Diplomat's smoke joke sparks plane terror alert
Published 09/04/2010 | 05:00
A QATARI diplomat started a terrorist alert on a US domestic flight after he was caught smoking a cigarette in the lavatory and joked that he was trying to set light to his shoes.
Air marshals on board United Airlines Flight 663 wrestled Mohammed al-Madadi (27), to the floor and two F16 fighter jets were scrambled to intercept the plane.
US President Barack Obama was alerted as the fighters escorted the airliner, which was carrying 157 passengers and six crew, to the ground in Denver, where it was surrounded by security services.
Officials said the man had gone to the lavatory to smoke. When questioned about smoke emerging from the cubicle, he claimed he had diplomatic immunity and made a sarcastic comment that he intended to set fire to his shoe.
This was an apparent reference to Richard Reid, the "shoe bomber" who attempted to blow up a transatlantic jet in 2001.
Mr Madadi was taken into custody by the Transportation Security Administration, and was questioned for several hours while the FBI began an investigation.
After no explosives were found, a US security official accepted that "it may have been a massive misunderstanding".
Mr Madadi, the third secretary and vice-consul of the Qatari embassy in Washington, enjoys diplomatic immunity, though the US could ask Qatar for this to be waived. (© Daily Telegraph, London)