Australian government says joke triggered terrorist alert
December 18, 2004
CANBERRA, Australia – An Italian tourist aboard a flight from Sydney to Vienna caused an international security alert when he sent a joke text message from his cell phone to his wife claiming his plane had been hijacked by terrorists, the Australian government confirmed Sunday.
The man, Antonio Casale, 35, sent the message to his wife from Kuala Lumpur during a refueling stop on a Lauda Air flight from Sydney last Sunday night, Sydney’s Sunday Telegraph newspaper reported.
Transport Minister John Anderson’s spokesman confirmed the newspaper report.
Casale claimed terrorists were in control of the plane and were taking the passengers to an unknown destination.
His distressed wife contacted Italian police, who immediately contacted the Italian embassy in Canberra, who in turn contacted Australian Federal Police.
Anderson’s spokesman said authorities were able to quickly establish Casale’s identity and discover the message was a hoax.
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The pilot was reportedly contacted while in flight by counterterrorism negotiators, who found him oblivious to any hijacking attempt.
“The Italian police picked up on it, then the Italian embassy, the Australian Federal Police came in on it and it was quite a big operation,” Anderson’s spokesman said on condition of anonymity.
“Federal police and other authorities over here have got enough on their plate without having to worry about stupidity like this as well,” he added.
The Sunday Telegraph reported Casale was taken aside by the plane’s captain and detained by police when the plane landed in Vienna.
He was questioned by police and later released without charge.