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U.S. stands down on ‘credible’ airline threat

<font color="#000000">The threats that prompted the cancellation of seven flights over the weekend have passed, and there are no plans to ground more flights, a U.S. government official said Monday. </font></p>
/ Source: The Associated Press

The “specific and credible” terrorist threats that led to the cancellation of seven flights have passed, and there are no plans to ground any more flights, government officials said Monday.

“At this point we do not have any new threat reporting targeting specific flights like we did over the weekend,” White House spokesman Scott McClellan said.

Six international flights from the United Kingdom and France and Continental Airlines Flight 1519 from Washington to Houston, site of the Super Bowl, were grounded Sunday and Monday after security concerns were raised by the Homeland Security Department.

Homeland Security Department spokesman Brian Roehrkasse said there was “specific and credible intelligence information suggesting that al-Qaida would attack these flights on those dates.”

“It wasn’t as specific as to method of attack,” he said.

The cancellations were the first since December, when the nation’s terror alert level was increased from elevated, or yellow, to high, or orange.

Disturbing themes emergeA senior law enforcement official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said some themes continue to emerge from intelligence collection: al-Qaida is determined to mount another large-scale attack and remains highly interested in aviation and weapons of mass destruction.

It’s possible, the official said, that the two attack methods could be combined in some fashion, but no specific plot has been reported.

The Continental flight was the first domestic flight to be canceled. Roehrkasse declined to provide details about the nature of the threat but said the federal agency and Continental “worked closely on the matter.”

The flight was scheduled to take off from Dulles International Airport outside Washington at 5:45 p.m. EST Sunday and arrive at Bush Intercontinental Airport at 8:10 p.m. CST.

The National Football League’s Super Bowl was being played Sunday evening at Reliant Stadium, approximately 27 miles from the Houston airport. However, a U.S. government official who spoke on condition of anonymity said the flight cancellation was not specifically connected to the Super Bowl.

Three airlines affectedContinental spokesman David Messing said he did not know what security concerns led to the cancellation. He said the decision to ground the flight was made “because we were unable to get security clearance from the Department of Homeland Security.”

A Continental Airlines flight Sunday from Glasgow, Scotland, to Los Angeles with an intermediate stop in Newark, N.J., was canceled late Saturday because of security concerns, but there was no indication whether that was related to the Washington-Houston cancellation announced late Sunday.

The Scotland-Los Angeles flight was one of six U.S.-bound flights canceled Sunday and Monday because of security concerns. The U.S. government said it had fresh indications of al-Qaida’s continued interest in targeting commercial planes flying to the United States.

British Airways canceled Flight 223 from London to Dulles for Sunday and Monday and Flight 207 from London to Miami on Sunday. Air France Flight 026 from Paris to Washington on Sunday and Monday.

A British pilots’ union official expressed concern Monday over what it called the “erratic” nature of the security intelligence leading to the flight cancellations.

“It is the sort of thing that feeds public disquiet rather than resolves the concern of passengers, pilots and the U.K. industry as a whole,” said Jim McAuslan, general secretary of the British Airline Pilots’ Association, which represents nearly 90 percent of Britain’s 9,200 commercial pilots.

McClellan defended the decision to ground the flights. “When we have specific intelligence that comes to our attention, we act on that intelligence, we share it, and that’s what you are seeing done here,” he said.