Canberra man charged after bomb threat forces U-turn of Malaysia Airlines flight
A 45-year-old man accused of making a bomb threat on a Malaysia Airlines flight from Sydney to Kuala Lumpur was charged on Tuesday.
Muhammad Arif, a resident of Canberra, was charged with making a false statement about a threat to damage an aircraft, and for failing to comply with cabin crew’s safety instruction.
He faces up to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to US$15,000 (S$20,300).
Arif was on Malaysia Airlines flight MH122 when he suddenly became aggressive two hours into a nine-hour flight from Sydney to Kuala Lumpur.
The Australian federal police alleged in a statement that he made a bomb threat.
“During the flight, a male passenger allegedly became disruptive and claimed to have explosives onboard,” it said.
The plane returned to Sydney because of Arif.
Video shot onboard shows a man, apparently Arif, confronting airline crew.
In one video, the man says: “My name is Muhammad, a slave of Allah.” He then asks a crew member: “Are you a slave of Allah?”
One passenger recalled on the social media platform X, formerly Twitter, that Arif had already been drawing attention to himself by praying loudly as the plane was taking off.
“At that point, we just thought he was praying for everyone,” the passenger said.
But about 30 minutes into the flight, he turned rowdy, stood up, and began shoving and shouting at passengers and flight crew.
At one point, he unzipped his backpack, reached for something inside it and shouted, “I’ve got power in my arms”.
Arif was arrested shortly after 6.15pm on Monday, about three hours after the plane landed in Sydney.
The Guardian reported that on Tuesday, Arif refused to leave his police cell at Surry Hills to face the court.
“I have tried to see him,” Mr Mostafa Daoudie, Arif’s lawyer, told the court. “But he has refused to come out of his cell.”
Mr Daoudie informed magistrate Greg Grogin that Arif has “serious mental issues” and was “not in the right state of mind”, according to The Star.
New South Wales Police Commissioner Karen Webb defended the time taken for police to board the plane and arrest Arif.
“The important thing is to try and defuse and not escalate the situation, and so I praise the crew for what they did in in keeping the passengers calm, particularly the person who has been arrested now, to de-escalate this situation to the point that we got this matter resolved within three hours,” she said.
“I know it’s terrifying for those people onboard and their families outside,” she said, but “the protocol in Australia is to negotiate.”
“We don’t storm planes. We’re not TV. It’s not the movies. We want to protect the lives of all passengers.”