- The Washington Times - Friday, January 2, 2004


Security concerns prompted the cancellation yesterday of the same British Airways flight from London that U.S. authorities had boarded the night before when it landed at Washington Dulles International Airport.

U.S. officials were acting on intelligence information — and not just suspicious passenger names — when they boarded a British Airways jet on New Year’s Eve at Dulles, a national security official said.

The flight canceled yesterday was one of the airline’s three daily flights from London’s Heathrow Airport to Washington. The decision was based on security advice from the British government, a spokesman for British Airways said. The return flight to London also was canceled yesterday.

In the New Year’s Eve incident, investigators found no evidence of terrorism, and the major consequence appeared to be inconvenience, with the 247 passengers from London waiting more than 3 hours before getting off the plane while some of them were questioned.

“We had concerns with individuals on the flight, but threat reporting information led us to make the decision to have the flight escorted,” a national security official said, speaking only on the condition of anonymity.

“It was fact-related,” the official said, and not just connected to the passenger list the United States now receives from airlines flying to the country.

A U.S. Department of Transportation spokeswoman said she was unable to comment on matters of security or whether the cancellation was because of a specific threat.

The official, commenting on the incident at Dulles, said the long delay was caused in part by weapons screening of passengers, and partly because authorities waited for some law enforcement specialists to arrive after the 7:06 p.m. landing.

Transportation Security Administration spokeswoman Jennifer Marty said officials began departing from the plane about 10:30 p.m.

The plane was kept several hundred feet from the terminal during the questioning.

Passenger David Litwick told WJLA-TV in Washington that he and his wife were not questioned, but at least one other passenger was. Mr. Litwick said four FBI agents spoke to a woman who appeared to be from the Middle East, repeatedly asking her why she was not traveling with her husband.

Earlier this week, a scheduled U.S.-bound flight from Mexico was canceled because of security concerns.

“The government of Mexico made the decision to cancel AeroMexico Flight 490 after the U.S. government shared threat information with the Mexican government,” Department of Homeland Security spokesman Brian Roehrkasse said.

Previous reports said the plane turned around in midair, but Mr. Roehrkasse and Mexican officials said it never took off. Agustin Gutierrez, Mexico’s presidential spokesman, said the flight was canceled after U.S. authorities said they would refuse to allow it to land.

The threat of terrorism also prompted the closure Tuesday night and Wednesday of the oil tanker terminal in Valdez, Alaska, where tankers load oil from the 800-mile Alaska pipeline, which carries 17 percent of the U.S. domestic oil supply.

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