France confirms search for man who missed Christmas Eve flight

Thursday, January 8, 2004

PARIS -- 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, ABC said.

In Washington, U.S. officials said the report that French authorities were seeking a specific person with bomb components was incorrect, but they would not elaborate.

French officials also would not comment on reported details of the man being sought.

"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.

"What's important when someone doesn't take a plane is to know why he didn't take it," Perben said.

Flight 68 was one of six Air France flights between Paris and Los Angeles on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day that were canceled after security talks between U.S. and French officials.

The justice minister declined to respond to questions about whether the suspect was a French national, had a criminal record or was on a watch list of the French counter-terrorism agency, DST.

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.

The officials said the man being pursued is not known to counter-intelligence authorities, and no judicial investigation has been opened.

Meanwhile, a British Airways flight from London to Washington, which was canceled twice last week over security fears, was delayed for the fourth consecutive day Tuesday because of U.S.-requested security checks.

In London, a Department for Transport spokesman declined to comment on whether the flight disruptions in Britain were connected to the French case, saying only that "we keep security under constant review and we share information with other organizations and countries."

London's Metropolitan Police said it couldn't comment on the issue.

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