Four Australian Women Arrested Boarding Plane With Gun Parts

Four Australian women were arrested while trying to board a plane in Syria after a dismantled handgun was allegedly found inside a toy the women were carrying, officials and media reports said Thursday.

The Department of Foreign Affairs said the four Australian women, who were not immediately identified, were with two Iraqi women and a child when they were detained at Damascus airport on Tuesday.

All six women were of Iraqi origin, the department in a statement.

Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said the child was also Australian.

"They were detained in Syria and believed to have in their possession a disassembled gun," Downer told reporters.

The Australian Broadcasting Corp. quoted an unidentified Syrian police source as saying the women were arrested after security officers found a dismantled handgun inside a toy the child was carrying.

The women were trying to board a Gulf Air flight bound for Australia via Bahrain.

"I understand that the pieces of weapon were in hand luggage, but there were bullets in the (aircraft's baggage) hold," Gulf Air spokesman David Baker said.

Syrian authorities were investigating whether the women might have been involved in a plot to hijack the plane, and police were questioning the women, the ABC reported.

It was unclear, however, whether the alleged hijacking plot would have affected the flight from Damascus to Bahrain, or the second leg from Bahrain to Australia.

The Gulf Air spokesman would not comment on the reports of a possible hijacking.

"Gulf Air security and the Syrian authorities' security pulled up the group and they were stopped from boarding the plane," Baker said. "It was just normal security processes carried out by the Syrian authorities."

After the women were arrested, the plane was thoroughly searched by authorities and nothing suspicious was found on board, the ABC reported. The airline was cleared to take off three hours later, it said.

Downer said the Canadian embassy in Damascus was attempting to contact the woman on behalf of the Australian government which does not have a diplomatic post in Syria.

An official from the Australian embassy in Cairo also was traveling to Damascus, Downer said.

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