LOS ANGELES — Air France resumed service between Paris and Los Angeles on Friday after grounding six flights over the Christmas holidays, an action taken because of a terror threat that may have involved crashing an airplane in Las Vegas.
Quoting unnamed intelligence officials, The Washington Post reported that the only big city along its normal Paris-L.A. route is Las Vegas. One official described the popular gambling and entertainment destination as “a nice, attractive target.”
Al Qaeda, the terror network operated by Usama bin Laden, has long considered Las Vegas a potential strike site, the Post reported. Because of that interest, the U.S. government recently installed outdoor air-handling sensors in Las Vegas that detect biological pathogens that might be released by terrorists.
Officials told the Post that other cities, including Los Angeles, may also have been the target for terrorists.
On Christmas Eve, Air France announced that it was canceling six international flights in and out of Los Angeles because of terror fears. The flights were to resume Friday, Air France officials said.
The flight cancellations added to Christmas holiday tensions that have been high since President Bush raised the national terror alert level to orange, the second highest level, on Sunday. U.S. security officials have been closely monitoring activity at airports, train stations and public buildings.
The Air France flights, scheduled for Wednesday and Thursday, were canceled after U.S. officials passed on information they deemed credible about security threats from passengers flying from Paris to Los Angeles, U.S. and European officials said Wednesday.
Three of the canceled flights were headed to Los Angeles and three more were returning to Paris.
A spokesman for French Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin said the decision to cancel the flights came early Wednesday after American authorities notified France that “two or three” suspicious people, possibly Tunisian nationals, were planning to board the flights.
The French Interior ministry said the United States handed French authorities the names of suspicious people who may have intended to board the flights but no people by those names went through airport security checks, and no arrests were made. French television station LCI reported that U.S. authorities believed members of Al Qaeda may have been planning to board the planes.
It was unclear who ordered the cancellations. The Interior Ministry said the flights were canceled at the request of the U.S. Embassy in Paris. A spokesman for Raffarin said the United States had threatened to refuse the planes permission to land if they took off. But U.S. officials refused to confirm that they had requested the cancellations.
The U.S. Homeland Security Department had been meeting with French officials in recent days over concerns about a possible terrorist attack.
U.S. officials were in intense security talks with officials from several other countries too. One industry official, speaking only on condition of anonymity, said a Mexican airline, Aeromexico, was another focus of U.S. security officials’ concern.
A Homeland Security official in Washington, also speaking on condition of anonymity, said the U.S. government has been working with a number of governments overseas to help them improve airport security in the wake of the credible threats against airliners originating overseas and headed to the United States.
The official said American officials had passed on to other governments a “very credible threat” of possible attacks originating overseas.
American officials said the U.S. government was comparing data it had compiled on passengers preparing to board flights entering the United States, as well as data on the flight crews on those flights, with terrorist watch lists it has compiled.
U.S. officials have been working to get foreign airlines to provide American officials with more passenger information on people aboard the flights that originate overseas and travel to the United States, said an official who spoke this week on condition of anonymity. France and Mexico were of particular concern in this regard, the official said.