Flights Canceled Over Al Qaeda Attack Fears:
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By Claudia Parsons
LONDON (Reuters) - Western airlines grounded several flights to and from the United States Sunday amid reports U.S. officials had intelligence suggesting al Qaeda may be planning a chemical or biological attack on an aircraft.
Three intelligence officials told The Washington Post that the possible threats included releasing a biological agent like smallpox or anthrax on a plane so those aboard would spread the infection without knowing it.
British Airways, Air France and Continental Airlines canceled several transatlantic flights scheduled for Sunday and Monday citing security concerns.
A grounded BA London-Washington flight was the same service canceled several times in January because of security worries.
'There are a handful of flights we are concerned about, and British Airways has canceled about half of them,' a U.S. official said, on condition of anonymity.
'We have received threat reporting that indicates al Qaeda's desire to target these particular flights.'
The Al Qaeda network is held responsible for the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States involving four hijacked commercial planes. About 3,000 people were killed in those attacks.
U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge has said the U.S. government consistently receives intelligence that al Qaeda is still interested in using aircraft for attacks.
The Washington Post cited intelligence officials as saying attackers could try to hijack a plane by releasing a chemical agent to incapacitate the crew and passengers or smuggle a radiological device in luggage."