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U.S. apologizes to Pakistan for airline incident

April 2, 2002 Posted: 7:47 PM EST (0047 GMT)

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta and American Airlines have apologized to the Pakistani government after about 20 members of President Pervez Musharraf's security detail were removed from a flight to the United States last month.

The Pakistanis were headed to New Mexico at the invitation of the U.S. government to attend an antiterrorism training course sponsored by the State Department.

The men boarded a trans-Atlantic American Airlines flight at Heathrow Airport in London on March 16.

But, Mineta told CNN, a flight attendant expressed concern over the presence of such a large group of Middle Eastern-looking men on the aircraft. The men were asked to leave, and they did.

"There was a security issue involved which we're not commenting on," said John Hotard, an American Airlines spokesman. "Once it was cleared up, they were put on the next flight to the United States."

A State Department official said the men had documentation, issued by the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad, showing they were headed to the United States to take part in the antiterrorism training program, established in the 1980s to train law enforcement and security officials from countries friendly to the United States.

"American Airlines and the secretary of transportation apologized, so no offense was taken," said Asas Hayauddin, press attache at the Pakistani embassy in Washington.

"There was some apprehension regarding their identity. Once it was clearly established they were on official business, there was no problem," Hayauddin said.

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