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West on High Alert as Bomb Threats Force Flight Landings, Evacuations

Update, 1:30 PM EST: A section of the Sunset Strip has been closed down due to a bomb scare.

“LAPD received a call reporting a “suspicious package” at an open air shopping center on Sunset – the mall is home to a Crunch Gym, a movie theater, a Starbucks, and several popular restaurants,” reports TMZ.  “Cops shut down the entire block and the bomb squad is on the way.”

Update, 12:00 PM EST: Another report at the Washington Times noted that while FBI Director James Comey has “put a brave public face on the bureau’s fight against ISIS,” there are “significant tensions” behind the scenes between the Bureau and the Obama Administration.

“Bureau officials are deeply worried they don’t have enough resources to track a growing number of radicalized Americans inspired by the Islamic State, with more possibly entering as President Obama opens the borders to thousands of Syrian refugees,” according to the Times.

“The administration has a calming public storyline that we have this all under control and life can go on as normal. But we’re one crack in the sidewalk away from a tragedy, and that crack could be an encrypted message we can’t follow, a lead we couldn’t resource or a refugee who slips in like we saw in Paris,” said one official.

*****

Two Air France planes were diverted and grounded due to bomb threats on Tuesday night. USA Today reports that one plane, Air France Flight 65, was inbound to Los Angeles from Paris, and was diverted to Salt Lake City. The other was Flight 55 flying from Dulles Airport near Washington, D.C. to Paris, and was diverted to Halifax in Nova Scotia, Canada.

Both planes were later cleared to fly again, and no injuries were reported. Passengers aboard the plane reported the flight crews acting swiftly and professionally in response to the threats. “The flight attendants quickly came by and cleared plates, then there was an announcement that we were making an emergency landing and that the flight attendants were trained exactly for situations like this,” said a passenger aboard the L.A. to Paris flight.

A U.S. official who spoke with CNN “did not know whether anyone was arrested and was not aware of any unruly passengers on board.” No military aircraft were scrambled in either incident. The FBI is reportedly investigating the incident. It is not yet certain if the same individual was responsible for both threats.

These flight diversions came on the evening after a soccer stadium and concert venue in Hannover, Germany were evacuated due to what police and government officials described as a “concrete” threat involving “serious plans for explosions.”

A number of top German officials, including Chancellor Angela Merkel, had been scheduled to attend the friendly game at the soccer stadium in a gesture of fearlessness and defiance against ISIS.

“We were looking forward very much to the game, which would have been a very special gesture from the city, from the sport, and from Germany,” said Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere, at a press conference on Tuesday night, as reported by The Local. “That makes such a decision all the more bitter and made our decision all the more difficult. But we put protecting people first.”

According to the Interior Minister and Hannover police, the decision to close the stadium was based on a high volume of tips and intelligence intercepts. “The plan was to blow up a bomb in the stadium.  We received the decisive piece of information 15 minutes after the stadium doors were opened,” said police chief Volker Kluwe on Tuesday evening.

“The decision when you call off such a match is a very difficult one. We all know what this match meant after Paris,” siad Reinhard Rauball, interim president of the German Soccer Association, as quoted by CNN.

CNN reports there was actually another bomb threat in Hannover on Tuesday:

Hannover police posted on their Facebook page Tuesday night that they were examining a suspicious item in the area of the central train station. After partially evacuating the station, police determined the item was a fake bomb left by a passenger who had fled, according to CNN affiliate ARD. Police say they are evaluating surveillance video to identify the passenger, ARD reported.

There have been no arrests in the Hannover threats as of Wednesday morning, and no live explosives recovered from any of the threatened venues according to the authorities, despite widespread rumors that an ambulance packed with explosives was found near the soccer stadium.

“In Brussels, a soccer match scheduled for Tuesday between Belgium and Spain was also canceled, and many fans expressed worry that the disruptions could threaten the European Championship in France next year,” adds the Washington Post.

The Post describes two notable videos released by ISIS supporters on Tuesday.  In one video, the narrator urges Muslims to “attack non-Muslim Westerners by any means possible, using cars, knives, rocks, and even kicks and punches.”

In the other video, a militant declares, “I say to European countries, we are coming.  We are coming with bombs and explosives, we are coming with belts.”  The latter is a reference to explosive-laden suicide belts.

There were other unnerving incidents on Tuesday that may not have been terrorism-related, but were unwelcome additions to a jittery day.  In one case, a passenger on a British Airways flight from London to Boston became “unruly” and allegedly tried to open one of the exit doors while the plane was in flight.

The passenger, who was subdued and restrained for the duration of the flight, was later identified as 32-year-old Kamila Dolniak, a Polish citizen. She was held overnight at the state police barracks at the airport, with bail set at $1,040, according to Fox News.

In another incident, four passengers were removed from a Chicago-bound flight at BWI airport in Maryland, based on a complaint of “suspicious activity” from one of the passengers. The individuals were described as three men and a women in their “early 30s and of Middle Eastern descent.” The plane was evacuated and searched thoroughly by the authorities before being allowed to proceed to Chicago.

The passengers removed from the plane were cleared of any wrongdoing after a “lengthy interview by state and federal law enforcement officials,” according to the Washington TimesThe interview established that the four passengers included a married couple, a male relative traveling with them, and an unrelated man who was sitting near them.

The Times also reports that “at least a half-dozen schools from along the East Coast have canceled planned student trips to Washington, citing heightened security fears,” despite assurances from D.C. officials that security was on heightened alert, and no credible threats had been reported.

 

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