The emergency return of a Northwest Airlines flight to Amsterdam's Schiphol airport under fighter escort did not appear to have anything to do with terrorism, Dutch Justice Minister Piet Hein Donner said on Thursday.
"Thus far there is no indication that it was terror-related," Donner said, a day after the US airline's flight to Mumbai was aborted 30 minutes after take-off shortly before noon.
Dutch authorities were still holding 12 of the 149 passengers aboard flight NW0042 from Schiphol to the Indian city. All 12 passengers who were detained were of Indian origin.
A list provided by the Indian embassy in Amsterdam to the Indian foreign ministry in New Delhi indicated all the detained people were born in Mumbai but it was not clear whether they were all Indian citizens, a TV channel said.
It said most names on the list were Muslim and men were all in their 30s. No arrests were immediately made nor charges pressed. Neither the Dutch justice ministry nor the border police, who detained the passengers, have commented on the circumstances surrounding the incident.
The captain spoke to ground control while over Germany, and the aircraft immediately returned to Schiphol with two Dutch F-16s escorting.
The daily Telegraaf reported on the basis of comments from one of the passengers that two armed US air marshals had taken control of the DC-10 following suspicious behaviour by a group of men.
Other reports said the crew reacted after a mobile telephone rang and the men cheered in response.
The Telegraaf said the two marshals had ordered passengers to remain in their seats after a group of passengers began fiddling with mobile phones and rummaging in their hand luggage.
Sarat Menon, an Indian passenger who works in Brussels and who sat next to the group, described them as aged 30-40 and "certainly not educated."He added that four of the Urdu-speaking men had long beards and said they had been on holiday in Tobago.
After the marshals took over, they ordered passengers to "sit upright in their chairs. We were not allowed to walk around or to go to the toilet".
Menon said the atmosphere had been calm throughout, but that there had been some tension on arrival back at Schiphol. Analysts noted that the aircraft had parked normally among other aircraft, not on an isolated spot on the airport runway.
Normal border police had arrested the men, not a special anti-terrorism unit, and security arrangements at Dutch airports were not altered. The Dutch national terrorism coordinator said through a spokesperson that no changes to the security level had been implemented.