Flight attendants on a jetliner heading from Mexico City to Los Angeles called for police to meet the plane because three men conducted an unusual prayer ritual that alarmed them, an airlines official said Sunday.
Police and a full assignment of fire trucks met Alaska Airlines flight 241 as it arrived at LAX at 8:30 a.m. Three men were escorted off the plane by police, questioned by the FBI and then released to make connecting flights to other countries, said FBI spokeswoman Laura Eimiller.
An orthodox Jewish prayer ritual, which involves strapping leather and wooden boxes containing Torah quotations to the body, alarmed flight attendants to the point that pilots declared a security threat, Alaska Airlines spokeswoman Bobbie Egan said.
The FBI's Eimiller said, "we're obligated, of course, to respond when the (air) flight calls us out to clear up concerns."
"Because they were not charged with anything, we don't release any kind of personal information," she said. "They were Mexican nationals, traveling openly overseas, and their travel continued overseas."
The Alaska Airlines spokeswoman explained that "shortly after takeoff, a flight attendant saw what she believe was unusual behavior from three passengers on board. The three passengers were praying aloud in Hebrew and were wearing what appeared to be leather straps on their foreheads and arms.
"This appeared to be a security threat and the pilots locked down the flight deck and followed standard security procedures," Egan said. "The pilots informed LAX and when the plane landed, TSA, customs, the FBI and law enforcement were there."
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Los Angeles firefighters and foam trucks met the jet as it taxied to Terminal 2, and two people were arrested at Gate 210, airport police and firefighters said.
"They had a couple of people on the plane that were rowdy," said fire spokesman Cecil Manresa, quoting reports from fire crews at the airport. He said the flight crew "locked down the cockpit, and the police have them in custody."
"We've since learned from law enforcement that the passengers onboard were practicing a traditional Orthodox Jew ritual called Tefillin," Egan said.
"They had prayer boxes strapped to their bodies. The plane was inspected by local law enforcement and has been cleared," the Alaska Airlines official said.
Flight 241 took off from Mexico City at 5:54 a.m. and landed at LAX at 8:44 a.m. Passengers were held in the plane for about 10 minutes while the three passengers were removed, and then were sent on the clear U.S. customs.