Speaking at an Australian Senate hearing Wednesday morning, Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne said that 13 Australians were among those removed from the flights and forced to undergo “extremely inappropriate” inspections when crossing Qatar on October 2.
It was not clear how many women were wanted in total. An Australian Foreign Ministry spokesman told CNN that 13 Australians were among 18 women looking for a flight. The women from nine other flights also underwent invasive internal examinations, according to the spokeswoman.
Among the planes involved was Qatar Airways Flight 908, which landed for a transit stop in Doha, Qatar that day, CNN subsidiary Nine News reported.
Payne said Australia was not the only country whose citizens were affected, but did not specify which other countries were involved.
Speaking at the same hearing, Australian Labor Party senator Penny Wong described the investigation as an “invasive procedure”.
Although the exact details of the incident have not been released, CNN’s Seven News previously reported that the women “had to undergo an ambulance inspection on the tarmac.”
In a statement Wednesday, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the incident was “frightening” and “unacceptable”.
“As a father of daughters, I could only tremble at the thought that any woman, Australian or otherwise, would suffer something like this,” Morrison said. “It is important that wherever travelers travel, they can do so without these kinds of incidents.”
The Qatari government said in a statement Wednesday that the investigation was sparked by the discovery of a newborn baby found wrapped in a plastic bag and dumped in a rubbish bin at Hamat International Airport.
“The baby girl was rescued from a terrifying and terrifying attempt to kill her. The baby is now safe under medical care in Doha,” the statement said.
Hamad International Airport, where the incident took place, had previously confirmed the baby’s discovery and said doctors were concerned “about the health and well-being of a mother who was just born and asked to be found before departure (the airport).”
The Qatari government statement also defended the “urgent decision” to search for the mother, but said the aim was to “prevent the perpetrators of the horrific crime from escaping”.
“The State of Qatar regrets any inconvenience or violation of the personal freedoms of any traveler caused by this action,” the statement added.
The Australian government has requested a full report on the incident from Qatar, Payne said.
Wolfgang Babek, a passenger on Flight QR 908, told CNN that there was a “very intense atmosphere” on the plane when the women returned from the tarmac.
“A lady was crying,” he said. “The others were shocked, no one could believe what had happened. It was such a private and sensitive issue. You do not want to share it with people.”
He said the women had left the plane “in good faith, based on the crew’s instructions”.
The Australian government said it had referred the matter to the Australian Federal Police, which told CNN it was in contact with the State Department.
This story has been updated to reflect that 13 Australian passengers were involved in the incident.