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Venezuela grounds flight over terror threat

Sunday - 12/15/2013, 12:50am  ET

Associated Press

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) -- Venezuelan authorities evacuated and searched 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 aboard Flight 385 to Paris scheduled to depart at 7:25 p.m. local time Saturday were evacuated 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.

Venezuela's intelligence agency and authorities at Caracas' Maiquetia airport declined to comment, saying they weren'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.

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