The hoax — the fourth against Air France in recent weeks — comes amid heightened concerns about extremist violence in many countries, and aggravated passenger jitters around the holidays.
The man in custody is a former police officer who was detained upon arrival Monday at Charles de Gaulle Airport, according to an official in the prosecutor's office in the nearby Paris suburb of Bobigny. The official, who is not authorized to be publicly identified speaking about an ongoing investigation, did not release the suspect's name or information about what he is suspected of.
Kenyan Interior Minister Joseph Nkaissery said the suspect was among six passengers questioned Sunday in Kenya. Nkaissery said Kenya alerted French authorities about the suspected involvement of this man and a travelling companion in placing the fake bomb in the bathroom. He said sniffer dogs traced the package back to their seats and the bathroom.
An Air France plane which arrived at Moi International Airport, Mombasa, Kenya Sunday Dec. 20, 2015 to pick passengers after a bomb scare on their earlier flight from Mauritius. (Photo: AP)
The arrest is part of an investigation prompted by a legal complaint filed by Air France on Monday for reckless endangerment. The lawsuit does not name a perpetrator but leaves it to investigators to determine who might be prosecuted, and allows Air France to seek damages in an eventual trial.
France has been in a state of emergency since Islamic extremist attacks Nov. 13 in Paris killed 130 people and left hundreds wounded. The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for those attacks and for downing a plane Oct. 31 carrying Russian tourists out of Egypt, killing all 224 people on board.
On Sunday, Air France Flight 463 from the Indian Ocean island of Mauritius to Paris made an emergency landing in Mombasa, Kenya, after a bomb was reported aboard. All 459 passengers and 14 crew members on the Boeing 777 were safely evacuated down airplane emergency slides.
"We thought we were going to die. Because of the speed of the airplane going down, we thought we would crash in the sea."
Authorities later discovered a fake explosive, rigged with cardboard, sheets of paper and a household timer, and declared it a hoax. Air France CEO Frederic Gagey said the homemade apparatus was apparently placed in a lavatory cabinet during the flight.
Overwhelmed with relief, the passengers arrived safely in Paris on Monday, some crying as they embraced loved ones.
"We thought we were going to die. Because of the speed of the airplane going down, we thought we would crash in the sea," said passenger Marine Gorlier of the French town of Melun after landing at Paris' Charles de Gaulle Airport.
"I really admired the crew, because they thought it was a real bomb and they remained very serene," said Antoine Dupont of the northern city of Lille. "One of my grandchildren said: 'The slide was super!'"
Tom Odula in Nairobi, Kenya and Chris den Hond from Charles de Gaulle Airport contributed to this story.