Tue, Dec 17, 2013 - Page 7 News List

Venezuela finds no explosives onboard Paris-bound plane

AP, CARACAS

Searchers turned up no evidence of explosives on a Paris-bound Air France plane that was grounded after French intelligence authorities warned that terrorists might be planning to blow it up, Venezuelan government officials said on Sunday.

More than 60 technicians, bomb experts and a canine team made two exhaustive searches of the aircraft and passenger luggage on Saturday night and a third one on Sunday with representatives of the airline, Venezuelan Minister of the Interior Miguel Rodriguez Torres said.

He said that although no signs of any explosives were found, authorities would closely monitor all Air France flights entering and leaving the country.

The precise nature of the bomb threat was not known, but Rodriguez Torres said French authorities passed along information from a credible source that a terrorist group was seeking to put a bomb aboard an unspecified flight from Caracas to Paris, or vice versa.

In Paris, the French Ministry of the Interior said on Sunday that France immediately alerted Venezuelan authorities upon learning of a potential threat to the route, which is served only by Air France.

Stranded passengers said they had cleared immigration on Saturday evening and were preparing to board Air France flight 385 when they were told just before its scheduled departure that it was being delayed so the Airbus A340-300 could be checked.

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

About 100 angry passengers surrounded the Air France check-in counter to protest the airline’s failure to keep them informed or immediately provide alternative travel arrangements.

At about midnight, the airport announced the flight was rescheduled for Sunday.

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 tonnes of narcotics that were smuggled in 31 suitcases aboard an Air France flight to Paris.

France is involved in two military interventions in former African colonies — in Mali where it routed Islamic extremists from the north and in Central African Republic where French troops moved in earlier this month to help stabilize the country, disarming militia to stop sectarian violence.

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

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