related or freight-related. And this is related to something which may be targeted in the Washington area — some sort of spectacular … either flying the aircraft into something or detonating it over Washington itself."

Other BA flights on the same routing have been closely watched -- some even delayed because security agents decided to rescreen both passengers and their luggage.

Beaver says, "There is good and precise intelligence that there is more than one al Qaeda or al Qaeda-like group operating against the US," he said. "One is based in Central America and the other is based in Europe — in London or Paris."

That would explain some of the other extraordinary security measures taken at commercial US terminals over the past week.

British Airways 223 Wednesday night from London to Washington was detained for several hours at Dulles International Airport as FBI and Homeland Security officials questioned passengers.

AeroMexico 490 from Mexico City to Los Angeles was canceled both Wednesday and Thursday.

British Airways 223 from London to Washington and 222 from Washington to London were both canceled Thursday.

Air France 3112, bound for Paris from New York, made an unscheduled landing in Canada on Thursday so its luggage could be checked.

British Airways 216 Thursday night from Washington to London was delayed and passengers re-screened for security reasons before the flight departed.

British Airways 223 from London to Washington was canceled Friday.

Other Air France flights were canceled or delayed over the Christmas holiday, as security officials reportedly worried terrorists would use an Air France flight between Paris and Los Angeles to attack the Strip in Las Vegas.

While American and British intelligence operations are apparently talking with their counterparts in some European countries, Mexican officials indicate they feel left out in the cold. Agustin Gutierrez, a spokesman for Mexican President Vicente Fox, says the information given his boss by American intelligence seemed less than convincing.

"The question is what threat?" Gutierrez said. "This question must be answered by Homeland Security. If we are going to have a good climate of cooperation, the least that we can hope for are reasons."

FMI: www.tsa.gov

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