A wi-fi network named “Al Qaeda Free Terror Network” prompted a security scare Sunday at Los Angeles International Airport after a passenger on an American Airlines flight spotted the alarming appellation shortly before the plane was scheduled to depart for London, an airport spokeswoman said.
Alicia Ortiz, an LAX spokeswoman, said police responded to a call about 9:28 p.m. Sunday after a passenger aboard American Airlines Flight 136 reported that while searching for a wireless network, his electronic device revealed the scary network name. The passenger reported this to the airline and the flight was returned to the gate for further investigation, she said.
Law enforcement sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Monday that agents from Customs and Border Protection, the Department of Homeland Security and air marshals found no evidence that the network originated from anyone on the plane. They speculated that it could have been a mobile “hot spot” that was active in the terminal.
Passengers on the flight, which had pulled away from the gate and was preparing to take off for London when the network name was spotted, were rescreened as a precaution and checked for any “derogatory information,” such as being on the government’s “no-fly” list. Nothing was found, the sources said.
The flight was further delayed because of a maintenance issue and the fact that the crew had “timed out” and had to be replaced. It was eventually rescheduled to depart on Monday afternoon.
The sources added that it is not clear whether the owner of the network could be charged with a crime, because the name could be considered constitutionally protected speech.
That was not the case last month when, on the anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, a Denver-bound Southwest Airlines flight was diverted to Seattle after passengers noticed wireless hot spot names that included “Southwest Bomb on Board” and, a short time later, “Bomb Location Seat 19E.”
Authorities later arrested an unidentified passenger who had used the names for his wireless network. It was not immediately clear Monday if the man was charged in connection with the September incident, which caused a lengthy delay.