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Vancouver bomb threat: Al Qaeda terror link or pure hoax?

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Patrick Beaton/The Canadian Press/AP

(Read caption) A CF18 Hornet fighter jet, acting under the North American Aerospace Defense Command, intercepts a Cathay Pacific passenger plane after a Vancouver bomb threat on Saturday.

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A daily summary of global reports on security issues.

Following a bomb threat on a Cathay Pacific flight en route to Vancouver from Hong Kong, Canadian officials sent fighter jets to escort the plane to the airport. Once grounded at the Vancouver International Airport police conducted a thorough search of the plane and its luggage, but found no trace of explosives.

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The Vancouver bomb threat comes as yet another scare in a series of foiled or failed terror attacks.

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Following the attempted Times Square bombing and the failed Christmas day bombing on a Detroit-bound flight, it remains uncertain if this latest attempt will result in increased security measures.

The plane landed safely on Saturday with 283 passengers and 14 crew members in good condition. Once on the ground, the passengers spent 2 hours in customs before leaving without their baggage.

Cathay Pacific has termed the bomb scare a "hoax," but officials are still looking into the matter.

“The threat is being taken very seriously and I'd just like to assure the traveling public that there is no threat to them at this time,” said Cpl. Sherrdean Turley, a spokesperson for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in an interview with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.

From a Vancouver pay phone?

According to a report on CTV, the threat was called in to authorities from a pay phone somewhere in Vancouver.

The caller said a bomb had been planted on an outgoing Hong Kong-Vancouver flight. Authorities are now also closely screening passengers leaving for Hong Kong. So far nobody has been arrested in connection with the threat.

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The bomb scare did not affect air travel for those flying in or out of Vancouver.

Even after authorities began responding to the threat the airport remained open and all scheduled arriving and departing flights took place.

Fighter jets common

The Toronto Star reports that it is not uncommon for fighter jets to intercept planes.

“We intercept about 200 times a year on average,” said [Lieutenant-Commander Gary Ross of NORAD]. “We are the last line of defense and often we are called as a precaution.” Ross said that NORAD jets are launched for various reasons including improper flight plans filed by pilots, passenger disturbances and planes unknowingly attempting to land in places that have been closed temporarily for special events.

In an effort to keep passengers calm, the airline kept them uninformed about the threat during the flight. Many people on the flight did not even notice their CF-18 fighter jet escort.

"I don't think the staff even realized. I was sitting opposite an airline stewardess when we were just about to land and she was talking to another passenger and passenger said, 'Did you notice there is a fighter jet outside' and (the stewardess) said 'Oh really? Oh that's really interesting. I've never seen one before' and everyone was quite surprised and taking pictures," said Jing Vance, a passenger who was on the flight with her two daughters, in an article in the Vancouver Sun.

It remains uncertain whether this most recent attack will affect global security measures at airports around the world.

Al Jazeera reports that after the failed Christmas day bombing, US airports enhanced their already stringent screening process.