Qatar Diplomat: Airline Shoe Bomber? No: Potty Smoker
A Qatari diplomat with a disregard for the rules and an odd sense of humor managed to create a major air incident — including the dispatch of a pair of F-16s — for trying to sneak a cig in the lavatory of a 757 while in flight.
ABC’s Rhonda Schwartz, Richard Esposito, and Brian Ross appear to have broken the news:
FBI agents say no explosives were found in the shoes of a Qatar diplomat who was subdued by federal air marshals on a United flight to Denver Wednesday night after allegedly telling the marshals, “I’m lighting my shoes on fire.”
Authorities say the diplomat was wrestled to the ground and two F-16 fighter jets were dispatched to accompany the 757 on the final five minutes of its flight to Denver. Flight 663 originated from Washington Reagan airport.
A US security official said, “it may have been a massive misunderstanding” and the diplomat’s statement may have been a “sarcastic” comment when he was confronted by two air marshals who had been told by flight attendants that smoke was coming from the lavatory.
The suspect was identified by authorities as a diplomat in the Qatar embassy in Washington, Mohammed al Modadi, 27. The FBI said the man had full diplomatic immunity as the 3rd secretary and vice-consul.
The plane was taken to a remote location after landing at Denver and passengers were questioned by FBI agents about the incident. A bomb squad team and explosives-sniffing dogs were still on board the plane late Wednesday night.
Poor Gabriel Malor was following this one a minute-by-minute basis as it developed. When the punch line was delivered, he was less than thrilled. I gather he’s annoyed at the feds for overreacting here — which was my instant reaction at seeing the headlines this morning — but it strikes me as perfectly prudent to take the word of an Arab man producing smoke in the lavatory who proclaims that he’s a shoe bomber. I must agree, though, that scrambling fighter jets seems extreme overkill.
Josh Marshall, who was also following this late last night, wonders, “I mean, are we really to believe that this guy took his having diplomatic immunity as free rein to crack a joke about need to light his shoe bomb? I’m curious whether under international law a diplomat can be expelled from a host country simply for being a raging c@#k.”
The short answer: Yeah. We can expel a diplomat for any reason we want. That goes double for some low-ranking schmo.
Diplomatic immunity is an age-old principle and one that by and large makes sense. It can be waived by the diplomat’s government but I doubt we’ll pursue that course in this case since no lives were threatened or lost. One suspects that he’ll be quietly recalled to Doha and directed to another line of work. Unless he’s part of the royal family, of course. I would expect that a check from the emir would be forthcoming to cover the costs of this little escapade, too.
UPDATE: DC Loser, in the comments below, and John Burgess at his own site, note that it’s exceedingly unlikely that we’d declare al Modadi persona non grata for this relatively minor incident. After all, despite the uproar and overreaction it caused, all he did was light up a cigarette and either tell a bad joke or explain himself in inadequate English. I agree. I’m merely suggesting that the Qatari government might not want this buffoon representing them in Washington after this embarrassing incident.