PARIS – A retired French police officer travelling on Air France was freed Monday after nearly 12 hours of questioning about a fake bomb hidden in a lavatory that forced his Paris-bound flight to make an emergency landing in Kenya, a judicial official said.
The hoax was the fourth against Air France in recent weeks. It came amid heightened concerns about extremist violence in many countries, and passenger jitters around the holidays.
An official in the prosecutor’s office in Bobigny, outside Paris. said that the former police officer in his late 50s was once a member of the elite emergency response unit RAID and hailed from the French Indian Ocean island of Reunion. The official wasn’t authorized to identify himself when speaking about an ongoing probe.
The man, who wasn’t identified by name, had been taken in for questioning upon arrival Monday at Charles de Gaulle Airport.
He could eventually be summoned for a second period of questioning, but further investigation is needed, said the official in the prosecutor’s office, adding, “He’s not completely out of the woods.”
Kenyan Interior Minister Joseph Nkaissery said the man was among six passengers questioned Sunday in Kenya. Nkaissery said Kenya alerted French authorities about the suspected involvement of this man and a travelling companion in placing the fake bomb in the bathroom. He said sniffer dogs traced the package back to their seats and the bathroom.
The arrest is part of an investigation prompted by a legal complaint filed by Air France on Monday for reckless endangerment. The lawsuit doesn’t name a perpetrator but leaves it to investigators to determine who might be prosecuted, and allows Air France to seek damages in an eventual trial.
France has been in a state of emergency since Islamic extremist attacks Nov. 13 in Paris killed 130 people and left hundreds wounded. The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for those attacks and for downing a plane Oct. 31 carrying Russian tourists out of Egypt, killing all 224 people on board.
On Sunday, Air France Flight 463 from the Indian Ocean island of Mauritius to Paris made an emergency landing in Mombasa, Kenya, after a bomb was reported aboard. All 459 passengers and 14 crew members on the Boeing 777 were safely evacuated down airplane emergency slides.
Authorities later discovered a fake explosive, rigged with cardboard, sheets of paper and a household timer, and declared it a hoax. Air France CEO Frederic Gagey said the homemade apparatus was apparently placed in a lavatory cabinet during the flight.
Overwhelmed with relief, the passengers arrived safely in Paris on Monday, some crying as they embraced loved ones.
“We thought we were going to die. Because of the speed of the airplane going down, we thought we would crash in the sea,” said passenger Marine Gorlier of the French town of Melun after landing at Paris’ Charles de Gaulle Airport.
“I really admired the crew, because they thought it was a real bomb and they remained very serene,” said Antoine Dupont of the northern city of Lille. “One of my grandchildren said: ‘The slide was super!'”
Tom Odula in Nairobi, Kenya and Chris den Hond from Charles de Gaulle Airport contributed to this story.