Karachi: Relatives thronged an airport in southern Pakistan on Sunday to greet passengers whose flight from Canada was diverted to Sweden after a baseless report that a man aboard had explosives. Canadian officials investigated whether someone with a grudge called in the threat.
As passengers were smothered with hugs and kisses from the crowd, they expressed relief that the threat turned out to be nothing. They said the experience was quite frightening, especially when a SWAT team seized the suspect as they evacuated the plane in Stockholm.
"We really got scared, especially when we saw a large number of commandos wearing masks coming in," said Irfan Ahmed, a 35-year-old passenger on the flight from Toronto.
Passengers were told there was a technical problem with the aircraft — a Boeing 777 operated by Pakistan International Airlines — and didn't find out the real reason until they were on the ground.
The plane was diverted after an anonymous woman in Canada tipped off authorities that a Canadian man on the flight was carrying explosives, said Royal Canadian Mounted Police spokesman Sgt Marc LaPorte. The tip proved false, and police are now investigating whether the incident was a "terrorism hoax”, he said.
A prosecutor decided to release the man after questioning, and police were trying to help him continue his journey to Karachi either late Saturday or Sunday, police spokesman Erik Widstrand said, adding the man had cooperated with investigators.
Haji Mohammad Umar, who sat next to the suspect during the flight, said the man told him he was returning to Pakistan after a very long time to get married. He seemed happy by the prospect and was a bit drunk, said Umar.
"When he was arrested, he remained calm and did not react much," said Umar.
Swedish police described the man as a Canadian citizen born in 1982. Initially they said he was of Pakistani background but later said they were not sure. The man was not on any international no-fly lists and had cleared a security check in Canada, said the police.
LaPorte, the police spokesman, said it appeared that the person who called in the tip had an axe to grind with the man. If the information is deemed a hoax, the caller could be charged with public mischief.
All 273 passengers — except the suspect — were allowed back on the plane in Stockholm nine hours after they landed.
"With the grace of God, it's all OK," said Zainab Jissani after arriving at the airport in Karachi with her two children.
First Published: Sunday, September 26, 2010, 13:42