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French officials seek Air France 'no-show'

U.S. officials say missing man not linked to terrorism

Passengers in France check posted flights before Christmas.
Passengers in France check posted flights before Christmas.

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- French officials said Wednesday that they were looking for a man who did not show up to board canceled France Air Flight 68 in Paris on December 24, while senior U.S. officials said they had found "no derogatory information" on anyone on that flight.

Earlier in the day, French intelligence sources said that U.S. officials were concerned that the missing man -- Abdul Hay -- may be linked to terrorism, but U.S. officials told CNN he is absolutely not an Afghan man with a similar name who does have ties to terrorism.

Flight 68 from Paris to Los Angeles, California, was canceled on December 24 because of fears that it was a possible target of a planned terrorist attack.

U.S. officials said Abdul Hay's name is similar to that of a man close to the Taliban who escaped from U.S. custody in Kandahar, Afghanistan.

Three days before Flight 68 was canceled, U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge announced he was raising the nation's terror alert level to "high," or Code Orange. He warned of increased threat-related intelligence -- some of it indicating near-term strikes that might rival or exceed the attacks of September 11, 2001. "Al Qaeda continues to consider using aircraft as a weapon," Ridge said.

U.S. intelligence officials said some names of passengers for six Air France flights canceled around Christmas were similar to names on a terror data base. French intelligence sources said French intelligence officials discussed the passenger lists with National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and officials from the CIA and FBI in Washington on January 3.

"We had some information over the holiday period with respect to certain individuals with names that hit our database," Secretary of State Colin Powell said Wednesday. "A lot of these names have not only duplicates, triplicates, but many similar names and it takes awhile to sort through this."

French and U.S. officials determined that there were between two and four names that they were concerned about. All have been eliminated as concerns except for Abdul Hay, according to French intelligence sources.

French officials said a second man, a pilot from Tunisia who was listed as a passenger, also did not show up for Air France Flight 68. But French intelligence officials said he is no longer a concern.

Powell said, "I'm not aware of any one particular individual who is loose."

On Tuesday, Delta Airlines Flight 43, from Paris to the airport that serves Cincinnati, Ohio, landed without incident after a suspicious passenger wasn't allowed to board the aircraft in France.

The passenger was a woman wearing a heated jacket containing wiring that triggered security concerns, U.S. government sources said.

Sources said the woman was a 22-year-old Saudi electrical engineer carrying a Jordanian passport. Her nationality, passport and occupation, along with the wires in her jacket, all were factors that raised concerns.

"Nothing suspicious was found," the spokesman said. "She took the next flight to Cincinnati." (Full story)

Meanwhile, the level of threat information and intelligence from so-called "chatter" has fallen off a bit, but remains at high levels, U.S. officials said Tuesday.

The officials said the difference in the information is that it is less specific. For example, there was specific intelligence regarding certain flight numbers and intelligence regarding a possible attack on New Years Eve. Now, the intelligence is more general in nature, according to officials.

Officials also said that the Code Orange threat level could be lowered to Code Yellow, or elevated, soon, although no decision has been made. Certain sectors, such as aviation, could be kept on a higher alert while the national threat level is lowered, the officials said.

U.S. to research protection from missiles

Also Tuesday, the Department of Homeland Security announced it has selected three companies to continue research into ways to thwart shoulder-fired missile attacks on U.S. commercial aircraft. (Full story)

BAE Systems, Northrop Grumman Corp. and United Airlines will each receive about $2 million to determine whether systems used on military planes can be adapted for use on civilian airliners, and to study associated safety, cost, maintenance and other issues.

Although terrorism experts say the low cost and easy availability of shoulder-fired missiles make them a concern, Homeland Security Undersecretary Asa Hutchinson said the announcement was not prompted by any specific or credible threat.

U.S. tells Brazil to change security program

The U.S. State Department has changed its stance on a new Brazilian security process for U.S. citizens entering the South American nation. Washington is now urging Brazil to alter its new process of fingerprinting and photographing U.S. visitors.

"We have told the Brazilians that we think that these are measures that provide tremendous inconvenience to travelers and that they need to be changed," State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said Tuesday.

Just last week, Boucher's deputy -- J. Adam Ereli -- said the United States understood Brazil's new policy. "This is their sovereign right to do if they want to do it." Ereli said.

Brazil's program began after a similar process was announced for the United States. The US-VISIT program began January 5 and applies to any visitor, including Brazilians, who are required to have visa to enter the United States. Visitors from most European nations are excluded. (Full story)

CNN's Sheila MacVicar, David Ensor, Kelli Arena, Mike Ahlers, Kevin Bohn, Mike Brooks, Terry Frieden, Karine Djili-Bienfait and Larry Shaughnessy contributed to this report.

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