Arrested Northwest India Passengers To Be Freed

August 24, 2006

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Dutch authorities will release all 12 passengers arrested on a Northwest Airlines plane bound for India on Wednesday after concluding they were not planning an attack, officials said on Thursday.

"From the statements of suspects and witnesses, no evidence could be brought forward that these men were about to commit an act of violence. Therefore the decision has been made to release the men tonight," prosecution spokesman Ed Hartjes said.

Hartjes told a news conference the crew had raised the alarm after the men handed each other mobile phones and laptops during the flight and refused to follow their instructions.

Investigators examined the men's mobile phones in case they had been manipulated to cause an explosion and searched for explosives on the plane, but found none, Hartjes said.

"Since 9/11 and the terror threats in Great Britain both cabin crew and police authorities are very alert to possible attacks. Threats are taken very seriously," he said.

Security has been increased at airports worldwide in the past two weeks after British police said they had foiled a plot to blow up planes over the Atlantic using liquid explosives.

Mumbai has been on high alert since commuter train bombings on July 11 that killed 186 people.

Two Dutch fighter planes escorted Northwest flight 42 back to Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport on Wednesday after the pilot reported passengers behaving suspiciously.

Passengers on the plane said air marshals intervened after the men began fidgeting with mobile phones and plastic bags.

"I thought that the men were celebrating a stag party," Simon Balakrishwan, a 43-year-old passenger from India, told the NRC Handelsblad daily.

"After the plane took off a mobile phone rang and the men started cheering," he said. "They kept exchanging plastic bags and looking in them and laughing. Irritating passengers."

Indian junior foreign minister Anand Sharma told reporters all 12 were born in Mumbai.

An Indian Foreign Ministry official said all were of Indian origin, although some apparently held other passports. Dutch authorities granted consular access to the Indian nationals.

The Northwest flight departed for Mumbai, India's financial hub, on Thursday morning after the rest of the passengers spent the night in hotels.

The return of the Northwest plane to Amsterdam did not lead to heightened security and did not affect other flights at Schiphol, Europe's third largest cargo airport and fourth biggest passenger hub, an airport spokeswoman said.

(Reuters)