India on Friday lodged a strong protest with the Netherlands at the way it handled Indian passengers from a Bombay-bound flight that returned to Amsterdam shortly after takeoff, a foreign ministry spokesman said.
Dutch authorities detained 12 Indian passengers for more than a day and later released them after finding no evidence of a terrorist threat aboard the Northwest Airlines flight on Wednesday.
“The Dutch ambassador was told that we take this matter, the handling of the incident, very seriously and that it was not in conformity with the friendly relations between the Netherlands and India,” said Navtej Sarna, India’s External Affairs Ministry spokesman.
The men had aroused suspicions because they had a large number of cell phones, laptops and hard drives, and refused to follow the crew’s instructions.
The Indian protest came as relatives of the Indian passengers claimed that their detention was motivated by racial and religious prejudice.
Sarna also said the Dutch treatment of the Indian passengers was objectionable. He didn’t give details.
Dutch Ambassador Eric Niehe was called to the Indian foreign ministry by Shashi Tripathy, a secretary, Sarna said.
“India lodged a strong protest at the way this entire incident has been handled ... We are shocked at the incident,” he said.
Dutch envoy denies racial profiling
The Dutch envoy said he would find out all details from his headquarters and get back to the Indian foreign ministry, the spokesman said.
The envoy, however, asserted that there was no intention of racial profiling, Sarna said.
The 12 released Indian passengers were expected to fly back to India later Friday.
Relatives and friends of the men were angered by their treatment despite the release.
In a housing block in Jogeshwari, a northern Bombay suburb where at least six of the passengers live, unhappy residents clustered in a parking lot to discuss the arrest. Special prayers for the men were held in a mosque in the housing complex.
“My brother is a businessman traveling with colleagues and friends,” said Sanober Chotani, whose brother, Shaqeel, was among those held. “Indians talk more loudly than Westerners. So if you are happy, excited and Muslim, and don’t converse in English, you are a terrorist?”
Lubna Kulsawala said her brother-in-law, Ayub Kulsawala, 32, often flew abroad to sell garments.
“He flies frequently for trade fairs and business. But he is Muslim, so he was arrested. Why should he be detained with no calls allowed to family?” she said.
“My son is not a terrorist,” said Kulsawala’s 65-year-old father, Abdul. “I’m very upset and cannot eat properly after hearing of his arrest. We spend all the time before the television and phone waiting for more news.”
Flight NW0042 returned to Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport escorted by two Dutch fighter jets after the crew reported passengers were behaving suspiciously. The 12 men were arrested after the emergency landing.
The incident underscores jitters in the airline industry in the weeks since British police revealed an alleged plot to blow up several U.S.-bound airliners simultaneously using bombs crafted from ordinary consumer goods.