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Fake bomb causes scare on Air France flight

Air France Chief Executive Frederic Gagey speaks during a news conference in Paris, France on Dec 20, 2015.

[PARIS] A suspicious object made of cardboard and a kitchen timer sparked a bomb scare on an Air France flight Sunday, forcing it to make an emergency landing in Kenya.

A passenger alerted crew members to the item found inside a toilet cubicle on board the Boeing 777, which was carrying 459 passengers and 14 crew members from Mauritius to Paris.

"After analysis it has been indicated that (the bomb scare) was a false alarm," Air France chief executive Frederic Gagey told a press conference in Paris.

"All the information we have at this stage shows that the object was not capable of causing an explosion that would damage the plane but was rather a mixture of cardboard, pieces of paper as well as a timer," he said.

He said the "deduction" was that the item had been placed in a toilet cupboard by one of the passengers and said the bomb scare appeared to be the result of a "bad joke".

A police source in Mombasa said that police had questioned a number of passengers but were focusing on five of them.

France is on high alert after jihadist attacks in Paris in November left 130 people dead, and is one of many countries taking extra security precautions.

Airlines are especially jittery after Islamic State jihadists who claimed the Paris attacks also said they were responsible for downing a Russian jet in Egypt in October after smuggling a bomb onto the plane, killing all 224 people on board.

Gagey said there had been three bomb scares on Air France planes in the United States in the past 15 days.

Flight AF 463 left the Indian Ocean island of Mauritius at 9.00pm (1700 GMT) on Saturday and had been due to arrive at Paris' Charles de Gaulle airport at 5.50am (0450 GMT) Sunday.

But it made an emergency landing at Moi International Airport in Kenya's southern port city of Mombasa at 12.37am (2137 GMT) "after a device suspected to be a bomb was discovered in the lavatory," police spokesman Charles Owino said.

"An emergency was prepared and it landed safely and all passengers evacuated." When the plane landed, passenger John Stephen said crew members helped safely evacuate people using emergency slides.

"We felt the crew member was pretty tense, something was probably wrong at that time. When the plane stopped, he told us to run away to take the slide, to run away from the plane," Mr Stephen told reporters.

"We don't know anything more about this bomb or not, but something that looked like a bomb was in the toilet."

Navy and police bomb experts were called in to determine if there were any explosives aboard the plane.

Air France's chief executive Gagey said the object was found "in a small cupboard behind the mirror" in the toilet.

He said the bits of cardboard and paper and what "appeared to be a kitchen timer" were not items normally found on board.

Mr Gagey said crew members had also indicated that in their routine check of the plane before the flight the cupboard had been empty.

He said Air France was waiting to hear from Kenyan authorities but that "we will request an investigation to clarify" what had happened.

Kenyan Interior Minister Joseph Nkaissery, who arrived in Mombasa, said police were questioning a number of passengers.

"They are speaking to the passengers... who were near where the device was," Nkaissery said.

Mr Gagey said a plane was being sent to bring the passengers back to France.