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Threat to Plane Leads To Cancelations on Northwest Flight

December 29, 1989

PARIS (AP) _ Many passengers worried about a threat to bomb a Northwest Airlines flight to Detroit have switched their bookings to other flights or other days, airline officials said Friday.

At the airline’s office in central Paris, sales manager Frederic Wuatelet reported a steady stream of calls and visits from passengers who heard news reports of the threat against Saturday’s Northwest Flight 51.

″Most of those who call are changing their flight,″ Wuatelet said. He said at least 30 had canceled their bookings on Flight 51 by midday, but he could not say how many passengers were still booked on the flight.

At Northwest Airlines headquarters in St. Paul, Minn., later in the day, spokesman Robert Gibbons said updated figures for cancellations were not available.

″We have 130 reservations and tomorrow we’ll say how many people are on the plane,″ he said Friday. ″We could invest most of today getting hourly reports on how many people are or are not thinking about being on the plane, but that’s really not helpful.″

Tarek El-Khazindar, 28, an Egyptian, and his Minneapolis-born wife, Brooke, came to the Paris offices of the airlines on Friday to find another way back to the United States.

″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 said he thought the plane would probably be safe.

″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,″ replied Mrs. El-Khazindar, 29. Ultimately, they booked seats on a Delta flight Saturday from Paris to Atlanta.

Northwest announced the threat Thursday, but said the FBI asked that no details be disclosed.

ABC News, quoting sources it did not identify, 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 given 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 December 1988 of Pan Am Flight 103 bombing over Lockerbie, Scotland.

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.

In Washington, Federal Aviation Administration 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. Most of the special security measures that will be taken to protect the flight cannot be disclosed, he said.

Gibbons said Northwest agreed originally not to make the threat public after being asked to do so by security agencies. But then a report of the threat came out of Europe and there was no reason to continue to not make it public.

″We were prepared to hold it private right up until Saturday morning, when customers showed up for the flight,″ Gibbons said. ″At this time, we would have advised them of the threat before they got on the flight and they then would have had the option″ of taking other flights without penalty.

The FAA has a policy of not alerting the public to security threats unless they are very specific and the flight involved is not being canceled. The Northwest threat appeared to meet conditions that would allow disclosure.

The Northwest DC-10 is to arrive at Charles de Gaulle airport at 6:40 a.m. on a flight from Detroit. Flight 51 is to depart for Detroit at 12:40 p.m.

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