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Canada Shuts Down Commercial Air Traffic After US Terror Attacks - 2001-09-12

Canada, like the United States, shut down commercial air travel as a result of Tuesday's attacks in New York and Washington. Many European and Asian flights headed for the United States were diverted to Canadian airports and their passengers are temporarily stranded.

Within minutes of the first attack, Canadian officials closed air space and airports to all commercial traffic indefinitely. Thirty-four large aircraft, diverted from the United States and Asia, with 4,000 to 6,000 passengers aboard, have landed here in Vancouver, on Canada's west coast. Officials say the passengers are having to wait in the aircraft for several hours, as the Royal Canadian Mounted Police conduct body searches and check the planes for explosives.

Airports in eastern Canada are receiving dozens of flights as well.

Vancouver's main port facilities are closed to shipping. All of Canada's financial markets have also closed.

Government buildings on Parliament Hill in Ottawa and many provincial capitals are in a security lockdown. American diplomatic missions throughout the country are closed to the public. Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien has cancelled a planned trip to Stockholm.

The prime minister says he has implemented security measures and he appealed for calm.

"I have been in touch with ministers and with the head of agencies to make sure everything was to remain secure," the prime minister said. " And, we said to everybody to remain calm. I would like to thank Canadians, who have kept their calm [in these last four hours], and that we hope that the situation will come to a little bit more normality quickly."

Entry checkpoints along the Canada-U.S. border are open, but on "heightened alert". For travelers in both directions, the usual minimal inspection process has been replaced with thorough searchers of every vehicle. Express lanes are closed. The international border between the United States and Canada is the largest undefended boundary in the world.

In December 1999, U.S. authorities in Washington State arrested convicted terrorist Ahmed Ressam, who was driving off a ferryboat from Vancouver Island. Ressam was found to be carrying a number of explosives in the trunk of a vehicle. It is believed he was planning attacks on sites in Seattle or Los Angeles for New Year's Eve.