Kalyan Policherla cut through a passenger security checkpoint at Detroit Metropolitan airport on Monday morning without a ticket, boarding pass and luggage, prompting authorities to partially evacuate the airport. India-born Policherla, who became a US citizen in 2005, ignored security officers who repeatedly asked him to stop at the McNamara Terminal and kept walking.
The authorities then activated the breach alarm, causing metal gates concealed in the ceiling to snap down, and blocked 27-year-old Policherla’s access to the boarding area. He was tasered by an FBI agent, wrestled down and handcuffed. Panicked passengers fled the terminal and flights were delayed for hours as the drama unfolded.
The breach at the Detroit airport follows Nigerian Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab’s attempt to blow up a Northwest airlines flight from Amsterdam to Detroit on Christmas last year by igniting a fistful of explosives sewed into his underwear.
The terrorist attack was averted by luck as the Nigerian succeeded only in starting a fire which was put out by passengers. On Tuesday, Policherla was charged with entering an airport area in violation of federal security requirements, a misdemeanour punishable by a year in prison.
He was also charged with resisting arrest, a two-year misdemeanour. Policherla, who lives in Ohio, stood silently in a Detroit district court before being ordered to remain in custody.
He did not respond to US magistrate judge Mark Randon when asked his name and other questions during the hearing. Despite the inclement weather, Policherla wore a long-sleeved shirt unbuttoned to his stomach, standing impassively with his hands in his pockets. A hearing on whether he will remain in custody is set for Thursday.
Court officials told DNA that Policherla filled a form in English seeking a federal defender and was cooperative with the pre-trial services. The court granted federal defender Dave Tholen’s request for a mental health evaluation for Policherla.
Terrorists regularly test US airport security procedures, say intelligence experts, either directly by seeing how security personnel react to a given situation or indirectly by gathering reports of security breaches.