[an error occurred while processing this directive]
BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Last Updated: Thursday, 25 December, 2003, 15:39 GMT
France terror hunt reveals little
Air France travellers queuing
Hundreds of passengers have been stranded by the cancellations
The French authorities say they have found little evidence of plans to use US-bound aircraft to launch attacks against US targets over Christmas.

Air France services to and from Los Angeles remain suspended on Thursday because of fears of a possible repeat of the 11 September hijackings.

US security said earlier that a number of suspicious people were planning to board Air France planes.

But French officials said seven men had been freed after questioning.

24 Dec: AF068 Paris 1335
24 Dec: AF070 Paris 1900
24 Dec: AF069 LA 1900
25 Dec: AF068 Paris 1335
25 Dec: AF069 LA 1900
25 Dec: AF071 LA 2135
All times are local
Source: Air France website
A spokesman for the Interior Ministry said the men - one French, one American and several Algerians - had been briefly questioned late on Wednesday.

He described the investigation as all but on hold.

A French judicial official added that none of the passengers on the cancelled flights - including those questioned - were known to intelligence authorities or had known links with Islamic radicals.

A Tunisian national with a pilot's licence who was on a US list of suspicious people was found to be still in Tunisia and had no plans to leave the country, he said.

'Credible threat'

The flights were suspended three days after Washington raised its national security alert because of what it said was a real threat of imminent attacks.

Hundreds of passengers were left stranded by cancellations over the Christmas period.

An official at the US Department of Homeland Security said officials had detected a "credible threat" from al-Qaeda operatives due to board a flight from Paris to Los Angeles.

The BBC's Matt Frei in Washington says US security sources indicated they had alerted the French authorities after scouring the passenger lists.

French Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin said the request was due to intelligence "gathered in the framework of Franco-American co-operation in the fight against terrorism".

'At large'

US Homeland Security officials are reported to be upset that the flights were cancelled so publicly.

Unfortunately now these individuals can still carry out this type of attack
Walter Purdy, terrorism expert
An unnamed official told the Associated Press news agency security forces had been "hoping that we would be able to lure some of these people in".

Terrorism expert Walter Purdy, of the Terrorism Research Center in the US, told BBC News the intelligence could have been better used to arrest the suspects at the airport.

He said: "Unfortunately now these individuals can still carry out this type of attack, though not on Air France or out of Paris."

French police with sniffer dogs at Paris Roissy airport
French police have been checking Paris airports
In another security incident, the Delta Airlines terminal at New York's LaGuardia Airport was evacuated on Wednesday night after a woman passenger set off a metal detector and continued into the airport.

The terminal was reopened a short while later.

A huge security operation was also mounted at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX).

Police stopped drop-offs from private vehicles at terminals, amid fears of a terror attack.

On Sunday, the US Government raised the national threat level from Elevated to High Risk of terrorist attack.

The BBC's Matt Prodger
"Air France cancelled three return flights to LA at the request of America"

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites


News Front Page | Africa | Americas | Asia-Pacific | Europe | Middle East | South Asia
UK | Business | Entertainment | Science/Nature | Technology | Health
Have Your Say | In Pictures | Week at a Glance | Country Profiles | In Depth | Programmes
Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific