A bomb threat on a Malaysia Airlines turned out to be false. But the authorities stuck to their task

It was a tip-off from Malaysia to the Rapid Action Battalion that got the ball rolling. With tension building, the authorities of Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport rolled up their sleeves and started to take immediate safety measures.

Before long, the Air Force's bomb squad arrived along with the Anti-Terrorism Unit and the Armed Police Battalion as army and RAB personnel stood guard outside the airport.

The information conveyed over the phone suggested that two passengers on board a Malaysia Airlines flight from Kuala Lumpur to Dhaka on Wednesday were carrying bombs.

Although the authorities could not verify it with Malaysia Airlines or from any intelligence report, they did not take the threat lightly.

As the Malaysia Airlines flight carrying 135 passengers landed at Hazrat Shahjalal Airport around 9:40 pm, the security staff combed through the baggage and searched each passenger for around three and a half hours.

But they did not find any "dangerous or bomb-like material" on the plane, Group Captain AHM Touhid-ul Ahsan, director of the airport, said at a media briefing in the early hours of Thursday.

The message that came through a Malaysian phone number was that the suspects were two Pakistani nationals. The flight, however, had no Pakistani passenger in it.

While reports abounded that the aircraft was forced into an emergency landing due to the threat, officials dismissed them saying the plane made a routine touch down.

“We contacted the Malaysia Airlines authorities and told them about the matter. They said they did not have any passenger aboard that matched the profile.”

The flight was made up entirely of Bangladeshi passengers with the exception of one Malaysian national, Touhid-ul said.

But the airport authorities made sure that all the protocols related to a bomb threat were followed even if it turned out to be a false alarm, according to Touhid-ul.

“First we had a meeting with civil aviation representatives, intelligence officials and law enforcers. Our intelligence members said the information from Malaysia wasn’t substantiated.”

“Even then, we decided to take it seriously and prepared to follow the SOP (Standard Operating Procedure). We announced that we’d go for action and conduct a search.”

After the flight landed, it was asked to park at the taxiway when the search operation began, the airport director said.

Following the checklist of the standard procedure, the Air Force, Fire Service and intelligence agents were called at the scene.

The Bangabandhu Bomb Disposal Unit of Bangladesh Air Force played a key role in conducting the search, aided by the APBn. The army and RAB were also on standby.

Ground handling agents of Biman Bangladesh Airlines unloaded the luggage and ensured that all passengers disembarked. The dog squad was also deployed to sniff out anything dangerous.

Having been found with nothing of note, the passengers were later sent to the terminal. Then the cargo was offloaded from both chambers of the aircraft and searched.

“Each and every luggage was scanned and then sent to the bay area. They were scanned by the dog squad too, but nothing dangerous was found,” the director said.

A search inside the aircraft did not yield anything either, but it was a long process.

Around 1 am, the last piece of luggage was scanned and the Air Force officials declared the plane safe.

No one was arrested over the incident as the plane prepared for its next flight.

During the media briefing, a passenger of the flight complained about the ordeal they all went through.

“We landed at 9.30 pm and now it is 1.30 am. We’re all stuck here (at the airport) but no one has even given us a bottle of water in the past four hours,” he said.

“It only costs Tk 15 to buy a bottle of water and anyone could have given it. We made a long journey. You people are not paying any attention to it,” the passenger said.

Touhid-ul said they were busy addressing the emergency but assured the passenger that the authorities will be briefed not to make such a mistake in future.