Plane With Saudi Students Diverted, Searched for Explosives

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A commuter jet with three Saudi aviation students among the 20 passengers was diverted and searched for explosives after crew members thought someone had tampered with a bathroom smoke detector.

Nothing was found, and now Pinnacle Airlines, operator of the Delta connection flight, is defending its decision to ground the plane saying it wasn't racial profiling.

Amy Howell, a spokeswoman for Pinnacle Airlines, tells The Associated Press the decision was based on passenger behavior not nationality.

The Bombardier CRJ200 was en-route from Minneapolis to Grand Forks, North Dakota, when it was diverted to Fargo, North Dakota.

The three students spoke little English and had just arrived in the U.S. from Saudi Arabia. They were on their way to the University of North Dakota to train as pilots, as part of an agreement with the Saudi government.

UND researcher Pablo de Leon, who was also on the diverted flight, tells the Grand Forks Herald the students were stopped by Minneapolis airport police for about 20 minutes before they were even allowed to board the plane.

Once the flight took off, one of the students got up to use the bathroom.

"About 10 or 15 minutes later, I could feel the airplane was decreasing altitude, and the pilot said we should get ready to land," Leon says.

After the search, all passengers were bused the 75 miles from Fargo to Grand Fork.

The Saudi students were reportedly perplexed by the commotion. They were set to take English-as-a-second-language courses as part of their pilot training, AP says.

Of the 19 men who hijacked planes and carried out the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, 15 were from Saudi Arabia and several were enrolled in U.S. flight schools.

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