Briton jailed for four months for plane bomb hoax

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Man was intoxicated and claimed comment was merely a joke Hani M Bathish DUBAI // A Briton who said he was joking when he claimed to have a bomb on an Emirates airlines flight was sentenced yesterday to four months' jail and fined Dh1,000 (US$273). The 37-year-old, identified as MW, was not present at the Dubai Criminal Court of First Instance when the verdict and sentence were read out yesterday. He said at a previous hearing he had been drunk and anxious during the flight from Manchester to Dubai in July and the bomb threat "was a joke".

The accused has been held in police custody since the incident. Under UAE law, police cannot force detainees to attend court hearings if they do not wish to do so. MW received three months' jail on a charge of attacking a civilian airliner and one month for assault, and was ordered to pay the fine for consuming alcohol. He pleaded not guilty to the first two charges, but admitted he had been drinking and scuffled with passengers on the flight.

The charge of attacking a civilian airliner can carry a sentence of up to 15 years in jail if a judge decides the accused actually intended to carry out a bomb threat and there are no mitigating circumstances. The court was told MW caused panic on the aircraft by muttering "this bomb will go off in seven minutes" while pressing buttons on two mobile phones. A frightened Chinese woman sitting next to him alerted a Lebanese flight attendant, identified as CH.

According to testimony presented by the Dubai Public Prosecution, CH said: "I went to see the passenger and he was holding two mobile phones, one in each hand, and pressing all the buttons. When I asked him what was wrong, another passenger answered, saying the defendant was only joking." However, other passengers were also frightened, and a scuffle involving MW broke out. He was restrained for the remainder of the flight and then arrested after the aircraft landed in Dubai, where he was found to be heavily intoxicated.

According to prosecution evidence he directed racist remarks at several Chinese and Indian passengers. Further details of what happened during the flight were not given in court. There had been one previous hearing in the case, earlier this month, which lasted about 15 minutes after MW asked for a quick process and sentencing. As a result no witnesses were called. "It was a joke," MW told the court on that occasion.

"I just want this to be over," he added. "I was drunk, I did not know what I was doing ... I did not assault a flight attendant, I assaulted passengers, but in self-defence only after they assaulted me." The Briton told the court he had medical documents at the British Embassy to prove he suffered from anxiety and panic attacks, but when the judge offered him an adjournment to allow him to bring them he declined, saying he wanted the case to conclude quickly.

He added that he was forbidden by doctors from drinking when flying because it made his medical condition worse. He is expected to be released in November after serving his sentence. hbathish@thenational.ae