A 45-year-old Malaysia Airlines passenger has been charged with allegedly threatening to blow up a plane during a flight from Australia to Malaysia on Monday, authorities said.
Muhammad Arif, a resident of Canberra, was then taken into custody without incident Malaysia Airlines flight MH122 had to return to Sydney Airport more than three hours after the start of the eight-hour flight to Kuala Lumpur.
The 45-year-old became “disruptive” on board the Airbus A330 and claimed to be carrying explosives, the Australian Federal Police (AFP) said in a statement.
One of the flight’s 199 passengers, Velutha Parambath, told The Associated Press that Arif caught everyone’s attention before takeoff by praying aloud, but Parambath thought nothing of it.
“At that point we just thought he was praying for everyone. “People generally just laughed,” said Parambath, who was five rows behind Arif.
But 30 minutes into the flight, Parambath said Arif raised his voice, got up and started shoving and shoving passengers before implying he had explosives in a backpack.
“I don’t think he specifically said ‘bomb’. But he carried his bag and said, ‘I have strength in my arms,'” said Parambath, who was traveling with his wife and three children.
Passengers spent almost three hours on the route The plane after it landed before Arif was taken into custody.
The 45-year-old was accused of making a false statement about the threat of damage to an aircraft and failing to follow cabin crew safety instructions, AFP said.
In the event of a conviction, the indictment bears a maximum penalty 10 years in prison and a fine of over AUD 15,000 (US$7,300).
Arif on Tuesday refused to leave his police cell to appear before a Sydney court via video feed.
Defense attorney Mostafa Daoudie told Judge Greg Grogin on Tuesday that Arif has “serious mental health problems” and is “not in the right frame of mind.”
Grogin refused to release Arif on bail.