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FBI Agents Wait Arrival of Air India Flight

Aired February 28, 2002 - 15:35   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Fredricka Whitfield at the CNN News Center in Atlanta. We want to update you now on the goings- on at New York's JFK Airport, where FBI agents are awaiting the arrival Air India Flight 101 from London's Heathrow Airport.

CNN's Michael Okwu is there now.

Michael, they are suspicious of this airline because there is a suspicious passenger on board? What more do we know about that?

MICHAEL OKWU, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, I can tell you this much, that FBI officials -- I should say FBI agents are expected to meet this particular flight, Air India 101, here at JFK International Airport at about 4:39 this afternoon, which is when it is now expected to land.

According to FBI officials, there was a screener at Heathrow International Airport in London, of course, where this flight originated, whose name was very similar to that of a name that is on the international watch list. And according to FAA officials, this person's face also resembled a face that is on the no-fly list.

Now, according to FBI officials, there have been no disturbances on the flight. The man has not been restrained. And, in fact, there has been no report whatsoever that he needed in any way to be restrained. There are some 370 passengers on this flight, which is a Boeing 747. And we understand that NORAD has scrambled jets to track the flight. But the U.S. military has made no order at this point to actually escort the flight.

According to a representative with Air India, this is all being blown out of proportion. That is, the attention that is being spent, focused on this flight is being blown out of proportion. And we can tell you this much, that, as far as we can see here at John F. Kennedy International Airport, there does not seem to be any stepped-up security, operations running fairly normally. There are flights that are coming in and taking off just as scheduled.

WHITFIELD: Well, let's go now to Kathleen Koch, who also has a little bit more detail on this out of Washington.

Kathleen, the FBI is saying that this is something they respond to on a weekly basis, particularly now with the heightened sense of security in this country. KATHLEEN KOCH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Fredricka, there are reports of unruly passengers. And there are suspicions that are raised on somewhat of a regular basis. But this instance is somewhat different.

What we are hearing from government officials here in D.C., the latest news is that this particular person on the plane, that his name does not match a suspected terrorist or someone on a watch list, but it was indeed his appearance that disturbed a screener at Heathrow Airport. The screener, unfortunately, did not notify Air India officials until after the plane had departed.

So, at that point, then, Air India officials notified the FBI. The FBI questioned the screener. And now we are hearing that that screener may be somewhat less certain that this passenger actually did resemble a potential or suspected terrorist on what is called a no-fly list and not exactly a list of FBI most wanted, but simply people who are under suspicion on a worldwide basis.

Now, we have learned that the Federal Aviation Administration has spoken to the crew of the Air India jet, that they are in a reinforced cockpit, that they are not disturbed by this information. It is unclear as to whether any of the passengers on the plane are aware of what is going on. But this plane was scheduled to land at JFK at 4:05 p.m. this afternoon, now is scheduled to land at 4:55 p.m.

And we're being told it will land normally at JFK at the normal gate, where it will be met by FBI agents -- Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: And, as they disembark from that plane, when they do arrive at JFK, any sense as to how do FBI agents then approach this situation? What are we likely to hear about seeing?

KOCH: Well, Fredricka, I am not the law enforcement reporter for CNN, but I am certain that, obviously, they will approach this person with great care. I have not been told that any special equipment will be greeting the plane in any way.

So one can assume they will approach him with care and that they will take him off to the side. And, obviously, one can't expect that perhaps he would be tackled to the ground in any way, shape or form, because it is quite likely that it is simply an innocent person who happens to resemble somebody who might potentially pose a danger.

WHITFIELD: All right, thanks very much, Kathleen Koch, from Washington, and Michael Okwu out of New York at JFK.

So, once again, investigators are looking closely at this Air India Flight 101 because of a passenger who resembles, has physical resemblance of someone on a no-fly list, but not necessarily because his or her name appears on that no-fly list.

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