- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 1, 2004

Several U.S.-bound flights scheduled for today and tomorrow were canceled after warnings from American officials of an increased terrorist threat to specific international flights.

Officials from the Department of Homeland Security said recent information indicated terrorist group al Qaeda wants to target international flights, with specific information pointing to particular flights of British and French origin.

As a result, British Airways canceled today’s and tomorrow’s Flight 223 from London’s Heathrow Airport to Washington Dulles International Airport, as well as the return flights. British Airways Flight 207 from London to Miami today also was canceled, and Air France aborted its Flight 26 from Paris to Dulles for today and tomorrow. Those return flights were also grounded.

The Associated Press reported yesterday that the recent threat information focused attention on a handful of specific flights, including a U.S.-based carrier. Continental Airlines canceled its Flight 17 due to leave Glasgow, Scotland, for Los Angeles, with a stopover in Newark, N.J.

Homeland Security officials said “specific information” on one particular flight was being analyzed yesterday and the department was “working with the airline to see what security measures need to be put in place.”

“When we receive specific, credible threat information for particular flights, we share that information with foreign governments and our airline partners,” said Suzanne Lubert, a Homeland Security spokeswoman.

Homeland Security officials said several increased security measures, including the use of armed sky marshals, were requested for the British Airways and Air France flights. The decisions to cancel the flights were made by French and British authorities and the airlines.

British Airways said the decision was for security reasons and was based on advice from the British government.

A spokeswoman in London said the airline would accept “the deployment of armed police officers on one of our flights if we are satisfied that safety would be enhanced to an acceptable level.”

She added, however, that if there is any concern “regarding safety or security of a particular flight, we will simply not operate that flight.”

While the latest round of cancellations renewed fears of potential hijacking of trans-Atlantic flights, it was not expected to increase the U.S. terror-alert status, which has been steady at “yellow” or “elevated” since being lowered from “orange” or “high” Jan. 9.

The threat level was raised to “high” through the holiday season, during which security was increased for international flights and more than a dozen flights from France, Britain and Mexico to the United States were canceled or delayed.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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