A Qatari diplomat on a United Airlines flight from Washington to Denver caused a security alert after he was apparently caught smoking in the toilet and made a remark that was perceived as a threat.
Qatar's ambassador to Washington called Wednesday's incident a "mistake" said the man was a diplomat traveling on official business. U.S. officials said the man was in custody and the incident did not appear to be serious.
Coming just months after the failed "underwear" bomb attempt on Christmas Day, the scare prompted security officials to scramble two F-16 fighter jets to intercept the Boeing 757 aircraft and escort it to Denver International Airport where it landed at about 9 p.m. EDT (0100 GMT on Thursday).
"It looks like the individual in question was perhaps smoking in the lavatory and might have made an unfortunate remark" when confronted by airline personnel, a U.S. official said, Reuters reports.
According to reports in Oneindia, Al-Modadi said he was putting out the cigarette he had smoked in the restroom with the sole of his shoe. The 27-year-old has full diplomatic immunity as he is Third Secretary and Vice-Consul at the Qatar Embassy in Washington.
Meanwhile, Transportation Security Administration spokesman Greg Soule said they were investigating the incident. "All steps are being taken to ensure the safety of the travelling public," The New York Post quoted Soule, as saying.
United Airlines confirmed their crew asking law enforcement officers to meet, Flight 663, following "an incident involving a passenger". There were 157 passengers and six crew members on the flight.
The flight landed safely at the Denver International Airport, and law enforcement authorities are questioning the passenger," a White House official said. President Obama was briefed on Air Force One, on his way to Prague, "by National Security Advisor General Jim Jones and National Security Staff Chief of Staff Denis McDonough at 850 pm EDT and appropriate actions were taken to ensure the safety of the traveling public. The incident is currently under investigation,” Politico says.