Mohammed al-Madadi boarded a flight from Washington to Denver on Wednesday afternoon, a junior diplomat from Qatar on a routine assignment to visit a Qatari citizen in a US prison. United Airlines Flight 663 passed uneventfully until Madadi stepped out of the bathroom.
A flight attendant smelled smoke and confronted Madadi, 27, who joked that he “was trying to light my shoes on fire” to mask the smell of the bathroom before proceeding to his seat, law enforcement officials said.
The attendant challenged Madadi again, one official said, and when he declined a request to hand over his lighter, the attendant notified the air marshals on the plane.
That is when Madadi’s business trip to Denver started to become a minor international incident.
After questioning he was left and charged only for illegal smoking.
As Madadi was returning to Washington on Thursday, accompanied by embassy staff members, the State Department made it clear to the Qatari government that it would declare him persona non grata and expel him if Qatar did not remove him. US officials said Qatar, one of the closest US allies in the Persian Gulf region, will send him home.
As word of Madadi's fate travelled quickly through Washington's diplomatic community, the reaction at Arab and Muslim embassies was twofold.
There was widespread agreement that Madadi appeared to have done a dumb thing. But many think that profiling was involved, and that the situation would not have gone so far if Madadi were not Arab.
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