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Suspects in airline diversion to be released

NETHERLANDS: Dutch prosecutors found no evidence of a terrorist threat aboard a Northwest Airlines flight to India that returned to Amsterdam, and they are releasing all 12 passengers arrested after the emergency landing.

The men, all Indian nationals, had aroused suspicions on Flight NW0042 to Bombay because they had a large number of cell phones, laptops and hard drives, and refused to follow the crew's instructions, prosecutors said.

Because of those actions by the passengers, the pilot of the DC-10 radioed for help shortly after takeoff Wednesday and the plane was escorted back to Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport by two Dutch fighter jets. The 12 were arrested after the plane landed. U.S. air marshals on the flight also were suspicious of the men, U.S. officials and passengers said.

"A thorough investigation of the cell phones in the plane found that the phones were not manipulated and no explosives were found on board the plane," said a statement Thursday from the prosecutor's office in Haarlem, which has jurisdiction over the airport.

"From the statements of the suspects and the witnesses, no evidence could be brought forward that these men were about to commit an act of violence," the statement said.

The men will be released and will be free to leave the Netherlands, prosecution spokesman Ed Hartjes said.

The incident reflected the jitters that persist in the airline industry in the two weeks since British police revealed an alleged plot to blow up several U.S.-bound airliners simultaneously using bombs crafted from ordinary consumer goods.

Hartjes said the electronic equipment the suspects possessed could have been enough to trigger an explosion, and he defended the captain's caution. "This was a correct reaction under the circumstances," he said.

An official at the Indian embassy in The Hague, who refused to give his name, said consular staff were "still in the process of ascertaining the details from the Dutch authorities," and said nobody was available to comment.

Hartjes said 11 of the men had been traveling together, catching a connecting flight in Amsterdam from a South American country which he refused to identify. The 12th man aroused suspicion for other unspecified reasons, he said. He refused to give personal details about any of them.

Passengers described the men as between 25 and 35 years old and speaking Urdu, the language commonly spoken in Pakistan and by many of India's Muslims. Some had beards, and some wore a shalwar kameez, a long shirt and baggy pants commonly worn by South Asian Muslims.

The passengers on the flight, meanwhile, returned to Bombay from Amsterdam in four different flights.

A Scottish tourist, Stewart Nichols, in his 40s, said he saw the 12 being handcuffed by three armed air marshals. "I don't think that any of them behaved suspiciously."

"They were not fastening seat belts despite being told so by the airline staff," Nichols said.

The security alert was the latest of several incidents reported since an alleged terrorism plot to blow up U.S.-bound commercial flights was revealed in London.



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