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Search for missing passenger called routine

A U.S. intelligence official on Wednesday discounted a media report that French authorities are intensively hunting a man with suspected al-Qaida links who failed to show up for a Dec. 24  flight from Paris to L.A.
/ Source: NBC News and news services

A senior U.S. intelligence official on Wednesday dismissed a media report that French authorities are conducting an intensive search for a man with suspected al-Qaida links who failed to show up for a Christmas Eve flight from Paris to Los Angeles.

The official, who spoke with NBC News on condition of anonymity, said that while authorities would like to talk to the man who failed to check in for the Air France flight on Christmas Eve, he is not the focus of a major manhunt. Nor was the man’s failure to check in a factor in security fears that led to the cancellation of at least 15 U.S.-bound international flights since Christmas Eve, the official said.

“Our intelligence … is not passenger-related. It is flight-, date- and route-related," the official said.

The official was responding to an ABC News report that said authorities are conducting a manhunt for the man, fearing he may possess a small bomb whose components might get past airport security.

The official confirmed that French investigators would like to talk to the man, but said, "It’s not a big deal.  We are looking into it, the French are looking into it, but it is not the central focus of our angst.  We are not chasing a particular person with a bomb."

‘We are looking for someone’
French Justice Minister Dominique Perben also confirmed Wednesday that authorities want to question the man.

“I confirm that we are looking for someone, but I can’t say more,” he 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.”

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

The ABC report cited unidentified American officials as saying the passenger had a French passport and was believed to have undergone training in Afghanistan.

It also quoted unidentified French officials as saying that the man was feared to have a small bomb whose components might get past airport security.

Afghan man sought
Perben 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, told the Associated Press that investigators were looking in France for an Afghan man, named Abdou Hai, whose name appears on a U.S. terrorism watch list.

His last name matches that of a passenger who was 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 one in the same.

In London, a Department for Transport spokesman declined to comment on whether the flight disruptions in Britain were connected to the 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.