A Qatari diplomat was detained on Thursday after he sparked a bomb scare, apparently trying to sneak a smoke in an airplane bathroom, fueling suspicion that he was trying to detonate a shoe bomb.
The diplomat was subdued by air marshals aboard the flight and then arrested at the airport, but no explosives were found on him, officials said. The flight was on its way to Denver from Washington.
The case is being investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, authorities said. The mid-level diplomat, identified as Mohammed al Modadi, has full diplomatic immunity as third secretary and vice-consul.
As panic gripped the passengers and crew mid-air, the United States Air Force rushed two F-16 fighters under the direction of North American Aerospace Defense Command, to intercept the Denver-bound airliner. The Boeing 757 carrying 157 passengers and six crew members took off from Reagan National Airport in Washington.
According to CNN, initial reports stated that the man was trying to set a shoe on fire, but it was revealed later that Modadi might have been trying to light up some tobacco. The Fox News said the Qatari diplomat was trying to sneak a smoke in an airplane bathroom, which sparked a bomb scare on the flight. Officials said air marshals aboard the flight restrained the man and he was questioned.
Later, a FBI official was quoted as saying by the ABC news that no explosives were found in the shoes of the Qatari diplomat. The Transportation Safety Administration, in a statement, said it is monitoring the incident and said initial reports described a passenger possibly causing a disturbance.
Noting that the flight landed safely at the Denver International Airport, the TSA said, "Law enforcement and TSA have responded to the scene and the passenger is currently in custody. All steps are being taken to ensure the safety of the traveling public".
US officials said it is too early to arrive at a definite conclusion on whether this was a terrorist attempt or just a misunderstanding. The incident came months after a Nigerian national made a failed attempt to blow up a Detroit-bound plane mid air on Christmas Day.