- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 4, 2004

The British Airways Flight 223 from London’s Heathrow Airport to Washington Dulles International Airport, canceled or delayed three times in four days, was delayed again yesterday amid security concerns.

British Airway officials in New York said the flight was delayed more than three hours but was expected to arrive at Dulles at about 9:15 p.m. However, airline and government officials have provided no details about the security threats since the first British Airways flight, from Dulles to Heathrow, was delayed three hours on New Year’s Eve.

“The delay [yesterday] has been caused by the passing of some extra information to the U.S.,” British Airways spokesman Paul Parry said from London.

He said U.S. officials then responded by asking officials in London for more information about yesterday’s flight and that similar scenarios occurred on New Year’s and Friday when takeoffs of Flight 223 were canceled.

U.S. officials also have declined to discuss what prompted them to ask for the additional information.

British Transportation Secretary Alistair Darling would not discuss what caused the cancellations and delays, but warned travelers of more security alerts to come.

“I fear that for many years to come, we are going to be living in an age where there is going to be a heightened state of alert,” he said during an interview with the British Broadcasting Corp. “Sometimes it will be quite severe [and] at other times perhaps less so.”

BBC Radio reported Saturday that “an individual who is on a U.S. list of terrorist suspects was trying to get on Flight 223 to Washington when it was canceled on Thursday.”

The New Year’s Eve flight was delayed three hours at Dulles by U.S. authorities because of “credible information” about suspected terrorist activity, said a Homeland Security Department official who requested anonymity.

The London Observer newspaper yesterday said armed police watched as passengers were searched and their passports checked. Intelligence agents reportedly quizzed each passenger before escorting them on board one at a time.

The newspaper also reported that U.S. intelligence officials learned that Islamist terrorists had obtained legitimate passports from the United States, the United Kingdom and other European countries.

There is also “compelling new evidence” that jihadist groups regard London as a key financial and recruiting territory, the paper reported.

Professors, engineers, doctors and teachers were among those being recruited, the paper also reported.

The Bush administration raised the national terrorism alert level on Dec. 21 from Code Yellow, elevated risk, to Code Orange, high risk.

The intelligence information that interfered with the British Airways flights to the United States also canceled a flight from Heathrow to Riyadh, the capital of Saudi Arabia.

British Airways yesterday had not decided whether the scheduled Riyadh flight would resume today.

Several other international flights have been canceled since New Year’s Eve, including two from Mexico City to Los Angeles and an Air France flight from Paris to New York. However, British Airways Flight 217 arrived on schedule yesterday afternoon at Dulles.

News reports in England suggest that the British government has received intelligence tips that the al Qaeda terror network planned to use the flights to make suicide attacks on prominent U.S. targets.

Mr. Darling declined to comment on the reports.

“We are going to have to get used to increased security at airports,” he said. “From time to time, that will be noticeable and at other times, maybe things will be going on behind the scenes.”

• This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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