Reports of strange passenger behavior sends jets back to land

Thursday, September 12, 2002

Reports of strange passenger behavior on two commercial jet flights sent the pilots back to the ground Wednesday but did not appear to be terrorist-related, authorities said.

In Texas, American Airlines Flight 1702, with 50 passengers on board, returned to Bush Intercontinental in Houston after reports of a disturbance. A crew member saw a suspicious item that turned out not to be a weapon, said Gordon Johndroe, spokesman for the White House Office of Homeland Security.

"We do not believe there was any terrorist-related incident, but we continue to investigate," he said.

One passenger was removed and was being questioned by the FBI.

In Arkansas, Northwest Airlines Flight 979, with 94 passengers and a crew of five, was diverted to Fort Smith, Ark., because four men, who appeared to be of Middle Eastern descent, behaved strangely, authorities said.

The Transportation Security Agency initially said three of the men had locked themselves in a restroom, with reports that they were shaving their bodies. A law enforcement source in Arkansas who spoke on condition of anonymity said it was believed the men went to the restroom one by one but drew attention because they were shaving their beards.

All four men were being questioned by the FBI.

After last year's terror attacks, documents found in the luggage of attack leader Mohamed Atta gave what appeared to be instructions for the hijackers that included shaving extra body hair.

Northwest officials wouldn't elaborate or confirm reports.


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