French Police Release Man Held Over Fake Bomb

(Bloomberg) -
A view of an Air France Boeing 777 aircraft that made an emergency landing is pictured at Moi International Airport in Kenya's coastal city of Mombasa, December 20, 2015. An Air France flight from Mauritius diverted and made an emergency landing at Kenya's port city of Mombasa after a suspicious device was found in a toilet, Kenya's head of police and the airline said on Sunday. REUTERS/Joseph Okanga TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
A view of an Air France Boeing 777 aircraft that made an emergency landing at Moi International Airport in Kenya’s coastal city of Mombasa, Sunday. (Reuters/Joseph Okanga)

Authorities investigating a fake bomb left in the lavatory of an Air France jet released a man who had been held for questioning over the hoax.

The 58-year-old, a former police officer who claimed to have found the package in the Boeing 777’s restroom before handing it to crew, was released without charge by a court in Bobigny, outside Paris.

The discovery of the device early Sunday forced Air France Flight 463 from Mauritius to make an emergency landing in Kenya, disrupting travel for 473 passengers and crew. The hoax was the fourth directed at the carrier since the Nov. 13 attacks on Paris put France on high alert.

The arrest, made Monday when the plane arrived back in the French capital, was the first since a spate of scares began four and a half weeks ago. A court official declined to comment on other avenues of investigation into the device, which was made of cardboard, paper and a household timer and contained no explosives.

Five days after the terror attacks on Paris, which killed 130 people, Air France flights from Los Angeles and Washington to the carrier’s Charles de Gaulle hub made unscheduled landings in Salt Lake City and Halifax, Nova Scotia, respectively, following phone threats called in to a reservation center at Delta Air Lines Inc., the European carrier’s U.S. partner in the SkyTeam alliance.

Nothing was found on any of the three aircraft involved.

While bomb hoaxes, whether from disgruntled clients or for more malevolent reasons, have long afflicted airlines, such a proliferation is unparalleled in recent times and wasn’t directed at a single carrier even after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States. The loss of 224 lives on a Russian Metrojet plane in a suspected bombing by Islamic State terrorists on Oct. 31 has made authorities especially concerned, with IS also claiming it was behind the Paris terror attacks.

Claude Moniquet, founder of the European Strategic Intelligence and Security Center in Brussels, said he’s aware of alerts concerning Polish, Turkish, Canadian and German flights since the Paris attacks, though the Mauritius hoax stands out as unlikely to have been improvised after an on-board spat.

“It makes sense to target Air France because it is one of the world’s biggest companies and France is a particular target for terrorism,” he said. “Most of those alerts come from stupid or mentally disturbed people, but others are probably made by persons or groups having the will to harm French interests.”

Aircraft diversions can be particularly disruptive and costly, since passengers may need to be put up in hotels or have trips rebooked, while planes are left out of position for subsequent flights, upsetting timetables.