Dutch fighter jets escort US airliner back to Amsterdam airport

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The Independent Online

A US airline flight to India returned to Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport on Wednesday, escorted by two Dutch F-16 jet fighters, after the crew reported some passengers were behaving suspiciously.

Several passengers on Northwest Airlines Flight NW0042 to Bombay were taken off the plane for questioning, and other passengers were questioned at the gate, airport spokeswoman Pamela Kuypers said.

The Dutch Defense Ministry and airport authorities said the pilot radioed for permission to return and asked for an escort of jet fighters when the crew's suspicions were aroused by several passengers.

"A number of them behaved, in the opinion of the crew, in a suspicious manner," said a Defense Ministry statement. "As a result, the captain asked to return to Schiphol. The customs police have taken a number of people off the plane for questioning."

Routine security measures were swiftly put into place.

The plane was carrying 149 passengers, when it turned around after crossing the German border. A Northwest DC 10 has a normal seating capacity of 273.

Customs police spokesman Rick Hirs said shortly after the plane landed that no one was immediately arrested.

The Dutch National Terrorism Coordinator's Office was informed, but said there was no reason to raise the national threat level, spokeswoman Judith Sluiter said. "It is the same as it was before - light threat."

Like airports around the world, Schiphol raised the level of security two weeks ago when British police announced they had uncovered a plot to blow up several US-bound commercial jetliners, but Kuypers said threat levels had returned to normal.

Several alerts have been sounded since the terrorism plot was outlined in London. On Friday, a British plane made an emergency landing in southern Italy after a bomb scare, and the US Air Force scrambled jets to escort a United Airlines flight from London to Washington as it was diverted to Boston.

Today's security alert was the first at Amsterdam's international airport since September, when a British Airways flight returned in similar circumstances. It turned out to be a false alarm.