Wednesday, January 07, 2004

France listening?

Heeding the warning given to them by the US, France is searching for certain passangers who bought tickets on recent Air France flights to the US.

French authorities are searching for a passenger who failed to show up for an Air France flight that was canceled because of security concerns on Christmas Eve, France's justice minister said Wednesday.

The man, who was ticketed for Air France flight 68 from Paris to Los Angeles on Dec. 24, was believed to have trained in Afghanistan, have ties to al-Qaida and carry a French passport, ABC television news reported, citing unidentified American officials.

The passenger also was feared to have been carrying a small bomb with components that might get past airport security, according to the ABC report.

French officials would not comment on those details.

"I confirm that we are looking for someone, but I can't say more," Justice Minister Dominique Perben said in an interview with RMC radio.


Separately, French judicial officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said investigators were looking for an Afghan man, Abdou Hai, whose name appears on a U.S. terrorism watch list.

His last name matches that of a passenger ticketed to board flight 68 but did not show up, the officials said. Investigators have not yet established whether the Afghan man and the absent passenger are the same person.

Also, France is bulking up its air security, placing armed air marshals on some US bound flights:

Teams of specially trained and armed French police officers will continue to travel on flights deemed to be at risk, a French police official said Monday.

"Monitoring will continue on flights flagged as sensitive by our partners," Michel Gaudin, the director of France's national police force, told Europe 1 radio.

Gaudin refused to say how many armed guards were deployed on such flights, saying only: "We act based on need. It's tailor-made."

Amid heightened international concern over air security, Washington last week issued an emergency directive asking that armed sky marshals be placed on all foreign flights to and from the United States that were thought to be at risk.

France backed the request, with Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy saying on Friday, "When a friendly nation asks us to step up security on our side, no one can reproach it for that."


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