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A passenger is charged in Australia with threatening to blow up an airliner

By ROD McGUIRK
Associated Press

CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — A 45-year-old man was charged Tuesday with threatening to blow up a plane during a flight from Australia to Malaysia that returned to Sydney.

Police arrested Canberra resident Muhammad Arif and took him from the Airbus A330 on Monday, almost three hours after Malaysia Airlines flight MH122 returned to Sydney Airport.

Police said Arif became disruptive and claimed to have explosives on board.

He was charged with making a false statement about a threat to damage an aircraft and failing to comply with the cabin crew’s safety instructions.

The charges carry a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a fine of more than 15,000 Australian dollars ($7,300) respectively.

Arif refused to leave his police cell to appear before a Sydney court by video link.

Magistrate Greg Grogin ruled out forcing Arif from the cell.

Defense lawyer Mostafa Daoudie told Grogin that Arif had “serious mental issues” and was “not in the right state of mind.”

Grogin postponed the listing of Arif’s case until late Tuesday to allow Daoudie time to visit the police cell and assess whether his client was “fit and able to give instructions.”

But Arif never appeared and his case was listed for Wednesday. The magistrate refused to release him on bail.

The airliner left Sydney on Monday with 199 passengers and 12 crew on a scheduled eight-hour flight to Kuala Lumpur.

One of the passengers, Velutha Parambath, said Arif had drawn attention to himself before takeoff by praying aloud.

“At that point, we just thought he was praying for everyone. People just generally had a laugh,” Parambath, who was seated five rows behind Arif, said Tuesday.

But half an hour into the flight, Arif became louder, stood up and started pushing and shoving passengers, Parambath said.

The man implied that he had explosives in a backpack, Parambath said.

“I don’t think he specifically said ‘bomb.’ But he was carrying his bag and he said, ‘I’ve got power in my arms,’” said Parambath, who was traveling with his wife and three children.

Malaysia Airlines said the pilot decided to return to Sydney for safety reasons.

The passengers’ concerns escalated after they landed and spent almost three hours in the plane on the tarmac.

“All we saw were fire engines surrounding us and again people reading the news saying there’s potentially a bomb on the plane,” Parambath said.

New South Wales Police Commissioner Karen Webb defended the delay between when the plane landed and when two police officers handcuffed Arif.

“We can never presume anything and you don’t know whether this person was acting alone or he actually had other support on the plane or outside the plane,” Webb said.

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