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Northwest Reports Passengers Canceling Threatened Flight With PM-Bomb Threat

December 29, 1989

PARIS (AP) _ At least 30 passengers booked on a Northwest Airlines flight to Detroit canceled their reservations today after learning of a threat to bomb the plane, airline officials said.

Frederic Wuatelet, sales manager at Northwest’s Paris office, said there was a steady stream of passengers calling or coming by after the report of a threat to Saturday’s Flight 51.

″Most of those who call are changing their flight,″ Wuatelet said. Northwest is allowing passengers to change their bookings to another day or another airline without penalty, but is not taking the initiative to contact them.

″We’re waiting for them to call us,″ he said.

Wuatelet said at least 30 had canceled their bookings on Flight 51 by midday today, but he could not say how many passengers were still booked on the flight.

Tarek El-Khazindar, 28, an Egyptian, and his Minneapolis-born wife, Brooke El-Khazindar, 29, were in the Northwest offices in central Paris this afternoon to change their travel plans.

″I noticed when I was reading the paper at 8:30 this morning that it was our flight,″ Mrs. El-Khazindar said. ″I don’t know if it’s a great idea or not, but we’re going to change.″

Her husband wasn’t convinced.

″My real instinct is just to stay on this flight,″ he said while discussing the bomb threat with a Northwest representative. ″There’s probably going to be four times more security now than on any other plane.″

″But you can’t be too safe,″ Mrs. El-Khazindar replied.

In the end, they switched to a Delta flight Saturday from Paris to Atlanta.

Northwest announced the threat on Thursday, in an departure from the handling of most threats against U.S. aviation, which generally are not mentioned to passengers.

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration and airlines have come under pressure to be more forthright in disclosing security risks after 270 people were killed Dec. 21, 1988, when a bomb blew up Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland.

A threat against Pan Am on the Frankfurt-to-New York route was mentioned within the U.S. government but was not made public. Government officials later declared the threat a hoax even though its particulars fit the Pan Am explosion.

In St. Paul, Minn., Northwest spokesman Douglas Miller said tightened security would assure that Saturday’s flight was safe for those passengers who chose to take it.

In Washington, FAA spokesman John Leyden said officials were ″working with Northwest and with the French authorities to ensure there is extra security on the flight.″

Pierre Quilici, deputy chief of France’s Air and Border Police, said U.S. authorities had passed on word of the threat several days ago. He said most of the special security measures that will be taken to protect the flight cannot be disclosed.

″I can say that the airplane will be guarded from its arrival in Paris,″ he said in a telephone interview. ″We will reinforce the controls on the passengers, the hand baggage and the checked baggage.″

The Northwest DC-10 is scheduled to arrive at Charles de Gaulle airport Saturday morning on a flight from Detroit, then take off again for Detroit in the afternoon.

Quilici said precautions will be increased even from the stepped-up levels instituted this month in response to a general threat of a terrorist attack in France.

The government announced in early December that security was increased in French subway stations, railroad stations, airports, department stores and border crossings, but did not say why a new threat was perceived.

Then on Dec. 19, officials announced new measures at French airports, with manual searches of one of every 10 pieces of hand luggage, X-rays of all checked baggage and hand searches of one out of 20 pieces of checked baggage.

In St. Paul, Miller said the FBI had asked the airline not to disclose any other details about the threat, including where or when it was made.

ABC News, quoting sources, reported Thursday night that a man with a ″Middle Eastern accent″ made the threat to Northwest’s Detroit office, saying the bombing would be in retaliation for life sentences handed down to two Palestinians convicted in Sweden of charges connected with a string of bombings in Europe.

One of the two, Abu Mohammed Talb, is a suspect in the Flight 103 bombing. He and co-defendant Marten Imandi were sentenced to life for their part in the 1985 bombing of a Northwest office in Copenhagen that killed one person and wounded 20, one of four bombings in Denmark and the Netherlands for which they were convicted.

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