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Matthew Lee Associated Press Writer
Published: 10 April 2010

WASHINGTON (AP) -- A Qatari diplomat who sparked a bomb scare after sneaking a smoke in an airplane's bathroom will be sent home or transferred to another country, U.S. officials said.
The officials said that as a result of his recall, the U.S. government would not take any formal action against the diplomat.
Speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the case, the officials said they expected Mohammed Al-Madadi to leave the United States in accordance with assurances given to them by the Qatari embassy in Washington and authorities in the Qatari capital of Doha.
``We fully expect this will be resolved very quickly,'' State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley told reporters. Crowley declined to comment on the specifics. But other officials with knowledge of the discussions between U.S. and Qatari authorities said Al-Madidi would be leaving the country and his departure would mark the closure of the case.
Crowley said the U.S. government is satisfied that the Qatari government is taking the matter seriously.
Wednesday's scare came three months after the attempted terror attack on Christmas Day when a Nigerian man allegedly tried to blow up a Detroit-bound airliner. The alleged bomber, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, went to the bathroom just before he tried to ignite his bomb in his seat. Since then, law enforcement, flight crews and passengers have been on high alert for suspicious activity on airplanes.
That scare exposed major holes in the country's national security and prompted immediate changes in terror-screening policies.
Authorities say Al-Madadi grabbed a surreptitious smoke in a jetliner's bathroom during a Wednesday flight from Washington to Denver and then joked about lighting his shoe on fire. He was released from custody on Thursday and headed back to Washington.
No explosives were found on the plane and authorities said they don't think Al-Madidi was trying to hurt anyone during Wednesday's scare. He enjoys diplomatic immunity from U.S. prosecution and will not be criminally charged, authorities said. The State Department official said Qatar had not yet informed the administration how they will handle the case.
Some air travelers at Denver International Airport Thursday were amazed that Al-Madidi would not be charged with anything.
``I think it's wrong. I'd get busted. I don't think that (immunity) should be a factor,'' said one of them, Hank DePetro, a retired psychologist from Greeley, Colo.
Under international protocol -- the 1961 Vienna Conventions on Diplomatic Relations -- diplomats in foreign countries enjoy broad immunity from prosecution. That immunity can only be waived by a diplomat's home government, something that is rarely requested and even more rarely granted.
But even without charges being pressed against him and without such a waiver, the U.S. could have moved to declare Al-Madidi ``persona non grata'' and expel him from the country. However, officials said they would not pursue this, given the close nature of U.S.-Qatari ties and the importance the country plays in the Middle East.
Qatar, about the size of Connecticut and Rhode Island combined and with a population of about 1.4 million people, is an oil-rich Middle East nation and key U.S. ally. It is situated on the Arabian peninsula and surrounded by three sides by the Persian Gulf and to the south by Saudi Arabia. The country hosts the forward headquarters of the U.S. Central Command, which runs the wars in both Afghanistan and Iraq, and is a major supporter of operations deemed critical to both campaigns.
Qatar's ambassador to the United States, Ali Bin Fahad Al-Hajri, cautioned against a rush to judgment.
``This diplomat was traveling to Denver on official embassy business on my instructions, and he was certainly not engaged in any threatening activity,'' he said in a statement. ``The facts will reveal that this was a mistake.''
Al-Madadi is the embassy's third secretary, a relatively junior position, although diplomatic assignments in Washington are considered plum posts in most countries' diplomatic corps.
In the most recent occurrence, two law enforcement officials said investigators were told the man was asked about the smell of smoke in the bathroom and he made a joke that he had been trying to light his shoe -- an apparent reference to the 2001 so-called ``shoe bomber'' Richard Reid.
Officials said air marshals aboard the flight restrained the man and he was questioned. The plane landed safely as military jets were scrambled.
An online biography on the business networking site LinkedIn shows that a Mohammed Al-Madadi has been in Washington since at least 2007, when he began studying at George Washington University's business school. The job title listed on the site is database administrator at Qatar's Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
The Boeing 757 was carrying 157 passengers and six crew members, United Airlines spokesman Michael Trevino said. It left Reagan National Airport at 5:19 p.m. EDT and landed at Denver International Airport at 7 p.m. MDT.

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