by Julio Godoy
(IPS) PARIS --
during the last three weeks U.S. officials have warned France about the possibility of Arab terrorists flying out from Paris to launch attacks in the United States.
The U.S. government got French authorities to suspend six supposedly risky flights from Paris to Los Angeles around Christmas. Some passengers were suspected of being terrorists.
The French government concluded after exhaustive investigations that the alarms were false.
"We have information about a context, not about a particular action," French minister of the interior Nicolas Sarkozy said about the warnings.
"The French and the U.S. governments share the view that we are living through a period of tension, demanding meticulous vigilance," Sarkozy added.
In response to U.S. warnings, the French government not only cancelled the six flights of state-owned Air France Dec. 24 and 25, but placed air marshals on board other aircraft.
In some instances French military aircraft escorted commercial planes flying into the United States.
But privately French officials described the U.S. alarms as "hysteria," or even "deliberate misinformation." They said the aim behind these was to question the firmness of the French stand against terrorism.
The false warnings could also have been intended to damage Air France, well-placed official sources told IPS.
The list of suspects provided by the United States led French authorities separately to a child, a grandmother, and a Tunisian citizen living in Tunisia. None had planned to fly to Los Angeles.
The French authorities cancelled further investigation in all cases.
"The dramatic U.S. alarms about terrorists flying from French soil can be seen as a treacherous maneuvre to continue punishing France for its opposition to the war against Iraq," says Patrick Sabatier, a leading commentator with the French daily LibŽration.
The New York-based ABC television reported Jan. 6 that alleged Taliban extremist Abdul Hai holding a French passport had booked under his own name to fly from Paris to Los Angeles on one of the cancelled flights Dec. 24.
ABC reported that Hai had with him a mini-bomb that could not be detected, and that he planned to carry out an attack in the United States. ABC reported that he never showed up to take the flight.
Government spokesperson Jean-Francois Cope confirmed that the "French police are looking for a passenger who didn't take the flight he was booked on." Justice minister Dominique Perben said "we are looking for someone." Sarkozy said "it is too soon to talk about it."
Writing in the Sunday newspaper Le Journal du Dimanche, terrorism expert Michel DelŽan quoted a French prosecutor as saying, "Since when do terrorists travel under their own names?" Police sources say no such Taliban terrorist had ever planned to fly from Paris to Los Angeles.
The prosecutor's cynicism reflects "the skepticism, even the exasperation among French terrorist experts over the false alarms," DelŽan wrote.
Sabatier says "the mere fact that the U.S. warnings are seen as implausible is a symptom of the lack of credibility President George Bush suffers from after his lies on the alleged Iraqi weapons of mass destruction."
But many see the French government doing much the same thing. The French government has warned several times of terrorist attacks aimed at French targets.
The Ministry of the Interior announced it had discovered bottles containing toxic substances in a safe at the Saint Lazare train station in the heart of Paris earlier this week. The government claimed the police had foiled a chemical attack. After analysis, the bottles proved to contain harmless material.
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