Napolitano thanks air marshals for taking action on flight

Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano thanked air marshals for their actions on a disrupted flight Wednesday night.  

The incident involving a Qatari diplomat detained for allegedly smoking in the plane’s bathroom in violation of safety rules did not pose an actual danger, said Napolitano, who thanked the marshals for taking the incident seriously.

Federal air marshals aboard United Airlines Flight 663 from Washington to Denver detained Mohammed al Madadi, who allegedly extinguished the cigarette on his shoe and made a sarcastic remark after he was confronted, according to law enforcement officials.

When marshals asked what he was doing, one marshal initially thought he heard Madadi say he was “lighting a bomb in my shoe,” although other government officials said exactly what was said is still unclear, according to a report in The Washington Post. No explosives were found on the plane or on Madadi’s shoes. Madadi was released after being held for several hours.

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“I commend the Federal Air Marshals on board United Airlines flight 663 last night, who swiftly responded to a potential threat to passenger safety while the plane was in flight,” Napolitano said in a statement. “These highly trained individuals took appropriate and immediate action to secure the aircraft and communicate the potential threat to authorities on the ground — ensuring that the flight was met by [Transportation Security Administration] and law enforcement officials when it landed safely in Denver.”

Napolitano said she spoke to the air marshals Thursday morning and expressed her appreciation for their “vital service,” which so often goes unnoticed.

“We always treat security-related incidents seriously until verified otherwise, and thankfully this incident posed no actual security threat,” she added.

The incident occurred only months after a Nigerian citizen attempted to blow up a passenger jet on its way to Detroit on Christmas Day. After the botched bombing, TSA increased deployments of federal air marshals on domestic and international flights, along with other stepped-up security measures.