- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 30, 2002

PHILADELPHIA (AP) The FBI told passengers on a flight forced to return after takeoff that their plane was rerouted because several passengers of Middle Eastern descent had purchased one-way tickets for cash that day, passengers said yesterday.

Meanwhile, in Houston several staff members from the Saudi Arabian Embassy were detained while trying to board a flight at Bush Intercontinental Airport on Sunday. They were released after their identities were confirmed, Houston FBI spokesman Bob Doguim said yesterday.

FBI spokeswoman Linda Vizi would not confirm the accounts about Sunday's flight from Philadelphia to Orlando, Fla., but said the suspicious passengers were interviewed and released early yesterday without being charged.

"We were able to determine their travel plans were legitimate and their identities were legitimate," Miss Vizi said. "We have checked out the documentation of these individuals, and everything is in order."

Passengers Glenn Mattes, 48, and Jack Clark, 55, said FBI agents also told passengers that two other planes, one in Houston and the other in Baltimore, were grounded because passengers of Middle Eastern descent had bought same-day, one-way tickets for cash.

Miss Vizi would not comment on that account.

Pete Gulotta, an FBI spokesman in Baltimore, said his office was asked to check the names of seven Middle Eastern men boarding a plane for Dallas at Baltimore-Washington International Sunday morning. Airport officials subsequently were told there was no reason to detain the men, Mr. Gulotta said.

"There was not any suspicious activity. There was no reason to hold these people as far as we were concerned," Mr. Gulotta said. "All we did was check some names."

Mr. Mattes and Mr. Clark were among 134 persons aboard the US Airways flight from Philadelphia to Orlando, Fla., which the FBI acknowledged was turned around Sunday because some passengers were thought to be engaged in "suspicious activity."

The individuals were taken off the flight without incident and questioned by the FBI, Miss Vizi said late Sunday.

Bomb-sniffing dogs found no explosives, she said.

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