DAMASCUS,(Reuters) – Syria is questioning several passengers who attempted to board a Gulf Air flight to Bahrain this week with a dismantled weapon concealed in their luggage, official and aviation sources said on Thursday.
Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said earlier on Thursday four Australian women of Iraqi origin had been detained in Syria after a dismantled handgun was discovered as they tried to board the plane in Damascus.
A Syrian official refused to say if the passengers were suspected of attempting to hijack the airliner, but said: "There is an investigation involving several passengers."
An aviation executive in the region said seven Iraqi passengers, apparently from the same family, had one or more disassembled weapon in their luggage and were arrested before boarding the Bahrain-bound aircraft on Tuesday.
"According to the information I received, they were seven Iraqis from the same family but a few of them had foreign passports … Australian I think," the source who spoke on terms of anonymity told Reuters by telephone.
"It appears to me as a possible hijacking attempt, but I am not a security official," the aviation executive said. "I am very happy that the Syrian authorities were vigilant as it appears that the way the weapons were concealed was very hard to notice."
Australian Broadcasting Corp. (ABC) radio said the dismantled gun was found in a child”s toy and that the women were travelling to Australia via a stopover in Bahrain accompanied by a young child.
The sources said the Manama-bound flight was delayed for about two hours while security personnel inspected the aircraft.
A Gulf Air official told Reuters that after the delay in Damascus there was no disruption to ongoing services for the Bahrain-based regional carrier.
"We maintain the highest levels of security and are cooperating with on-ground security staff," he added.
Downer said an Australian consular official was travelling to Damascus from Egypt to offer assistance to the women of Iraqi origin, whom he said had been detained along with two Iraqi women.