A few more details have emerged about that diplomat from Qatar who set off false alarms for smoking on a recent flight from D.C. to Denver: Mohammed Al-Madadi was on his way to see a convicted al-Qaida operative and citizen of Qatar who is jailed in Colorado's Supermax facility. But the visit appeared to have nothing to do with why officials intervened in the Washington-to-Denver United flight earlier this week after Al-Madadi was caught smoking in the bathroom. Officials only learned of Al-Madadi's purpose for traveling after the plane landed. Still, the bizarre coincidence worked to underscore a widespread view that the massive response, including a nationwide aviation alert and NORAD calling on fighter jets, was justified, writes The New York Times . "The [Transportation Security Administration] and counterterrorism officials are on high alert for a very good reason. Al-Qaida is going to use pregnant women, people with babies, and it is not out of the realm of possibility that they will use a diplomat," says Kip Hawley, who served as a TSA administrator under President George W. Bush. The incident left Qatari officials trying to calm a public relations meltdown that appeared to involve an embassy official who disregarded airline safety and used his diplomatic immunity during a sensitive trip.
"This is a very serious issue. Any of us who travel on airlines are reminded of this when we take off," State Department spokesman Philip Crowley tells The Denver Post . Al-Madadi was transferred from the airport to a Denver hotel Wednesday night and interviewed by federal agents. He was released Thursday and met by a team from the Qatari Embassy for a return flight to Washington. No charges were filed because Al-Madadi is protected by diplomatic immunity, notes USA Today .