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Qatari diplomat Mohammed Yacoub Al MadadiA diplomat from Qatar who was involved in a security scare on a United Airlines flight last night is being sent back to his home country, according to a U.S. official who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The diplomat, Mohammed al-Madadi, who helps manage Qatar’s embassy in Washington, is leaving the U.S. because he lost his ability to function effectively after the flight, said the official. Alison Bradley, a spokeswoman for the Qatar embassy, said in an e-mail that it is “premature to confirm if or when he will be leaving.”

Al-Madadi was smoking in the lavatory, a violation of federal law, said a law enforcement official, speaking on condition of anonymity. When a flight attendant confronted him, he said he burned plastic on his sandal to mask the smell, the official said. Al-Madadi, whose behavior aroused safety concerns, claimed diplomatic immunity, the official said.

Al-Madadi was en route to a federal prison to visit Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri, a citizen of Qatar who pleaded guilty last year to conspiring to support al-Qaeda, according to Bradley. The prison visit was approved by the U.S. She said al- Madadi also planned to meet Qatari college students.

The U.S. and other countries routinely send representatives to visit their citizens jailed elsewhere.

“This diplomat was traveling to Denver on official embassy business” and “was certainly not engaged in any threatening activity,” Qatari Ambassador to the U.S. Ali Bin Fahad Al-Hajri said in a statement posted on the embassy’s Web site.

‘A Mistake’

“The facts will reveal that this was a mistake, and we urge all parties to avoid reckless judgments or speculation,” the ambassador said.

Gordon Duguid, a State Department spokesman, confirmed that al-Madadi was en route to Denver for a consular visit with a Qatari citizen, though he said he didn’t know who.

The North American Aerospace Defense Command, when notified of the incident, sent two missile-equipped F-16 fighter jets to accompany the plane to Denver International Airport yesterday. Authorities searched the plane and found nothing suspicious.

Nigerian Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab is facing trial for a failed attempt to bomb a Detroit-bound Northwest Airlines plane on Christmas Day. The incident forced a global review of security. Body scanners have been introduced in airports in Europe and North America to detect the type of explosive that Abdulmutallab allegedly had concealed in his underwear.

Richard Reid was sentenced to life in prison in January 2003 for trying to blow up American Airlines flight 63 to Miami from Paris on Dec. 22, 2001. Flight attendants and passengers subdued Reid as he tried to light explosives in his high-top sneakers.

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