A 45-year-old Malaysia Airlines passenger has been charged for 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 taken into custody without incident after Malaysia Airlines flight MH122 was forced to return to Sydney Airport more than three hours into the eight-hour flight to Kuala Lumpur.
The 45-year-old became “disruptive” aboard the Airbus A330 and claimed to have explosives, 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 out loud, but Parambath thought nothing of it.
“At that point, we just thought he was praying for everyone. People just generally had a laugh,” said Parambath, who was seated five rows behind Arif.
However, 30 minutes into the flight, Parambath said Arif became louder, stood up, and started pushing and shoving passengers before implying that he had explosives in a backpack.
“I don’t think he specifically said ‘bomb.’ But he was carrying his bag and he said, ‘I’ve got power in my arms,’” said Parambath, who was traveling with his wife and three children.
Passengers spent nearly three hours on the plane after it landed before Arif was taken into custody.
The 45-year-old was charged with making a false statement about a threat to damage an aircraft and failing to comply with the cabin crew’s safety instructions, AFP said.
If convicted, the charges carry a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a fine of over 15,000 Australian dollars ($7,300).
Arif refused to leave his police cell Tuesday to appear before a Sydney court by video link.
Defense lawyer Mostafa Daoudie told Magistrate Greg Grogin on Tuesday that Arif had “serious mental issues” and was “not in the right state of mind.”
Grogin has refused to release Arif on bail.