Venezuela grounds flight over bomb threat

AP News
Posted: Dec 14, 2013 11:53 PM
Venezuela grounds flight over bomb threat

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — Venezuela grounded an Air France flight late Saturday after being tipped off by French authorities that a terrorist group might be planning to detonate an explosive device in midair.

Venezuelan Interior Minister Miguel Rodriguez Torres told state TV that a team of more than 60 technicians and bomb experts were performing an exhaustive search of the aircraft that would take several hours before the flight could be reprogrammed.

Passengers on Flight 385 to Paris scheduled to depart at 7:25 p.m. local time Saturday were prevented from boarding after French authorities received information from a credible source that a terrorist group is seeking to place a bomb aboard an unspecified flight between the two cities.

"We don't want to speculate on the motives because the information comes directly from French intelligence services," Rodriguez Torres said, adding that the information is still being processed and it is unclear whether the targeted flight would depart from Caracas or Paris.

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

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

The flight was rescheduled for Sunday afternoon, the airport said in a message posted on Twitter.

Venezuela's intelligence agency declined to comment, saying it isn't authorized to discuss the case. It is unclear when Venezuelan authorities would announce the results from the search.

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, seizing 1.4 tons of narcotics that were smuggled in 31 suitcases aboard another Air France flight to Paris.

The U.S. has warned that Middle Eastern terror groups have tried to make inroads in Venezuela, taking advantage of political cover provided by the late President Hugo Chavez's outreach to Iran and Syria, whose governments the U.S. considers state sponsors of terrorism.

Still, even while criticizing the lack of anti-terror cooperation from Venezuela, the State Department in its most-recent assessment of terrorist threats in the Western Hemisphere said that there are no known operational cells currently in the region. Instead, the activity of groups including Hezbollah and al-Qaida appears to be limited to fund-raising and money-laundering, the report said.


AP Writer Joshua Goodman contributed to this report.