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US fighter jets escort plane back to Toronto

Two U.S. F16 fighter jets escorted a plane back to Toronto on Friday after a passenger, apparently irate over an expensive purchase of cigarettes from an airport's duty-free shop, allegedly threatened the aircraft, authorities said.

Ali Shahi, 25, a Canadian man, began ripping apart magazines and the safety card from the pouch of his seat on a Panama City-bound Boeing 737 after he read in the in-flight magazine that cigarettes were cheaper to buy on the plane than in Pearson airport, where Flight 772 originated, the Toronto Star reported.

Soon after his outburst, Shahi allegedly uttered a threat against the aircraft, which was overheard by a flight attendant and reported to the captain.

The flight, which was flying over West Virginia at the time, then turned around back to Toronto, and was joined by a U.S. fighter escort. When it arrived at Pearson, at least six tactical police officers stormed the jet, repeatedly yelling at passengers “heads down, hands up.” As they ran past, one officer stayed up front pointing his gun, the Star reported.

Shahi, 25, has been charged with uttering threats and endangering the safety of an aircraft, police said.

No one aboard the flight, which carried 183 passengers and six crew members, was injured.

Shahi's father described his son to the Star as a troubled, mentally ill man.

“I blame it on the society here, the health system and the police system. We called police on him more than 23 times in two-three years,” said Sadegh Shahi, who said the family tried but could not force their son into a rehab program.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Click here to read more from the Toronto Star.

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