Now some folks have come out to say that the reaction to Mohammed al-Madadi's surreptitious smoke break was a bit heavy-handed; that it could have been handled with more finesse. Here I wholeheartedly disagree. Now had Mohammed found himself on the business end of an air marshal's gun because he was simply smoking, I would be the first out of the gate to say, "Chill." But from what is being reported, Mohammed decided to be a little smart-ass and when asked about what he was doing, allegedly replied that he was lighting his shoe on fire, making a reference to attempted shoe bomber Richard Reid. At this point Mohammed earned himself a restraining until the plane landed and a meeting with some Feds, courtesy of the air marshal.
Now if you want to say one portion of the U.S.'s responses was slightly overboard, you could argue that the fighter jets were unnecessary. Think about it. If you're a terrorist hell-bent on blowing up an airliner the sight of F-16s scrambled to your plane in the event that they have to shoot it down might be more welcome than anything else. But the other responses were appropriate. The plane didn't even make an emergency landing in a different airport, so the passengers on board reached their destination without too much inconvenience.
In an age when people are lighting their underpants on fire or shoving bombs up their butts and setting them off, to make a joke like Mohammed did while smoking on a plane requires a response. Unfortunately, Mohammed will not face any kind of criminal charges (diplomatic immunity FTW!) and will be returning to Qatar. The government's response was appropriate, and in my opinion it was the media that has blown this out of proportion by sending out media alerts that say "Passenger on a United flight from Washington to Denver apparently tried to set shoe on fire, officials said." Facts and patience, people. Facts and patience.
Photo - A baby-faced Mohammed al-Madadi (CNN)