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Suspicious device prompts Air France flight's emergency landing in Kenya

A suspicious device has prompted a French airliner carrying 473 people to make an emergency nighttime landing in Kenya. Passengers and crew were safely evacuated from the Air France flight from Mauritius to Paris.

Kenyan police said the Air France Boeing 777 was safely evacuated early on Sunday after landing at Mombasa's international airport.

The device, later described as a package, was found in a toilet of Flight 463 and handed over to experts for examination.

Sunday's incident was the third recent scare for Air France. On November 18, two of its flights from the United States to Paris were diverted after threats but no bombs were found.

Those incidents coincided with a state of emergency in France in the wake of the November 13 attacks in Paris for which responsibility was claimed by the "Islamic State" militia notorious for its actions in Syria and Iraq.

'Object retrieved'

Kenyan head of police General Joseph Boinnet said bomb experts were "determining whether the device's components contained explosives."

"The object, believed to be an explosive device, has successfully been retrieved from the aircraft," said Kenya Airports Authority.

People being questioned

Kenyan Interior Minister Joseph Nkaissery told a press conference at the airport that an unspecified number persons were being questioned.

Mombasa's Moi Airport was temporarily closed down during the evacuation, but normal airport operations have been restored.

Replacement flight to Paris

Air France said it was re-routing some passengers and sending another plane to Mombasa to fly passengers on to Paris. That replacement flight would depart Mombasa late Sunday afternoon.

"Air France is working in close cooperation with the authorities, which are investigating to identify the source of the threat and its exact nature," the company said in a statement.

Starting point Mauritius

The airliner left Mauritius at 9 p.m. local time (1700 UTC) and made the emergency landing some four hours later.

There were 459 passengers and a crew of 14 on board.

A passenger who identified himself as Benoit Lucchini of Paris said the crew kept calm and attributed the unexpected landing to a "technical problem."

Occupants secured their seatbelts and the plane "went down slowly, slowly, slowly, so we just realized that probably something was wrong," he said.

France remains traumatized by a series of jihadist attacks, including the bombing in January of the Charlie Hebdo satirical newspaper and attacks in and around Paris on November 13 that left 130 people dead.

ipj/sms (AP, Reuters)

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