Euro police hunt Air France absentee

Police across Europe are searching for a man who failed to show up for an Air France flight that was cancelled due to fears of a "terror" attack.

    Six Air France flights were cancelled over Christmas

    But the French interior ministry said on Wednesday it was too

    soon to draw any conclusions about the man's identity or his

    suspected ties to al-Qaida.

    "I can confirm to you that we are looking for someone. I can't

    tell you any more than that," French Justice Minister Dominique

    Perben said.

    Government spokesman Jean-Francois Cope later added the

    suspect had been booked on one of the US-bound Air France

    flights grounded over the Christmas holidays

    .

    US television network ABC reported on Tuesday that a search had

    been launched for the man, who US law enforcement officials believe

    is an Afghan national

    .

    "I can confirm to you that we are looking for someone. I can't

    tell you any more than that"


    Dominique Perben,

    French Justice Minister

     

    Cancelled flights 

    International concern about the man, who was reportedly

    travelling with a French passport, was one of the factors

    contributing to security jitters about transatlantic flights

    .

    A global air security alert has forced the cancellation of

    several flights over the past two weeks, including six Air France

    flights linking Paris and Los Angeles on 24 and 25 December.

     

    The United States raised its nationwide terror alert on 21 December

    , warning that al-Qaida was planning an even bigger attack than

    the September 11 strikes

    .

    Sources close to the investigation in Paris said the suspect

    bore a name with a phonetic

    resemblance to that of a man captured by US forces in Afghanistan

    but who managed to escape.

    The US authorities noted the similarity in the two names and

    alerted their French counterparts, but the man's date and place of

    birth were not known, the sources said, making a definitive

    identification difficult.

    Small bomb?

    ABC reported that French officials feared the suspect may have a

    small bomb that could get past airport security devices, but sources

    in Paris were unable to confirm that report.

    French Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy said only that it was

    "too soon to make any statements" about the matter.

    "I prefer to speak about it once all information has been

    verified," he said.

    Later, an interior ministry source said French investigators had

    uncovered "no new information to confirm the theory advanced by the

    American media".

    "When a friendly nation asks us to step up security on our side, no one can reproach it for that. I much prefer to act too soon rather than too late"

    Nicolas Sarkozy,
    French interior minister

    Following the grounding of the Air France flights, a thorough

    search by French investigators turned up nothing suspicious, and

    officials later said several passengers had been wrongly flagged as

    potential "terrorists".

    Heightened concern

    Air France resumed its flights between Paris and Los Angeles on 26 

    December.

    Amid heightened international concern over air security,

    Washington issued an emergency directive last week asking that armed

    sky marshals be placed on all foreign flights thought to be at

    risk.

    France backed the US request, with Sarkozy saying on Friday:

    "When a friendly nation asks us to step up security on our side, no

    one can reproach it for that.

    "I much prefer to act too soon rather than too late."

    SOURCE: AFP


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