A Qatari diplomat on board a United Airlines flight from Washington to Denver was taken into custody after an incident in which he joked about trying to “light his shoes”, an apparent reference to the 2001 shoe bomber Richard Reid.

According to reports, air marshals on board the Boeing 757 seized the diplomat after a flight attendant smelt fumes emerging from a restroom in which the diplomat had locked himself in for a smoke.

When asked about the smell he reportedly said he possessed diplomatic immunity and “made sarcastic comments that he intended to set fire to his shoe”.

The diplomat, identified as Muhammed al-Madadi, was reportedly led off the plane in handcuffs and taken into custody by the Transportation Security Administration. He was reportedly questioned for several hours.

According to media reports, passenger Dave Klaversma said his wife, who was sitting behind the man in the first-class section of the flight, told him that it all happened very quietly and that “there was no hysteria, no struggle, nothing”. Passengers said two air marshals apprehended the diplomat and sat next to him for the remainder of the flight.

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