- The Washington Times - Monday, February 2, 2004

Airlines planned to resume normal flight schedules at Washington Dulles International Airport today after six cancellations Sunday and yesterday because of terrorism concerns.

“Everything starting tomorrow is going to operate normally,” John Lampl, British Airways spokesman, said yesterday.

The flights in and out of Dulles Airport were canceled after the government warned about the al Qaeda terrorist organization’s continued interest in targeting commercial planes for attacks on the United States.

The threats subsided to a level allowing flights to resume today, Homeland Security Department officials said.

“We do not have new threat reporting indicating at this time there will be future flight cancellations,” said Brian Roehrkasse, Homeland Security Department spokesman.

However, the cancellations of British Airways, Air France and Continental Airlines flights Sunday and yesterday were based on “threat reporting” about an attack, he said.

“We had very specific intelligence information about al Qaeda targeting those flights, with specific flight numbers and dates,” Mr. Roehrkasse said.

He denied earlier reports that government officials had information that terrorists planned to carry a chemical, biological or radiological weapon on board an airplane and release it in the United States.

“We had a concern that al Qaeda was planning to target those airplanes but we don’t know how,” Mr. Roehrkasse said.

International flights from the United Kingdom and France and Continental Airlines Flight 1519 from Washington to Houston, site of the Super Bowl, were grounded.

The cancellations were the first since December, when the nation’s terror alert level was increased from elevated, or Code Yellow, to high, or Code Orange. The threat level is at Code Yellow. Homeland Security officials have no plans to raise it.

A senior law enforcement official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said some themes continue to emerge from intelligence collection: Al Qaeda is determined to mount another large-scale attack and remains interested in aviation and weapons of mass destruction.

The Continental flight was the first domestic flight to be canceled because of the latest threat.

The flight was scheduled to take off from Dulles Airport at 5:45 p.m. EST Sunday and arrive at Houston’s George Bush Intercontinental Airport at 8:10 p.m. CST.

The National Football League’s Super Bowl was being played Sunday evening at Reliant Stadium, about 27 miles from the Houston airport. However, a U.S. government official who spoke on condition of anonymity said the flight cancellation was not connected specifically to the Super Bowl.

A Continental Airlines flight Sunday from Glasgow, Scotland, to Los Angeles with an intermediate stop in Newark, N.J., was canceled late Saturday because of security concerns, but there was no indication whether that was related to the Washington-Houston cancellation announced late Sunday.

British Airways canceled Flight 223 from London to Dulles for Sunday and yesterday and Flight 207 from London to Miami on Sunday. Air France canceled Flight 026 from Paris to Washington on Sunday and yesterday.

Officials from the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, which manages Dulles Airport and Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, said the flight cancellations had no noticeable effect on other airport or airline operations.

British pilots, meanwhile, are questioning the validity of U.S. intelligence that led to the flight cancellations since doubts were raised about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction.

U.S. officials defended the quality of their information yesterday and said the threat was real.

Also yesterday, Maryland transportation officials said they plan to increase the number of security screeners at Baltimore-Washington International Airport by as much as 15 percent as air travel increases in the spring.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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