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British Airways cancels flight to US
( 2004-01-02 09:17) (Agencies)

A day after fighter jets escorted a British Airways flight from London into the Dulles International Airport at Washington D.C., the same flight on Thursday was canceled at the request of the British government, the airline said.

British Airways Flight 223 from Heathrow Airport sits on the tarmac at Dulles International Airport.
U.S. authorities had no immediate comment.

Authorities have said they believe al Qaeda may try to use planes on international flights in possible attacks on the United States, similar to the attacks of September 11, 2001, when four hijacked planes were used as missiles.

A British Airways spokesman would only say that Flight 223 -- scheduled to take off at 6:20 p.m. (1:20 p.m. EST) was canceled for security reasons "on advice from the U.K. government."

The flight was one of three to Dulles airport scheduled for the day; one of the other flights left as scheduled earlier Thursday. The B.A. spokesman said the remaining flight would not be affected.

On Wednesday night, British Airways Flight 223 was escorted by fighter jets to Dulles after authorities said the names of about a dozen passengers appeared to match those on a terrorist watch list.

The airliner, carrying about 240 passengers, was taken around 7 p.m. EST to a secure area of the Dulles airport runway, where the FBI interviewed the dozen passengers in question and determined that they posed no threat, the officials said.

The plane was kept on the runway with all passengers aboard for about three to five hours -- what the FBI Thursday called an "unfortunate disadvantage" to the passengers.

The Boeing 747 was already in flight from Heathrow Airport in London when authorities noticed the similarity in the names, prompting the emergency response. Officials did not explain why they noticed the names only after the plane had taken off.

The incident comes as the United States remains at Code Orange -- the second-highest level on the five-tiered terrorist warning scale.

Since the alert was intensified and in response to concerns about holiday terror attacks, law enforcement authorities in the United States and elsewhere have stepped up scrutiny of flights into and out of the United States. Some intensified security measures follow:

-- The U.S. Coast Guard said Thursday it temporarily halted the transfer of oil onto tankers from Alaska's port of Valdez beginning Wednesday. Valdez is located on Prince William Sound, about 200 miles east of Anchorage, and is the port of entry and the southern terminal for the trans-Alaskan pipeline from Prudhoe Bay on Alaska's northern slope.

-- Mexican officials earlier this week turned around an Aeromexico airliner bound for Los Angeles after U.S. officials expressed concern about the security screening before the flight, a homeland security official said late Wednesday. A second Mexican flight was reported delayed on New Year's Eve because of U.S. security concerns, The Associated Press reported.

-- On Christmas Eve, several Air France flights into and out of Los Angeles, California, were canceled because of concerns over a possible terrorist attack.

-- The New York Times reported Wednesday that security officials have met planes five or six times recently to conduct "reverse screenings" similar to the one at Dulles, interviewing passengers and searching them for explosives, weapons and contraband.

-- The Times also reported that a flight headed to the United States from a Latin American country was grounded for several hours before being allowed to take off after U.S. officials told the air carrier the passengers were not properly screened.

-- The New York Times reported that France will start turning over passenger lists for any flights that may be at risk at least an hour before takeoff. Currently, the list is turned over after the plane is in the air. On Christmas Eve, several Air France flights between Paris and Los Angeles were canceled because of fears of terror attacks.

Earlier this week, the Homeland Security Department called on international airlines to put guards on some flights that fly to, from or over the United States.

U.S. officials said Tuesday the United Kingdom received intelligence recently regarding general threats to Britain's airliners.

British airlines were informed of the intelligence, U.S. officials said, and some, including Virgin Atlantic Airways, began putting armed officers on flights. It is unclear when the airlines began doing so.

Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge said Tuesday air marshals are necessary. "There's a continuous stream of threat reporting, that we've seen now for two years, that al Qaeda continues to look at commercial aviation, passenger traffic, as either a target or as a weapon," he said.

Airliners that fail to place marshals onboard flights when notified may be refused government permission to land or fly over the United States.

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