Jan 11, 2010 7:02 PM by Bea Karnes, News First 5

Air Tran suspect facing federal charges

The passenger accused of unruly behavior aboard an AirTran jet, which forced it to land in Colorado Springs last week, is facing federal charges.

Muhammad Abu Tahir, 47, of Glen Allen, Virginia, is charged with interference with a flight crew. Tahir will appear in U.S. District Court in Denver Tuesday morning at 10:30 to be advised of the charges pending against him. Federal prosecutors will ask that he be held without bond. If convicted, Tahir faces 20 years in federal prison, up to a $250,000 fine, or both, along with restitution to the airline.

According to an affidavit, AirTran Flight 39 was traveling from Atlanta to San Francisco when Tahir became disruptive after flight attendants refused to serve him additional alcoholic drinks. Tahir then locked himself in the aircraft lavatory.

After a few minutes, Tahir opened the door of the lavatory and placed his shoes and socks outside the door. He then closed the lavatory door again.

A short time later the defendant again opened the door, revealing that he was shaving with no shirt on. He refused to leave the lavatory and started yelling at the flight attendant that he was being disrespected.

The Captain instructed the flight crew to find an able-bodied person to assist the flight attendants. One of the passengers was then asked to stand outside the lavatory door. Tahir continued to yell and refused to obey the flight crew. At one point, he grabbed the arms and hands of the Senior Flight Attendant. Tahir released his grasp on her after a passenger interceded.

At that point, a carbon dioxide fire extinguisher was brought to the rear of the aircraft should Tahir's behavior escalate. Also, flight attendants positioned beverage carts in the rear and in the front of the aircraft to prevent Tahir from moving towards the cockpit.

By now, the Captain had decided to land in Colorado Springs, with Tahir still inside the lavatory. Colorado Springs Police took him into custody.He was then questioned and arrested by the FBI.

"The FBI would like to extend its appreciation to the Colorado Springs Municipal Airport, the Colorado Springs Police Department, the Colorado Springs Fire Department, the El Paso County Sheriff's Office, and the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), all of whom provided assistance in the January 8, 2010 AirTran Airways flight diversion and arrest of Muhammad Abu Tahir," said FBI Special Agent in Charge James Davis.


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