April 8, 2010 (by Lieven Dewitte) - A Qatari diplomat trying to sneak a smoke in an airplane bathroom sparked a bomb scare Wednesday night on a flight from Washington to Denver, with F-16 fighter jets scrambled by NORAD.
Two F-16C block 30s from the 120th FS out of Buckley AFB
No explosives were found on the man, and officials do not believe he was trying to harm anyone.
The passenger had gone to the bathroom to smoke a cigarette, claimed he had diplomatic immunity and made sarcastic comments that the marshals took as a threat. He said he had been trying to light his shoes - an apparent reference to the 2001 so-called "shoe bomber" Richard Reid.
Air marshals aboard the flight restrained the man and after the cockpit crew requested that the plane be met by law enforcement, the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD
) scrambled two F-16 fighters from Buckley Air Force Base, in Colorado, to intercept the plane. They escorted it for the last five minutes of its flight.
The incident comes three months after the attempted terror attack on Christmas Day when a Nigerian man tried to blow up a Detroit-bound airliner. Since then, law enforcement, flight crews and passengers have been on high alert for suspicious activity on airplanes.
Hours later, the man identified as Mohammed Al-Madadi
, a diplomat in the Qatar embassy, was still being interviewed by investigators. If it was found that he may have committed a crime, U.S. authorities would have to decide whether to ask Qatar to waive his diplomatic immunity so he could be charged and tried. Qatar could decline, the official said, and the man would likely be expelled from the United States.
The Boeing 757 was carrying 157 passengers and six crew members. It left Reagan National Airport at 5:19 p.m. EDT and landed at Denver International Airport at 7 p.m. MDT.