The interrogation of 12 men who were removed from a U.S. airliner after they aroused the suspicions of air marshals and crew produced no evidence of terrorism, the Dutch justice minister said Thursday.
"So far there are no signs that this was a terrorist threat," said Judith Sluiter, a spokeswoman for Justice Minister Piet Hein Donner.
Sluiter declined to say why the men remained under arrest, though the investigation into Wednesday's drama was continuing. Authorities have three days to bring the suspects to court to seek further detention or to release them.
A U.S. government official said crew members and air marshals on board the Northwest DC-10 bound for Bombay, India, saw the passengers trying to use mobile phones and passing the phones among themselves while the airliner was taking off. He spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the subject.
"It was behavior that average passengers wouldn't do," the official said.
The plane turned back to Amsterdam shortly after passing into German air space and two Dutch F-16 fighter jets were scrambled to escort it on its flight back to Amsterdam.
Passengers described the men as between 25 and 35 years old and speaking Urdu, the language commonly spoken in Pakistan and by many of India's Muslims. Some had beards, and some wore a shalwar kameez, a long shirt and baggy pants commonly worn by South Asian Muslims.
India's CNN-IBN television news channel reported Thursday that all 12 men were Indian-born, although their current residences were not clear.
India's junior foreign minister, Anand Sharma, confirmed that Dutch authorities have provided a list of names to Indian officials, but gave no other details. Many were common Muslim names.
The Algemeen Dagblad newspaper quoted an unidentified 31-year-old Dutch businessman as saying the suspects were walking up and down the isle after takeoff.
"I saw the air marshals walking, and then you know something's wrong," it quoted him as saying.
Nitin Patel of Boston, who sat behind the men, told the paper, "I don't know how close we were, but my gut tells me these people wanted to hijack the airplane."
The mass-circulation De Telegraaf quoted passenger Sarat Menon as quoting the men as saying they were returning from a vacation in Tobago.
"It wasn't immediately clear what was going on. There was no panic. A flight attendant told us to remain seated and to follow the air marshals' orders," Menon said.
The alert came two weeks after British police said they foiled a terrorist plan to blow up several U.S.-bound aircraft simultaneously - a plot that sent a chill through the airline industry.
The suspects were held overnight at a detention center at the airport.
The captain of flight NW0042 radioed Amsterdam seeking permission to return with a military escort, and jet fighters were scrambled from a northern military air field.
The national anti-terrorism office said it saw no reason to raise the country's threat level.
In a recording of air control communications, the Northwest pilot declined an offer to put fire engines on standby for the unscheduled landing at Schiphol.
The security alert was the latest among several incidents reported since the alleged terrorism plot was revealed in London. 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.
On Tuesday, a flight to New York from Atlanta was diverted to Charlotte, North Carolina, after a flight attendant found a bottle of water and then smelled something suspicious on the plane. Officials found nothing hazardous on board.
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Prosecutors said Thursday they found no evidence of a terrorist threat aboard a Northwest Airlines flight to India that returned to Amsterdam, and they are releasing all 12 passengers arrested after...
Dutch F-16s escorted a Northwest Airlines flight bound for India back to Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport on Wednesday after the pilot radioed an unspecified security alarm.