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12 Taken Off Northwest Flight Questioned
Prosecutors Question 12 Men Taken Off U.S. Airplane in Amsterdam

TOBY STERLING / AP | August 24 2006

Prosecutors on Thursday interrogated 12 men who were handcuffed and taken off a U.S. airliner in Amsterdam because U.S. air marshals and the crew believed they were acting suspiciously, a spokesman said.

Authorities have three days to bring the suspects before a judge to seek further detention. If they are deemed terror suspects, a judge could order them held for another 14 days without hard evidence, according to Dutch law.

Haarlem prosecutor's spokesman Ed Hartjes declined to say Thursday whether the men would face terrorism charges. "The investigation is still going on and at this moment we do not know anything more than yesterday," he said.

The Bombay, India-bound Northwest Airlines flight turned around over German air space Wednesday and returned to Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport after a group of passengers aroused suspicion by using their mobile phones following take-off, officials said.

The Defense Ministry said the plane's captain radioed Amsterdam seeking permission to return with a military escort, and jet fighters were scrambled from a northern Dutch military air field.

A U.S. government official, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the subject, said that crew members and air marshals observed the passengers attempting to use cell phones and passing cell phones back and forth while the airliner was taking off.

"It was behavior that average passengers wouldn't do," the official said.

Passengers on the diverted flight gave varying accounts.

The Algemeen Dagblad newspaper quoted Nitin Patel of Boston, who sat behind the men in business class, as saying, "I don't know how close we were, but my gut tells me these people wanted to hijack the airplane."

Another passenger, who was not identified, told NOS television he sat next to one of the men and saw nothing suspicious.

A third, who identified herself only as Alpa, told AP Television News that some of the men appeared to be of South Asian ethnicity.

The security alert was the latest among several incidents reported since British police said they foiled a plot to blow up U.S.-bound aircraft. On Friday, a British plane made an emergency landing in southern Italy after a bomb scare, and the U.S. Air Force scrambled jets to escort a United Airlines flight from London to Washington as it was diverted to Boston.

The Dutch national anti-terrorism office said it saw no reason to raise the country's threat level.

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