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University Of North Dakota Says Saudi Students Behind Flight Diversion

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GRAND FORKS, N.D. — A flight from Minneapolis to Grand Forks that was carrying 20 passengers, including three Saudi aviation students new to the U.S., was diverted to Fargo and searched for explosives after the crew mistakenly determined a lavatory smoke detector had been tampered with, authorities said.

Passenger behavior, and not the nationality of passengers on the Sunday flight, was behind the decision to ground the flight, Pinnacle Airlines spokeswoman Amy Howell said Tuesday.

The three students spoke little English and had just arrived in the U.S. from Saudi Arabia to study aviation at the University of North Dakota. They were stopped by Minneapolis airport police for about 20 minutes but allowed to board the flight once their passports and student visas were checked, UND researcher Pablo de Leon, who was on the flight, told the Grand Forks Herald.

De Leon said one of the students used the plane bathroom.

"About 10 or 15 minutes later, I could feel the airplane was decreasing altitude, and the pilot said we should get ready to land," he said.

Howell declined to comment to The Associated Press about de Leon's statements.

The Transportation Security Administration on Sunday said a search for explosives onboard the Bombardier CRJ200 jet that was also carrying three crew members turned up nothing. Passengers were bused the 75 miles to Grand Forks.

The three Saudi students are part of a contract UND signed last month with the Saudi Ministry of the Interior to train pilots, university spokesman Peter Johnson told the Herald.

The students were perplexed by all the commotion Sunday, he said. They plan to take English-as-a-second-language classes before beginning their pilot studies.

Fifteen of the 19 men who hijacked planes and carried out the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks were from Saudi Arabia. Several of the attackers enrolled in U.S. flight schools.

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Information from: Grand Forks Herald, http://www.grandforksherald.com

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