A French woman forced a transatlantic flight from Paris to North Carolina to be diverted to Maine on Tuesday after claiming she had a “surgically implanted device.”
The US Airways jet with 179 passengers and crew on board landed safely in Bangor, Maine, where the woman was taken into custody by the FBI before the Boeing 767 continued its journey to Charlotte, North Carolina.
Coming on the heels of a thwarted airline bomb plot by al-Qaeda’s Yemen branch, the incident has laid bare US worries over the shifting tactics of extremists as they seek new ways — and new technologies, including non--metallic bombs — to land a deadly blow against a US target.
Last year, US officials warned airlines that terror groups were studying how to surgically hide bombs inside humans to evade airport security — precisely the threat that emerged when the US Airways passenger made herself known to the cabin crew.
US Senator Susan Collins, the ranking Republican on the US Senate Homeland Security Committee, highlighted the concerns shortly after news broke of Flight 787’s diversion to Maine, saying there had been “intelligence identifying surgically implanted bombs as a threat to air travel.”
Collins, briefed on the incident by US Transportation Security Administration (TSA) head John Pistole, said the TSA recently issued security directives to airports, airlines, and foreign governments, “advising them to take added screening precautions and to be on the lookout for indicators of surgically implanted explosives.”
The US Airways flight took off without incident from Charles de Gaulle airport outside Paris, bound for Charlotte.
At some point during the flight, a passenger “handed a note to a flight attendant that said she had a surgically implanted device inside her,” US House Homeland Security Committee chairman Peter King said in a statement.
The Cameroon-born woman was traveling alone with no checked baggage and visiting the US for 10 days, King said.
Alarmed crew isolated the passenger, and “doctors on the flight checked her out and did not see any sign of recent scars,” King added.
Concerned pilots radioed North American Aerospace Defense Command and two F-15 fighter jets based in Massachusetts were scrambled to escort the airliner through its tension-filled descent to Bangor, Maine.
An FBI joint terrorism task force, accompanied by a bomb squad, local police and other security agencies then met the aircraft upon arrival, and “FBI agents and members of a joint terrorism task force interviewed the passenger and others on the plane,” FBI spokesman Greg Comcowich said.
“At this time, there is no indication the plane or its passengers were ever in any actual danger,” he added.
A US official said that the suspect was unlikely to be part of a broader international terror plot linked to groups such as al-Qaeda.
It also came after news emerged earlier this month of a foiled plot to blow up a US-bound airliner.
US officials said the plot involved a non-metallic device, intended for use by a suicide bomber on an airliner, that was an updated version of the “underwear bomb” used in a failed attack on a US-bound flight on Christmas Day 2009.
Though officials touted the disrupted plot as a success, they acknowledged that al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula remained determined to strike at the US and its master bombmaker Ibrahim al-Asiri, was apparently hard at work seeking to circumvent airport security.