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AUSTRALIAN POLICE CHARGE MAN OVER BOMB THREAT ON MALAYSIA AIRLINES FLIGHT - SYDNEY AUSTRALIA
A 45-year-old man was charged on Tuesday with allegedly threatening to blow up a plane during a flight from Australia to Malaysia that returned to Sydney.
Police arrested the Canberra resident and took him from the Airbus A330 on Monday, almost three hours after Malaysia Airlines flight MH122 returned to Sydney Airport.
Police allege the man had become disruptive and claimed to have explosives on board.
He was charged with making a false statement about a threat to damage an aircraft and failing to comply with cabin crew's safety instructions.
The charges carry a potential maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a fine of more than 15,000 Australian dollars (US$7,300) respectively.
His name will be released after he appears in a Sydney court later on Tuesday.
The airliner with 199 passengers and 12 crew aboard had left Sydney early Monday afternoon for an eight-hour flight to Kuala Lumpur.
One of the passengers, Velutha Parambath, said the man had been drawing attention to himself before takeoff by praying aloud.
"At that point, we just thought he was praying for everyone. People just generally had a laugh," Parambath, who was seated five rows behind the man, told Nine Network television on Tuesday.
But half an hour into the flight, the man became louder, stood up and started pushing and shoving passengers, Parambath said.
The man implied that he had explosives in a backpack.
"I don't think he specifically said 'bomb.' But he was carrying his bag and he said, 'I've got power in my arms,'" said Parambath, who had been traveling with his wife and three children.
Malaysia Airlines said the pilot decided to return to Sydney for safety reasons.
The passengers' concerns escalated after they landed and spent almost three hours in the plane on a tarmac.
"All we saw were fire engines surrounding us and again people reading the news saying there's potentially a bomb on the plane," Parambath said.
New South Wales Police Commissioner Karen Webb defended the delay of almost three hours between when the plane landed and when two police officers handcuffed the suspect.
"We can never presume anything and we you don't know whether this person was acting alone or he actually had other support on the plane or outside the plane," Webb told Sydney Radio 2GB.
Most of the passengers are expected to continue their journey on a replacement flight MH122D on Tuesday afternoon.
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