Air France, Relations May Not Be Cordial

Discussion in 'Current Events' started by Annie, Dec 26, 2003.

  1. Annie

    Annie Diamond Member

    Nov 22, 2003
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    as being reported, from UK:;$sessionid$YGB1CUY55ZQ2VQFIQMGSFGGAVCBQWIV0?xml=/news/2003/12/26/wterr26.xml&sSheet=/portal/2003/12/26/ixportal.html

    US in row with France over terror operation
    By David Rennie in Washington
    (Filed: 26/12/2003)

    American and French officials yesterday traded mutual recriminations over the failure to snare any terrorists in the security operation that grounded six Air France flights in and out of Los Angeles.

    Bush administration officials expressed frustration that al-Qa'eda operatives might have escaped capture after word leaked, early this week, of American concerns about flights from France to the United States over the Christmas period.

    One official said Washington had been hoping to keep the US-French negotiations confidential, adding that the hope was that "we would be able to lure some of these people in".

    However, a French interior ministry spokesman said little evidence of a terrorist plot had been found.

    French authorities released seven men - one French, one American and several Algerians - whose names were found to be on US watch-lists.

    The seven men were all due to board a flight on Wednesday and had been briefly questioned. French authorities found nothing to suggest the men had terrorist links.

    A spokesman for the French prime minister, Jean-Pierre Raffarin, said the decision to cancel the flights came early on Christmas Eve after American authorities notified France that "two or three" suspicious people, possibly Tunisian nationals, were on the manifests of three Los Angeles-bound flights.

    M Raffarin's spokesman added that the United States had threatened to refuse the planes permission to land if they took off.

    A French judicial official said the name of a Tunisian national with a pilot's licence had appeared on the American list of suspicious people who might attempt to board a flight. But French intelligence officials determined that the man was in Tunisia and had no plans to leave the country.

    The official added that the Tunisian had no criminal record and did not belong to any Islamic radical groups.

    The cancellations, on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, stranded hundreds of passengers on both sides of the Atlantic.

    US sources hit back at French scepticism, saying American intelligence agencies had intercepted e-mails from the al-Qa'eda terrorist group suggesting another September 11-style attack was being plotted for the Christmas holiday.

    The al-Qa'eda messages referred specifically to Air France and even gave a flight number, officials said. Other warnings have been issued about flights by the Mexican carrier, Aeromexico, it was reported.

    US officials said they fear Air France has been infiltrated by Islamic extremists and have criticised French co-operation in providing details of passengers on US-bound flights.

    On Monday, the US homeland security secretary, Tom Ridge, raised the nation's terrorist-attack warning level to it's second-highest stage, orange - "high" alert.

    Mr Ridge said terrorist "chatter" indicated that "extremists abroad" are anticipating "near-term attacks" that they believe will "rival or exceed" those experienced in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania on September 11, 2001.

    Following the cancellations, Los Angeles airport, the nation's second busiest, was put under an extraorinary security clampdown.

    Private cars were banned from dropping off passengers or picking them up at terminals and vehicles entering the complex were searched by armed police who used mirrors to inspect the undersides of cars.

    The airport was the target of a millennium bomb plot almost four years ago, which was thwarted when one of the bombers was arrested after crossing into the United States from Canada with explosives in his car.

    Mobile anti-aircraft missile systems have been deployed around Washington DC, and US and Canadian fighter pilots remain on high alert.

    In London, police boosted security around the US embassy. Vehicles more than 7ft wide were restricted from entering surrounding streets late on Christmas Eve.

    The precaution was introduced as lorries have been used in suicide attacks around the world, and against British targets in the bombings in Istanbul last month.

    A Scotland Yard statement said: "This measure is being carried out in the light of worldwide events, particular current concerns about US interests and the fact that security in London remains at a high level. We would stress that this restriction is being put in place on a precautionary basis.

    "We would reiterate our earlier appeals for the public to remain vigilant and aware and report anything suspicious to police."

    The so-called "ring of steel" surrounding key sites in the City of London was extended earlier this month.

    22 December 2003: second-highest stage, orange - "high" alert
    21 November 2003: Britons in al-Qa'eda carnage
    22 May 2003: Groundhog Day for the security-weary

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