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.