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Air France cancels six flights to US
( 2003-12-25 08:50) (Agencies)

The French government asked Air France on Wednesday to cancel Paris-Los Angeles flights over Christmas after the United States provided information of a "credible threat" to the carrier.

Air France said it had canceled six flights, both departing and returning, on December 24 and 25 at the prime minister's request.

Passengers check in at an Air France ticket counter at Los Angeles International Airport Wednesday, Dec. 24, 2003.  [AP]
The United States is on high alert in the holiday season and Air France was named in a Washington Post report on Wednesday that said U.S. officials were scrutinizing foreign carriers as part of precautions against another September 11-style attack.

A Department of Homeland Security official told Reuters U.S. authorities had scoured the planes' passenger lists. "There was credible-threat information shared and the decision was made to cancel those flights," said the official, asking not to be named.

French officials said some passengers had been prevented from boarding the flights but there were no arrests.

"Air France has canceled the flights scheduled for Wednesday and Thursday, December 24 and 25, between Paris and Los Angeles," French Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin's office said in a statement.

"This measure was taken at the request of Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin on the basis of information, currently being checked..."

French LCI television said the information was based on e-mails suggesting al Qaeda could be planning an attack on flights from Paris to the United States over Christmas.

The United States blames Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda network for the hijacked airliner attacks on Washington and New York on September 11, 2001, which killed some 3,000 people.

The U.S. government warned Americans there was a high risk of even bigger attacks during the holidays when it raised its terror alert to the second highest level on Sunday.

"Of course. The Americans' big fear is a repeat of September 11," a French government source said when asked whether U.S. officials were concerned that al Qaeda militants could hijack a flight. The source said for now, there were no plans to cancel other flights.

Jean-Claude Mallet, secretary-general for French National Defense, said Paris had been monitoring the threat for a while.

"This information was sufficiently worrying so that we had to take measures first for our air defense and security on the ground and more recently, in the past two or three days, there were exchanges that led us to take extraordinary precautions in cooperation with our U.S. friends and allies," he told CNN.

A French Transport Ministry spokeswoman said: "We have been checking the identities of certain passengers and there are people who were not able to board. We are being particularly vigilant."

Air France said it had canceled Los Angeles-bound flights AF068 and AF070 on Wednesday and AF068 on Thursday. The return flights to Paris, AF069 on Wednesday and AF071 and AF069 on Thursday, were also axed.

"Air France is working to take care of its customers and is trying to find the best way to re-route them," an Air France spokeswoman said.

As a result of the cancellations, Air France's code-share partner Delta Airlines called off its two Paris-Los Angeles flights on Wednesday, Delta's Web site said.

There have been security scares on transatlantic flights from Paris before. In December 2001, Briton Richard Reid tried to ignite explosives hidden in his shoe on a flight to Miami. He was overpowered and later convicted in the attack attempt.

A Washington Post report on Wednesday said new U.S. intelligence had prompted greater scrutiny into whether foreign airports and airlines posed a security threat.

The newspaper reported officials had declined to identify the carriers involved. But it quoted industry sources as saying passengers coming into at least one major U.S. international airport on Air France and flights from Mexico would be subject to more security procedures from Wednesday.

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