Man released following bomb-scare forced flight diversion, warning a possible hoax

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Sunday, September 26, 2010

Authorities have said that an anonymous phone call warning of a potential terrorist threat aboard an aircraft may have been a hoax call. Swedish police detained a passenger aboard a Boeing 777 on suspicion of preparing an attack on the aircraft, but he was later released. A police spokesperson said: "The man who was the suspect for the bomb case was released by the district attorney. They couldn't find any crime done, therefore [they] decided to release the man and he's free to go where he wants." A statement released by Swedish prosecutors confirmed that "the prosecutor on duty decided not to keep the man suspected of having explosives on the airplane in detention. The suspicions against this man are not sufficiently solid to keep him in detention and so he is free to leave Sweden. No further information can be given for [the] moment".

The Pakistan International Airlines jetliner, which was carrying 273 people according to an airport spokesperson, was flying Flight 782, which travels from Toronto to Karachi, when it was diverted to Stockholm-Arlanda Airport in Stockholm after Canadian officials were informed that a passenger had explosives on his person. Passengers were reportedly informed that they had to divert for technical reasons, but were only told on the ground why they had to land in Stockholm. "The pilot only informed us that he's landing there due to security reasons. All passengers and crew members are well," a spokesperson for the airport said. Upon landing, the aircraft was evacuated, and the suspect was arrested by a SWAT team. Passengers were taken away from the aircraft, which was encircled by armed police, by buses. 35-year-old Irfan Ahmed, a passenger on the flight said: "We really got scared, especially when we saw a large number of commandos wearing masks coming in."

AP-BGY, the aircraft which was forced to land in Stockholm, photographed last year. Following the incident, one man of Pakistani origin was detained by police.

Anonymous tip-off

A police spokesperson said that two calls were received from a payphone in Canada, but no explosives were found on the man or in the aircraft, which was searched by a bomb squad. Police warned that the warnings may in fact have been made by a prank caller, but said they had to divert the aircraft because they take such threats "very seriously." The man, according to police official Stephan Radman, was being questioned at a police station. Earlier, he said that police were " searching the plane with bomb technicians to see if there is something we can find but so far we haven't found anything, neither on the plane nor on the man," he said. The flight crew and some passengers were also interviewed. They were later allowed back aboard the aircraft to continue their flight. The suspect was released several hours after being taken into custody, and reports suggest officials are helping him book a flight to continue his journey to Pakistan.

Radman stated that police had learnt of the threat from a Canadian woman, who allegedly made two calls to police from a payphone after the plane had lifted off. "The aircraft started in Toronto at 05:15 local time and when the aircraft was in Swedish territory, a woman called the Canadian police and said that this man could probably have a bomb on board the aircraft," said Janne Hedlund, a police official. "She called through a payphone, so the Canadian authority don't really know who the woman is. The Canadian authority alerted the pilot and he landed in Arlanda airport. The aircraft is evacuated and the suspect is under control by the police authorities in Arlanda. We are going to question him now." A police spokesperson said: “A woman called police from a pay phone in Canada and told Canadian police about the man. She said the man may have had explosives, but he passed security checks."

'Unknown reliability'

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police, however, announced that the call may have been a "terrorism hoax," and said it was investigating. According RCMP spokeswoman Sgt. Julie Gagnon, the tip-off was of “unknown reliability”, adding that if it was found that the tip-off was a hoax, the woman who made the call will likely be prosecuted under public mischief charges. "There's an ongoing investigation related to the information to see whether it was deemed to be a hoax or not. If the person who passed on that information was mischievous, then they can be charged with public mischief," she said. Police later said that they were attempting to find out whether the anonymous woman had a grudge against the suspect.

A Canadian police spokesperson said that they had received two calls. "The first call provided vague information," he said. "It did lay out that there was an individual on that specific flight in possession of explosives and then the second call provided more details with regards to the identity of the person." He said that the Royal Canadian Mounted Police "take any call of this nature very seriously," and said that the call may have been a hoax. "We have to ascertain the credibility and reliability of the call and try to determine whether there was a deliberate intent on behalf of the caller to mislead the police or if it falls into the definition of a terrorism hoax," he said. While it is not known if the man has a criminal record, it has been reported that he is not on any international no-fly lists, and no concerns were raised when he went through airport security in Canada. "He is not on any list [of people banned from flying] and he's been through the security check in Canada," a police spokesperson said, confirming that the man was a Canadian citizen of Pakistani origin. A man who sat next to the suspect on the flight said he was returning to Pakistan after a very long time to get married. The suspect was apparently happy, and was a bit drunk. "When he was arrested, he remained calm and did not react much," said the passenger.

It was later reported that all the passengers—excluding the suspect—were transported back to the aircraft, which was to fly to Manchester, England, where the crew will be changed, and then continue to Karachi. “We were very concerned and it’s good news they were all safe,” said airline spokesperson Sultan Hasan. He added that there was no further risk to anyone aboard the flight. “The plane would not have taken off unless it was cleared by the security team," he said. Stockholm-Arlanda Airport released a statement stating that the incident had "no impact on air traffic, public transport or traffic on the roads to and from the airport."


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