The Qatari government says those responsible for the intimate medical examinations of women at Doha airport did not follow standard procedures and have been referred to the public prosecution office.

Women on 10 flights – including 18 women bound for Sydney – were strip-searched in early October after a newborn baby was found dumped in the terminal. Officials said they were looking for evidence that any of the women had recently given birth.

The Qatari government’s decision comes in the wake of widespread international outrage, and after official diplomatic complaints from at least three countries whose citizens were affected.

Prime minister Sheikh Khalid bin Khalifa bin Abdulaziz Al Thani also said on Friday that the women’s treatment had been “unacceptable”.

“I assure you that we will hold those responsible for these acts to account. What took place does not represent Qatar’s laws or values. We will undertake all measures to prevent a recurrence,” he said in a statement on Twitter.

The government on Friday said a preliminary investigation into the “attempted murder” of the infant, and subsequent actions taken by airport authorities, had found “standard procedures were violated”.

“Those responsible for these violations and illegal actions have been referred to the public prosecution office,” the Qatari government said in a statement.

“This incident is the first of its kind at [the airport] which has served tens of millions of passengers without any issues like this before. What took place is wholly inconsistent with Qatar’s culture and values. Qatar is fully committed to the safety and security of all travellers.”

The government expressed the “sincerest apology for what some female travellers went through as a result of the measures”. The final report’s findings will be shared after it is completed “in the very near future”.

Australia’s foreign minister, Marise Payne, on Friday night said she welcomed the apology. “The preliminary investigation of Qatar into this incident has shown illegal actions occurred,” she said in a statement.

‘“It is an important step that these offences have been referred to the public prosecution office. Australian passengers will be reassured that Qatar has established a specialised taskforce to review procedures and protocols to ensure there is never a repeat of this incident.”

On Wednesday, the government of Qatar said it regretted “any distress or infringement on the personal freedom of any traveller” caused by the decision to conduct intimate medical examinations of women transiting through Doha airport, in what it said was an “urgently-decided search” to find the mother of an abandoned baby.

The Australian government confirmed earlier this week that 18 women on the flight from Doha to Sydney were subjected to the compulsory examination including 13 Australian citizens. Passengers on 10 flights leaving Doha on the evening of 2 October were affected.

Scott Morrison, the Australian prime minister, has said the invasive treatment of the women was “unacceptable” and “appalling” and his government would take a strident approach in seeking answers and ensuring it would never be repeated.

The statement issued by the Qatari government on Wednesday came three days after the incident became global news. It said the search was triggered by the discovery of a baby in a trash can at Hamad international airport “concealed in a plastic bag and buried under garbage”.

“The baby girl was rescued from what appeared to be a shocking and appalling attempt to kill her,” the statement said.

“The infant is now safe under medical care in Doha. This was the first instance of an abandoned infant being discovered in such a condition at HIA – this egregious and life-threatening violation of the law triggered an immediate search for the parents, including on flights in the vicinity of where the newborn was found. While the aim of the urgently-decided search was to prevent the perpetrators of the horrible crime from escaping, the state of Qatar regrets any distress or infringement on the personal freedoms of any traveller caused by this action.”

New Zealand has revealed one of its citizens was among the women subjected to invasive pelvic examinations at Doha airport, labelling the action “completely unacceptable”. Two British women were also among the group of travellers searched, UK authorities have confirmed.

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