By Tom Odula, AP
NAIROBI, Kenya–Air France chief executive Frederic Gagey said Sunday that a bomb threat that prompted one of the airline’s planes to make an emergency landing in Kenya had been a “false alarm”. “The object was not capable of causing an explosion,” Gagey said of an item made up of cardboard, pieces of paper and a timer that was found in a toilet cubicle on board the plane flying from Mauritius to Paris. No explosives have been found yet on the suspicious device that caused an Air France flight from Mauritius to Paris to be diverted to Mombasa, Kenya, a Kenyan police official said.
The device, found in a lavatory on the plane, looked like a cardboard box with a stop watch taped to it, said the official who is part of the investigation and who insisted on anonymity because he is not authorized to speak to the press. The box has been taken apart and no explosives have been found yet, he said. The digital watch is being analyzed, he said.
Six passengers are being questioned over the incident, he said.
A passenger reported the device to the cabin crew who informed the pilots leading to an emergency landing at the Moi International Airport in Mombasa. One of those being interrogated is the man who reported the package.
The Boeing 777 Air France flight 463 was heading to Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris when the pilots requested an emergency landing at the Moi International Airport at 12:37 a.m., Kenyan police spokesman Charles Owino said.
“It requested an emergency landing when a device suspected to be an explosive was discovered in the lavatory,” Owino said.
The plane was carrying 459 passengers and 14 crew members on board and had left Mauritius at 9 p.m., Owino said.
All passengers were safely evacuated and the device was taken out, said Owino.
“The object, believed to be an explosive device has successfully been retrieved from the aircraft,” said Kenya Airports Authority in a post on Twitter, adding that scheduled flights to Mombasa were disrupted during the interval but that normal operations have resumed.
France has been under a state of emergency since the Nov. 13 attacks in Paris that left 130 people dead. The Islamic State group has claimed responsibility for that and the Oct. 31 crash of a Russian passenger in the Sinai desert that killed all 224 people aboard. Moscow has said that the crash was caused by a bomb on the plane.
Two Air France flights from the U.S. to Paris were diverted on Nov. 18 after bomb threats were received. No bombs were found on the planes from Los Angeles and Washington, D.C.
Steven Ciaran, 30 an Irishman working on Reunion Island, said he was seated at back of the plane watching a movie when he noticed the rushed movement of cabin crew preparing emergency drills. The plane arrived in Mombasa at around 1.30 a.m. and the passengers disembarked using an emergency slides, he said. A couple of people got twisted ankles but no one seriously injured, Ciaran said.