PARIS, Feb 2 (AFP) – British Airways and Air France cancelled US-bound flights for the second day running Monday, responding to US fears of an al-Qaeda attack that European authorities and pilots have questioned for their vagueness and lack of supporting evidence.
Two flights – one from each airline – that were to have flown to Washington from London and Paris were scrapped Monday.
That followed the cancellation Sunday of the same flights as well as a BA service to Miami and a Continental flight from Glasgow, Scotland to Los Angeles via New York. Another domestic US flight by Continental was also cancelled.
US officials raised the alarm about those flights after saying they had intelligence that al-Qaeda operatives might have planned to release deadly germs or chemicals on board, or transport a radiological device in a plane’s hold, the Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times newspapers reported.
“By simple precaution… I think it’s completely normal that we cooperate and work with them (the US officials) against international terrorism,” French
Transport Minister Gilles de Robien told Radio France Internationale.
He said that “(terrorists) could use airlines, especially those between Europe and America, and in the interests of caution we cancelled certain flights so that safety would be maintained.”
But a French judicial source who declined to be identified told AFP that French anti-terrorist investigators had not opened any probe into the US concerns because of their unsubstantiated nature.
They were “less specific” and with “fewer prospective leads” than the warning US officials had given France late December that led to several Air France and British Airways flights to Los Angeles being cancelled.
A thorough investigation of the passengers determined that some of them had similar names to those on a US terrorist watchlist but were otherwise not suspect.
The judicial source said that, this time, there were no names given and that the French government had opted to cancel the flights rather than beef up their security, for instance by putting armed police officers posing as passengers on board.
The British Airline Pilots’ Association also said it had called on the British government to examine the “strength and validity” of the US information, even though it stressed that it had no choice at this stage but to take it seriously.
As a result of the scare, shares for both European airlines were down Monday. Air France shares slid nearly two percent, while BA was down nearly one percent.
Subject: France news