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Al Qaeda's D.C. Death Jet Plot By: Brian Blomquist
New York Post | Wednesday, January 07, 2004

An al-Qaeda terror team has been plotting to hijack Washington-bound British Airways Flight 223 and crash it into the nation's capital, officials have disclosed.

The frightening - and specific - intelligence is one factor behind the recent rash of airline cancellations, including Flight 223 again.

The same flight - which uses a Boeing 747 jumbo jet - was also scrapped on New Year's Day and other D.C.-bound flights this week from London have been delayed and passengers questioned.

The information about Flight 223, from London's Heathrow Airport to Dulles International Airport, came from a foreign source inside al-Qaeda, who claimed the terror group wanted to strike during the holiday, sources said.

British Airways said the flights were scrapped "following the latest advice from the UK government" based on "security reasons."

U.S. authorities recently have tightened the air safety net around the country with flight cancellations, airline searches and fighter jet escorts for some planes.

The latest terror fears also led to the cancellation of two flights between Mexico and Los Angeles, one Wednesday and one Thursday.

And a New York-to-Paris Air France jetliner made an unscheduled landing in Canada on New Year's Day because of security concerns.

Officials comparing luggage and passenger lists discovered there was unaccompanied baggage aboard the Air France plane, which landed so the bag could be removed before the jet resumed its way to France.

A government official said the North American Aerospace Defense Command had recently scrambled fighter jets to escort commercial flights, including a British Airways flight from London to D.C.

British Airways also canceled another flight, BA 263 from London to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

Intelligence leading to the cancellations of flights to New York and Washington from Paris and London came from al-Qaeda detainees in Turkey and Saudi Arabia.

Those detainees, rounded up after recent terror attacks in those countries, have been talking about specific flight numbers and targets, and some of those tips have been supported by e-mail intercepts, officials said.

"The intelligence is good enough that they know what flight it is, but they don't know who the bad guys are," said Neil Livingstone, chief of Global Options international security company.

British officials also picked up independent intelligence that al-Qaeda terrorists might try to strike a target in Washington, or blow up the plane in the air over the capital - possibly using smuggled explosives.

Terrorism officials say they don't know if they've averted an attack, and they're not sure how good the intelligence was.

"This was coming from credible sources, but it's still uncorroborated. They want to use airliners and they want another spectacular attack," an FBI official said.

"But they have sophisticated intelligence operations themselves," the official said. "They try to mask any information they communicate to each other."

In the past, al-Qaeda has gone back to hit targets that they failed to adequately strike the first time - such as the World Trade Center.

FBI officials believe the United Flight 93 that crashed in Pennsylvania on 9/11 was heading for the Capitol and some experts think the plane that hit the Pentagon was originally intended to strike the White House but overflew the target.

Counter-terrorism officials say al-Qaeda is desperate to carry out a spectacular attack to help recruit terrorist foot soldiers and raise money.

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