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Officials: Intelligence warns of aircraft attacks

Air France, British Airways flights mentioned

From Kelli Arena
CNN Washington Bureau

Air France, British Airways flights mentioned

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Officials say it may never be known if a terror attack was prevented. CNN's Kelli Arena reports.
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Department of Homeland Security
September 11 attacks
Acts of terror

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- In the past 48 hours, the United States has received new intelligence that suggests a threat of possible terrorist attacks against the United States using aircraft, government officials told CNN on Friday.

The intelligence also mentioned Air France and British Airways flights to the United States. British Airways Flight 223 was mentioned specifically. That flight was canceled twice in early January based on previous intelligence from an informant and other sources.

In December, six Air France flights to Los Angeles, California, were canceled because of similar information.

At the time, the national terror threat level was at orange, or high. The threat level has since been lowered to yellow, or elevated, and has not changed in response to the new intelligence.

A representative for Air France in New York told CNN that the airline has been in close contact with French and U.S. government officials in the past several weeks, and has complied with all government requests for additional security.

The representative could not confirm whether the airline had been contacted by U.S. officials about the latest intelligence but said no scheduled flights have been changed.

Government officials said the intelligence mentioned flight paths between London and Washington-Dulles International Airport, and mentioned multiple dates, all within the next few weeks.

Security has been increased in Houston, Texas, ahead of the Super Bowl on Sunday, though that event was not mentioned in the intelligence.

The officials said all agencies and officials concerned -- including those overseas -- have been notified of the intelligence, which is believed to be credible.

Pentagon sources confirmed to CNN that during such time of heightened alert, incoming flights that are the subject of concern are "routinely" escorted by U.S. military fighter jets.

When the Department of Homeland Security raised the threat level December 21 from yellow to orange, it warned that al Qaeda may use international flights to launch attacks on the United States.

The move followed a "substantial increase" in intelligence pointing to possible al Qaeda attacks, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge said at the time.

Within days, the agency ordered international air carriers to place armed government officers on some flights to, from and over the United States. Fourteen international flights were canceled during the elevated alert.

Authorities also delayed some international flights and provided air support over some cities.

The threat level was returned to yellow January 9.

Before December, the United States last raised the domestic terrorism threat level to orange May 20, 2003, after suicide bombings in Saudi Arabia and Morocco that were blamed on al Qaeda. That alert lasted 10 days.

Other orange alerts were raised in 2002 around the anniversary of the attacks of September 11, 2001, and in February 2003, on the eve of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.

CNN's John King and Jamie McIntyre contributed to this report.

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