There are times when I really despair of America.
Americans have made flying a totally unpleasant experience, with their 'no fly' lists and laws that prohibit me taking my favourite Snapple iced tea on planes. (I still fly with a hidden Kevlar knife, but that's another story!).
The Americans even refused to allow my daughter on a US-bound flight because her Bangkok-issued UK passport wasn't machine-readable. She was six at the time!
And yet these very same people who are scared of a six-year-old girl are not going to charge an Arab who sparked a major security alert on a US bound flight - including jet fighters being scrambled - an Arab who announced that he was trying to set fire to his shoes. And this very same Arab was on his way to meet am al-Qaeda agent. Eexplain that to me! I'm damn sure if I did that I'd be straight off to prison, but those wonderul Americans have just announced that the Arab won't be charged. Even if he was joking about setting fire to his shoes, jokes like that lead to prison for most people. And let's not forget that the moron was smoking in the toilet - which is a criminal offence.
Wonder if I should mention it next time I'm being given the third degree at a US airport by some minimum-wage jobsworth? Actually it won't happen because America has been off my list of places to visit for some years - it's just too much trouble!
Anyway, here's the story -
A Qatari diplomat who sparked a terror alert in the US after he was challenged for apparently smoking a cigarette in the lavatory on a US flight and joking that he was trying to light his shoes will not be charged.
Mr Madadi was on a flight from Reagan airport in Washington to Denver, around 1,200 miles to the west, at 6.45pm local time on Wednesday.
Air marshals on board United Flight 663 wrestled the 27-year-old Qatari to the floor and two F-16 fighter jets were scrambled to intercept the plane. President Barack Obama was alerted as the fighters escorted the aeroplane, which was carrying 157 passengers and six crew members, to the ground in Denver, where it was surrounded by security services.
Mohamed al-Madadi, the third secretary and vice-consul of the Qatari embassy in Washington, was not charged with any offence, but will be sent home to Qatar, according to a senior US State Department official. Under international protocol, diplomats in foreign country enjoy broad imnmunity from prosecution.
"We fully expect this will be resolved very quickly," State Department spokesman PJ Crowley said, adding that the US government was satisfied that the Qatari government is taking the matter seriously.
Officials said the man had gone to the lavatory to smoke. When questioned about smoke emerging from the toilets, he reportedly claimed he had diplomatic immunity and made sarcastic comments that he intended to set fire to his shoe.
The joke was an apparent reference to the 2001 “shoe bomber” Richard Reid, a British citizen who attempted to blow up a transatlantic jet with explosives hidden in his footwear.
The incident came a week after President Obama unveiled new security measures subjecting all inbound passengers to screening methods that use “real-time intelligence” to target potential threats.
The new measures were announced in the wake of the “underwear bomber”, Nigerian-born Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, who is accused of attempting to detonate explosives concealed in his underwear on a Detroit-bound flight on Christmas Day last year.
The new system replaced the mandatory screening of passengers from a “blacklist” of 14, mainly Muslim, countries.
But initial fears that the incident was a repeat of the attempted “shoe bomber” attack were quashed after it emerged that no
explosives had been found on the aeroplane.
A US security official later acknowledged to the US broadcaster ABC News that “it may have been a massive misunderstanding” because the shoe comment was “sarcastic”.
Mr Madadi, a relatively low-ranking diplomat who is responsible primarily for database management, was on a flight from Reagan airport in Washington to Denver, around 1,200 miles to the west, at 6.45pm local time on Wednesday.
With around 30 minutes of the trip remaining, Mr Madadi went to one of the lavatories on United Airlines flight 663.
One of the flight attendants smelled smoke and alerted an undercover air marshal on board.
The marshal and a colleague then challenged the diplomat, who reportedly “made a joke” about trying to set fire to his shoes, to the alarm of nearby passengers.
Mr Madadi was taken into custody by the Transportation Security Administration, part of the Department of Homeland Security, and was questioned for several hours.
Last night it was reported that Mr Madadi was on his way to an official visit with an imprisoned al-Qaeda sleeper agent, Ali Al-Marri, who is a citizen of Qatar. Al-Marri is serving eight years after pleading guilty last year to conspiring to support terrorism. Consular official frequently visit foreigners held in the US to make sure they are being treated well.