A Qatari diplomat was going to visit a convicted member of Al Qaeda when his suspicious behavior led the U.S. to scramble F-16s, sources said Thursday.
Mohamed Al-Madadi, the third-ranking diplomat in the Qatari Embassy, was on his way to visit Ali Al-Marri in the Florence, Colo., Supermax prison. Al-Marri, a Qatari citizen, is serving an eight-year sentence after pleading guilty to conspiring to commit a terrorist act.
Al-Madadi was scheduled to meet with Al-Marri at 11 a.m. Thursday, said Alison Bradley, a spokeswoman for the Qatari Embassy.
Al-Madadi was apprehended by two U.S. air marshals after he spent a suspiciously long time in the airplane bathroom and possibly joked about igniting a bomb in his shoes, congressional sources said. The government scrambled F-16 fighter jets and escorted the plane to the Denver airport.
Al-Madadi will not face charges and will leave the country later this week, congressional sources said. As a top diplomat, Al-Madadi has diplomatic immunity.
The Geneva Conventions guarantee countries the right to consular visits to their incarcerated citizens — and Al-Marri’s case has been a rocky one, as he is the only terrorism suspect who has been held on U.S. soil as an enemy combatant. He sued, but the Supreme Court dismissed his case after the Obama administration announced it was moving his case to the civilian justice system.
Embassy officials have been holding consular visits with Al-Marri since mid-2009, when he was moved from a military brig in Charleston, S.C., to the civilian system, Bradley said. Al-Marri was originally held in a Marion, Ill., prison and was moved to the Colorado Supermax prison in March.
In a statement early Thursday morning, the Qatari ambassador made no mention of Al-Madadi’s visit to Al-Marri.
“This diplomat was traveling to Denver on official embassy business on my instructions, and he was certainly not engaged in any threatening activity,” said Qatari Ambassador Ali Bin Fahad Al-Hajri. “The facts will reveal that this was a mistake, and we urge all concerned parties to avoid reckless judgments or speculation.”
Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.), the top Republican on the House Homeland Security Committee, called on Qatar to reimburse the U.S. government for the cost of scrambling the jets. “The government of Qatar should reimburse us for the cost. It put people’s lives at risk,” King told POLITICO.
It costs about $7,500 to operate an F-16 for an hour, a spokesman for the North American Aerospace Defense Command said. The figure includes the cost of fuel and maintenance.
Two F-16s were scrambled from an Air Force base outside Denver to intercept the United Airlines flight from Washington’s Reagan National Airport. The jets intercepted the flight at approximately 6:45 p.m. Mountain Time, and the plane landed at 6:52 p.m. (SOURCE)