U.S. federal agents detained a passenger Thursday on a New York-bound jet from West Africa, with the jet's captain telling passengers the man was on a "no-fly" list and ineligible for international travel for undisclosed security reasons.
The flight originated in Nigeria, the native country of a man accused of boarding a Detroit-bound airplane from Amsterdam in December with a bomb hidden in his underwear.
It was unclear if the man detained in Puerto Rico boarded the plane in Nigeria or Senegal, and his name and nationality were not disclosed. He was not immediately charged with any crime and Customs and Border Protection issued a statement identifying him only as "potential person of interest,'' who was removed from the flight for questioning.
Agency officials declined to provide further details. But passengers told The Associated Press that the captain announced over the intercom that a passenger had been identified as being on a no-fly list while the jet was over the Atlantic. He made the announcement shortly after a U.S. agent escorted the man in a T-shirt and jeans off the plane.
The captain described the passenger as a "serious security risk,'' said Joan Mower, a passenger from Washington. The flight continued on to New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport afterward.
"The good news is nothing happened, we're all safe,'' Mower said. "The question is how did a guy who is on the no-fly list get on a Delta Air Lines plane headed for New York without Delta knowing it?''
"He told us all of this and he was clearly not happy about it,'' Mower said. Passenger Nbaye Beye said the man, who appeared to be in his late 20s, appeared nervous when approached by a U.S. agent but got off the plane quietly. "The other passengers were nervous but everyone was sitting calm and cool,'' passenger Hassane Diallo told Associated Press Television News.
Delta vetted all passengers as required, checking to see if any are on a no-fly list, when the plane took off from Dakar, Senegal, said spokeswoman Susan Elliott.
U.S. authorities declined to say why the man was determined to be a security risk. Flight 215 had taken off from Abuja, Nigeria on late Wednesday and stopped in Dakar, Senegal early Thursday before heading to New York.
Delta said the diversion to Puerto Rico was to refuel. Elliott said such a diversion is not unusual for a full flight that runs into trans-Atlantic headwinds and was not related to the detention of the passenger.