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Wednesday, December 24, 2003

Someone Heard Something

In France, there are travelers who are likely highly annoyed to be kept from being home at Christmas -- but may be lucky to be alive:

The French government has canceled three Air France flights to Los Angeles, California, because of fears of a possible terrorist attack, the French Interior Ministry said Wednesday.

Air France flights 68 and 70 from Paris to Los Angeles and Flight 382 to Los Angeles via Cincinnati, Ohio, were listed as canceled Wednesday afternoon. The decision came after consultation between U.S. and French authorities, a senior U.S. official said.

News of the cancellations came as U.S. officials said a high volume of good-quality intelligence indicated that the al Qaeda terrorist network wants to attack the United States during the Christmas holiday.

No one will know for sure if these flights had been compromised by terrorists unless authorities were lucky or well-informed enough to capture specific suspects from the airports. It points out that jets are still high-value targets for terror groups, being guided missiles, and that we must remain vigilant about air transportation security.

UPDATE: Now there are six flights that have been cancelled, and frustration may be erupting because of this:

One U.S. official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the U.S. government had been trying to keep the negotiations with France confidential, "hoping that we would be able to lure some of these people in."

The official said there was some frustration within the Department of Homeland Security that the flights were canceled, thus allowing the word to get out about the security concerns.

Bear in mind that preliminary reports of this nature are often inaccurate, but if the French pulled the trigger too quickly and let the suspects get away, you can bet there will be some heads rolling on Christmas morning. And there should be.

UPDATE 2: Keep checking The Command Post for updates on this story. Daniel Drezner has some analysis as well.

UPDATE 3: More from MS-NBC:

U.S. officials said the information indicated that al-Qaida planned to use foreign airliners as missiles. They said it appeared that Osama bin Laden personally approved the plan at a recent meeting. The officials said U.S. intelligence agencies had learned that al-Qaida operatives would try to fly hijacked foreign airliners into targets in the United States. In some instances, the intelligence is so detailed as to include specific flight numbers, they said.

The information was given more credence by U.S. officials because it came from two separate intelligence sources, the officials said. ... Quoting unidentified Bush administration sources, the newspaper said that a small number of crew members had been questioned in recent weeks after their names appeared to be similar to those on the FBI's "watch lists" of suspected terrorists.

The Associated Press reported, however, that the Air France flights were canceled Wednesday because of specific fears that al-Qaida operatives would board the planes as passengers, not as crew members.

UPDATE 4, 8:42 PM CST: Welcome to all Instapundit and Hugh Hewitt readers; wish it were under happier circumstances. CNN has updated its story on the cancellations with more details than before. It looks like at least some of the data came from an informant within al-Qaeda, which is interesting news. As can be expected, the data is chaotic, but better to be safe, as one reader has already commented.

The AP continues to report that several suspicious Tunisian men amongst the passengers prompted the warnings. Lisa Myers at MS-NBC reports that passengers from one of the flights were taken into custody and questioned.

UPDATE 5, 12/25: The Los Angeles Times has more details in today's story:

Details remained cloudy, but U.S. counterterrorism officials said their investigation was focusing on the "informed belief" that about six men on Air France Flight 68, from Paris to Los Angeles, may have been planning to hijack the plane and crash it near Los Angeles, or along the way.

That belief, according to several senior U.S. counterterrorism officials, was based on reliable and corroborated information from several sources. Some of the men had the same names as suspected members of Al Qaeda and the Taliban, the officials said.

One of the men is believed to be a trained pilot with a commercial license, a senior U.S. security official said.

There are unconfirmed reports that one or more may have been arrested and being held in France. It also appears that an attack was definitely in the works and that American intelligence was able to stop it from happening, along with French cooperation. Let's hope that they caught all of those who intended to hijack the planes.

UPDATE 6: Reuters is reporting today that no terrorist links were found to any of the passengers detained in France.

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03:18 PM in War on Terror | Permalink


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» Is Al Qaeda wising up? from Brendan's blog
There is plenty to say about today's possible foiled terrorist attack -- the three cancelled flights from Paris to L.A. [Read More]

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» Is Al Qaeda wising up? from Brendan's blog
There is plenty to say about today's possible foiled terrorist attack -- those three cancelled flights from Paris to L.A. [Read More]

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» Seven On Terror Watch List Released from CALIFORNIA YANKEE
In a story that reminds me of the shoe bomber, the Washington Post reports that French police released the 13 people who had been held and questioned after they checked in for two Air France flights that were canceled Christmas [Read More]

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» Al-Qaida targeted Las Vegas, U.S. says from Self-composed
I can't really understand exactly how the Honolulu Advertiser got that headline from this article - but I used it anyway. I think the one above the same article at the Washington Post is a little more responsible. There are [Read More]

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» Al Qaeda still at work from PunditFilter
Quick recap of the last week: US Intelligence hears "chatter," so the Terror Alert is raised, and French flights are cancelled. Meanwhile Osama issues fresh threats, planning on maritime terrorism and almost succeeding in flying a small plane into a... [Read More]

Tracked on Dec 29, 2003 1:34:10 AM


"if the French pulled the trigger too quickly and let the suspects get away, you can bet there will be some heads rolling on Christmas morning."

Why in the world would you think that? The French were happy to let Richard Ried get on that aircraft after they had identified him as a potential terrorist.

If someone in France pulled the trigger too fast and let a terrorist get away, they'll get a promotion.

Posted by: Richard at Dec 24, 2003 6:41:30 PM

Better too quickly than too late.

Posted by: scott h. at Dec 24, 2003 6:45:43 PM

Looking at the emphisis that was placed (by the media) on the US negotiating with france (small f), "I" think that the french did not and would not cancel the flights. In other words, they had to be forced to cancel those flights!

Posted by: Jim Coomes at Dec 25, 2003 6:48:05 AM

There's another angle to this. We don't announce Enemy Combatant detainment until it is to our advantage. There are guys in GitMo right know who's names aren't public. When you tell the enemy they have been arrested, that gives the enemy an opportunity to tie up all of the loose ends that the detainee could point to.

There is a good chance that we arrested many more than the 1 cited to MS-NBC, but if we did, they aren't going to announce it until well after we have pursued every lead we can bea-- er, deduce from what they tell us.

Posted by: Phelps at Dec 25, 2003 10:53:07 PM

Overheard from folks at MSNBC who got reamed out by Homeland Security Honchos for releasing the story too early. All other outlets had agreed to hold off but MS went ahead. Honchos think the premature release may have compromised their chance to catch the terroists.

Posted by: Bob Dobbs at Dec 26, 2003 1:05:37 PM