AUGUSTA, Maine (CBS) – A US Airways jet flying from Paris to Charlotte, North Carolina, was diverted to Maine Tuesday because of a “security issue.”
A person briefed on the incident told the Associated Press a passenger announced she had a surgically implanted device.
Flight 788, a Boeing 767 with 179 passengers and nine crew members on board, was then diverted to Bangor International Airport and landed safely around noon.
“TSA was made aware of reports of a passenger who exhibited suspicious behavior during flight,” TSA Spokesperson Sterling Payne said in a statement. “Out of an abundance of caution the flight was diverted to BGR where it was met by law enforcement.”
Two F-15 fighter jets from the 104th Fighter Wing at Barnes Air National Guard Base in Westfield, Massachusetts were scrambled at 11:40 a.m. to respond to the incident, NORAD spokesman T-Sgt. Thomas Doscher said in a statement to WBZ-TV.
TSA reports the passenger was being questioned.
According to CBS News, the woman, who was French Moroccan, had reportedly passed a note to the flight crew claiming to have “a surgically implanted device.”
CBS News reports there was no mention of any explosive and the woman did not make any direct threats against the flight. Because of the heightened security over threats from Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, there was considerable concern that the word “device” referred to a bomb.
CBS News also reports that when the woman was taken into custody, she broke down and began hysterically crying.
Officials told CBS News she is likely suffering from some kind of mental impairment. She will be taken for medical evaluation, but likely faces federal charges of interfering with a flight crew.
All other passengers on board were being re-screened and flown to Charlotte.
This case shows how seriously U.S. officials are taking threats of potential body bombs. Peter Kraus, a Research Fellow at Brandeis University, says there has only been one documented incident of a person using a body bomb in the last few years. In that case, the bomber only killed himself in Saudi Arabia.
Kraus says, “They have not yet been used in large quantities, so the sense that this is going to kill large numbers of people is unlikely.”
He says while body bombs are difficult to detect, there is debate over how dangerous they are. He explains, “If you’re putting bombs in your body you can’t put that much explosive material in there, and your body absorbs a lot of it. The direction of the explosives will go down the path of least resistance into the ground. Because of that I’m not sure Al Qaeda has figured out a way to make this into mass casualty type weapon.”
Kraus says a larger threat is the implications on our liberty. He says Al Qaeda wants to hurt us economically and to limit our freedoms, and they can succeed depending on how we deal with terror threats.
WBZ-TV’s Karen Anderson contributed to this report.