Bomb threat halts Air France jet

Plane grounded in Venezuela after authorities receive 'credible' tip-off about terror plot targeting unspecified flight between Caracas and Paris

PUBLISHED : Monday, 16 December, 2013, 4:44am
UPDATED : Monday, 16 December, 2013, 12:55pm


Venezuela grounded an Air France flight after being tipped off by French authorities that a terrorist group might be planning to detonate an explosive device in mid-air.

More than 60 technicians and bomb experts carried out an exhaustive search of the aircraft.

Passengers on Flight 385 to Paris, scheduled to depart at 7.25pm local time on Saturday, were prevented from boarding after French authorities received information from a credible source that a terrorist group was seeking to place a bomb on board an unspecified flight between the two cities.

Venezuelan Interior Minister Miguel Rodriguez Torres told state television: "We don't want to speculate on the motives because the information comes directly from French intelligence services."

He added that the information was still being processed and it was unclear whether the targeted flight would depart from Caracas or Paris.

Stranded passengers said they were preparing to board when they were told the flight was being delayed so the Airbus A340-300 aircraft could be checked. No reason for the delay was given.

"We only learned reading Twitter that it could have been a bomb," said Jesus Arandia, a 52-year-old university professor.

The flight was rescheduled for yesterday afternoon, the Simon Bolivar International Airport just outside Caracas said in a message posted on Twitter. Venezuela's intelligence agency declined to comment, saying it was not authorised to discuss the case.

Security breaches have been detected before at Venezuela's main international airport.

In September, several Venezuelan soldiers stationed at the airport were arrested after French authorities made their biggest cocaine bust ever.

They seized 1.4 tonnes of narcotics that were smuggled in 31 suitcases aboard another Air France flight to Paris.

The US has warned that Middle Eastern terror groups have tried to make inroads in Venezuela, taking advantage of political cover provided by late president Hugo Chavez's outreach to Iran and Syria, whose governments are believed by the US to sponsor terrorism.

The US State Department has previously criticised the lack of anti-terror co-operation from Venezuela. But in its most recent assessment of terrorist threats in the Western Hemisphere, it said there were no known operational cells currently in the region.

Instead, the activity of groups including Hezbollah and al-Qaeda appeared to be limited to fundraising and money-laundering, the report said.