Passenger on diverted plane freed on bond

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DENVER (AP) — An airline passenger accused of locking himself in a bathroom to shave and prompting his flight to be tailed by two military jets won’t be allowed to fly from Virginia to Denver for court appearances after a judge said Friday it would be “too frightening.”

Muhammad Abu Tahir is charged with interfering with a flight crew on a Jan. 8 flight from Atlanta to San Francisco, during which prosecutors allege he drank five mini-bottles of wine and became unruly with flight attendants trying to get him to leave the bathroom.

The AirTran Airways flight was diverted to Colorado Springs and the North American Aerospace Defense Command sent two jets to follow it.

Tahir, 47, who has yet to enter a plea, was released Friday on a $10,000 unsecured bond, meaning he does not have to post the money unless he violates the terms of his release, which include no drinking and no flying.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Kathleen M. Tafoya said that although Tahir has not been convicted, he’s lost his privilege of flying for now, and that he’ll have to find another way to make it to his Denver court dates from Glen Allen, Va., where he lives and planned to return to after his release.

“It’s just too frightening for too many people,” Tafoya said.

Tahir’s arrest came during a time of growing anxiety over airline security. Exactly two weeks before his arrest, a Nigerian man allegedly tried to blow up a Detroit-bound Northwest Airlines plane on Christmas Day with an explosive-laden device hidden in his underwear.

But prosecutors don’t believe Tahir was part of a terror plot.

“There’s no information that this is anything other than an unruly passenger, misbehaving on an airplane,” said Jeff Dorschner, a U.S. Attorney’s Office spokesman. Dorschner said Tahir was shaving with a razor equipped with a disposable blade, but that investigators did not find any shaving cream when they seized his belongings.

Tahir’s court-appointed attorney, Ed Pluss, said his client was on his way to Hong Kong to buy fabric for a fabric business he is starting. Tahir is a Pakistani national who became a permanent U.S. resident in 2005. He is married and has two children and has no ties to terrorists, his attorney said.

“Why was he shaving? I don’t know, because he needed to?” Pluss said.

Investigators say Tahir went to the bathroom and opened the door once to place his shoes and socks outside the lavatory. The second time he opened the door he was shirtless and he began to yell at flight attendants ordering him to leave the bathroom, investigators said. When the plane landed, Tahir was still in the bathroom, they said.

Tahir is due in court again Feb. 2 for a status conference. He faces up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine if convicted.