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Flights axed 'due to mistaken IDs'

Gendarme at Paris De Gaulle
A gendarme patrols in front of a Los Angeles-bound plane in Paris Friday.

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(CNN) -- Mistaken identities led to last week's cancellation of three Air France flights from Paris to Los Angeles, with one of the suspicious names belonging to a child, the Wall Street Journal reports.

A spokeswoman with the French Interior Ministry Police told CNN on Friday there were misspellings in certain names, which led to confusion since the passengers had names similar to those on terrorist lists.

The FBI supplied the names of the terror suspects, but without their birth dates it was impossible to know who the passengers were, she said.

Six flights were canceled altogether over the Christmas holiday and several ticketed passengers were detained for questioning and then released by French police.

U.S. government officials also told CNN that some Air France flights had been escorted by F-16 fighter jets as they approached U.S. airspace in recent days.

A spokesman in the Air France press office in Paris confirmed that "sensitive Air France flights from Paris to the U.S. were escorted by F-16 planes."

"It was not the first time that such sensitive flights were escorted," the spokesman said. "Other companies often use these security measures, not only Air France. There is a mass hysteria going on."

The WSJ report came on the same day that British Airways canceled one of its three daily flights from London to Washington for a second straight day because of security fears. (Full story)

Concern about possible explosives on an Air France flight from New York to Paris also prompted an unscheduled landing Thursday evening in Newfoundland, airport officials said Friday.

The fears later proved unfounded and the plane continued its journey, said Rex LeDrew, president of the St. John's Airport Authority.

LeDrew said the incident was "at the end of the day, a low-level concern" but because of the orange, or high, level security alert in the United States, "we obviously were very concerned about it."

"At the time, it was high enough," he said."

Meanwhile, the WSJ quoted French officials saying that when agents detained six passengers on the Paris-Los Angeles flights with names matching those on the FBI's list, Air France found the name matching that of the head of a Tunisian-based terror group was a child.

Others on the list -- allegedly of people linked to al Qaeda -- turned out to include a Welsh insurance agent and an elderly Chinese woman.

The sources said three others were French citizens who were later found to be unrelated to any terrorist organization, according to the report.

The French Interior Ministry Police spokeswoman did not confirm the passengers' identities. "We could not allow us to doubt," she told CNN.

"It was in a concern of safety and efficiency that we checked."

The FBI did not consult the Terrorist Screening Center -- recently created by the U.S. to create, maintain and control a database of suspected terrorists -- before giving the names to French police, law enforcement and congressional sources quoted by the WSJ said.

The TSC opened its doors just a month ago and is so far "a hollow box," one congressional aide told the paper.

U.S. officials have no less than 12 separate -- and sometimes incompatible -- terrorist watch lists, the newspaper said.


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