Six Syrians who were detained in Panama after a flight crew reported suspicious behavior told authorities that three of them had approached the cockpit by mistake, police said Tuesday.
The Syrians, who were traveling together on a Copa Airlines flight from Cuba, were also suspected of taking a knife that went missing after breakfast was served in the first-class cabin where they were sitting, Panama’s National Police said in a news release.
Late Tuesday, Judicial Police Director Jose Ayu Prado said investigators had determined that a Cuban who was arrested along with the Syrians was not traveling with them and would be allowed to continue on his journey to Argentina.
Police said three of the Syrians approached the cockpit door and tried to open it. They told investigators they confused it with the bathroom, the statement said. Panama’s Judicial Police also said the men tried to get into the cockpit.
Earlier, Panamanian Civil Aviation Authority spokesman Victor de la Hoz had denied that the passengers tried to gain access to the cockpit, and said the crew simply notified authorities on the ground that a knife was missing.
Ayu Prado said the passengers’ luggage was inspected by trained dogs that “nothing suspicious had been found.”
The Syrians were still under arrest at Panama’s international airport Tuesday night and authorities had 24 hours to file charges, Ayu Prado said.
Panama’s National Police director, Rolando Mirones, said the suspects “did not commit any violent acts inside the airplane, but they raised suspicions.”
The plane landed safely shortly before noon.
Ayu Prado said the Syrians, ages 17 to 30, were headed for Haiti and Jamaica after a layover in Panama.
Like many commercial airlines, Copa ordered cockpit doors locked on its jetliners after the Sept. 11, 2001, airplane attacks in the United States.