BEIRUT: Iraqi security forces detained Friday an airport official connected to an incident a day earlier when a Middle East Airlines flight from Beirut was turned back after the son of the Iraqi transport minister missed the plane, Iraqi media reported.
A “special security force from the office of the Armed Forces Commander” arrested Baghdad Airport Assistant Manager Samer Kibbeh during a raid on his office late Thursday night, according to an article published on Iraq’s Al-Sumaria TV channel Friday.
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said he would punish those responsible for the flight incident, news of which went viral online soon after it broke.
Transport Minister Ghazi Zeaiter said the incident would not affect ties between Lebanon and Iraq “neither at the political level nor at the transport level,” the National News Agency reported.
Zeaiter said the incident had been caused by “an employee at Baghdad airport” and hailed Maliki’s decision to take punitive action.
Lebanon’s new transport minister said he discussed the incident in separate telephone calls with Maliki and Iraq’s transport minister, Hadi al-Amiri.
Iraqi Ambassador to Lebanon Raad al-Alousi denied Friday that there had been a “crisis with Middle East Airlines,” stressing that Maliki “ordered the arrest of those who gave the orders preventing the Lebanese aircraft from landing, and he formed a committee to investigate the matter,” according to the NNA.
Following a meeting with Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk, Alousi said that Lebanese Prime Minister Tammam Salam and his Iraqi counterpart had resolved the matter.
Meanwhile, 21 of the 71 passengers whose flight was canceled because of the Iraqi decision flew to Baghdad late Thursday night.
A source at Rafik Hariri International Airport said an Iraqi Airways CRJ 900 plane carrying 59 passengers arrived in Beirut and flew back to Baghdad with 21 passengers.
The passengers were among those on board a Middle East Airlines plane that was forced to return to Beirut midflight after Iraqi authorities refused to let the aircraft land without the son of the Iraqi transport minister, who was supposed to be on the flight.
The remaining 50 passengers were expected to fly out Friday, the source said.