U.S. investigators are searching for a small number of people who failed to show up at the Paris airport to board flights to Los Angeles that fell under close scrutiny in a possible terrorist plot, a U.S. official said Friday.
One of those people was receiving pilot training, but was not yet certified, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Investigators remain interested in talking with those people to ease concerns some passengers aboard those flights might have intended to use them to launch terror attacks against the United States, the official said.
Discussions between U.S. and French officials led to the cancellation of six Air France flights between Paris and Los Angeles on Wednesday and Thursday. U.S. officials also were talking to officials in other countries.
After the Air France cancellations, French investigators questioned seven men pointed out by U.S. intelligence but found no evidence they planned to use a Los Angeles-bound jet to launch terror attacks against the United States, French authorities said.
Meanwhile, U.S. counterterrorism officials were turning to possible threats next week that might target large, public gatherings, such as New Year’s Eve celebrations. One U.S. official said there was no specific information such an attack was likely, but said such gatherings would obviously be an attractive target for terrorists hoping to inflict large-scale casualties.
Already, Homeland Security officials have enhanced their ability to monitor the air for biological warfare agents in 30 cities, one of several ways the government is preparing for possible terrorist strikes during a high, Code Orange alert.
The alert also has activated special disaster response teams, while federal officials have been conferring with foreign governments to prevent terrorists from boarding international flights bound for the United States.
“People have their antennas up,” said Brian Roehrkasse, a spokesman for the Homeland Security Department.
President Bush kept abreast of terrorism threats from the Camp David presidential retreat in Maryland as he celebrated Christmas Day with his family.
The department previously modified air pollution monitoring equipment in the 30 cities to pick up any harmful biological agents and provide test results in 12 to 24 hours.
After the national threat alert was raised to orange on Sunday, officials took several dozen additional monitors and installed them in the same cities. The locations were not identified for security reasons.
The emergency response units that have been activated are divided up by areas of expertise.
Separate teams would:
- Provide expert advice and support to the on-scene commander if there was a threat or an incident involving weapons of mass destruction.
- Respond to any release of radiation with advice and air monitoring equipment.
- Provide medical personnel to assist state and local medical authorities.