Thursday, April 8, 2010

Qatari diplomat in false terror alert

A suspected shoebomber wrestled into submission by air marshalls as fighter jets were scrambled has turned out to be a Qatari diplomat reportedly trying to secretly smoke in the plane's toilet.

The man, who has not been named, was on board United Airlines flight 663 from Washington DC to Denver, Colorado. Security officials have said he spent a suspicious amount of time in the toilet and other passengers could smell smoke when he emerged. When the man told US air marshalls he had been trying to set fire to his shoes, jets were scrambled.

The Boeing 757 eventually landed safely at its destination and the suspect has been taken into custody.

It is understood that passengers from the flight were also detained at the airport for questioning. Sky News' US correspondent Robert Nisbet said: "Just before 9pm (2am BST) as the plane was nearing Denver, a passenger was observed spending a long time in the bathroom. When he emerged there were reports that smoke could be smelled. A US air marshal approached the passenger, who apparently said he was trying to set his shoes on fire. Two F-16 fighters were scrambled and intercepted the plane and escorted it on to the ground in Denver. This was taken very seriously. However later reports said that no explosives were involved."

Qatar's ambassador to Washington, Ali bin Fahad al Hajri, told a state news agency: "We respect the need for special security measures for air-related travel... but the diplomat was traveling to Denver on official duty related to the embassy." He added: "He certainly wasn't involved in any activities involving a threat. This was a mistake and we request that all parties concerned refrain from making any assumptions or judgements."

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