- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 23, 2006

A dozen passengers who exhibited suspicious behavior aboard a U.S. airline flight to India were arrested by Dutch officials yesterday after the American pilot requested a military escort and emergency landing in Amsterdam.

Northwest Airlines Flight 42 was in German airspace when 12 passengers pulled out cell phones and attempted to use the devices, forcing U.S. federal air marshals to reveal their status and intervene, officials said.

“It all happened immediately after takeoff,” a U.S. security official said. “Really early in the flight, the guys started taking out cell phones and passing it among themselves. Some of them tried to hide the fact they were doing it, but it got everyone’s attention.

“It’s one thing if one or two guys take out a cell phone, it’s another thing when 12 people take out cell phones and start passing it around,” the official said.

The pilots dumped most of the fuel load before the F-16s escorted the DC-10-30 aircraft carrying 149 passengers back to the Schiphol Airport. The flight originated in Minnesota and landed in Amsterdam with a final destination to Mumbai.

“The crew did the appropriate thing and told the pilot, the pilot said he had enough information to turn the plane around and find out what was going on,” the official said.

Officials in Europe declined to disclose the nationalities or the arrest charges, but passengers said the 12 persons taken off the plane in handcuffs appeared to be Middle Eastern.

The preliminary charges against the passengers are unknown, but a Dutch judge will decide today whether formal charges will be filed.

No protocol was in place to divert a plane two years ago when passengers suspected a terrorist dry-run aboard Northwest Flight 327 from Detroit to Los Angeles, said Annie Jacobsen, who recounted the events and a government cover-up in her book “Terror in the Skies.”

“I know firsthand from the homeland security inspectors who visited me in my kitchen, there was no protocol to divert a flight based on suspicious activity. Now, obviously, there is and perhaps Northwest is leading the pack,” Mrs. Jacobsen said.

Mrs. Jacobsen and other passengers on Flight 327 said a group of men claiming to be Syrian musicians carried suspicious, odd-shaped packages, including a McDonald’s bag, cameras and cell phones, into the bathroom. Passengers suspected they were building a bomb.

Only two of the fourteen men were questioned, and only briefly, when the flight landed. All were released when they told officials they were performing at a California casino. Mrs. Jacobsen and four other passengers who were shown photographs of the musical performance saw only two of the men.

The inspector general for the Homeland Security Department investigated the incident for nearly two years. The final report was classified in April.

Airline security has been on high alert for two weeks after British officials disrupted a plot by Muslims to blow up planes using liquid explosives. Cell phones and other items have been banned from carry-on luggage.

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