Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Dutch Prosecutors Say Two Yemeni Men Are Part of Terror Conspiracy; US Officials Say Not So Fast

Yesterday's incident involving two Yemeni men apparently engaging in a test run against US security procedures may be part of a wider terror plot according to Dutch prosecutors.
Two Yemeni men who arrived in Amsterdam on a flight from Chicago Monday are being held in custody on suspicion of involvement in a conspiracy to commit an act of terrorism, the Dutch public prosecutor said Tuesday.

"The men are held in custody on suspicion of a conspiracy to a terrorist criminal act. In a few days it will be made public if they will be charged," the prosecutor said.

The Dutch public prosecutor will hold a press conference at 1400 GMT.

The two men, who are Yemeni nationals, were arrested by Dutch police Monday after U.S. authorities had raised concerns about suspicious items the men carried in their luggage. These items included mobile phones taped to plastic bottles, which had been seized in the U.S.

The two men were taken into custody in Amsterdam after engaging in unusual behavior and their baggage revealed watches and cellphones taped to plastic bottles. Security experts believe that the duo were engaged in a dry run for a possible terror operation.

Investigators are looking at possible ties with Detroit, even as the men originally boarded planes in Birmingham, Alabama.
Two U.S. officials said investigators are looking into whether they were testing the aviation security system to see whether strange items and travel patterns would raise suspicion. U.S. authorities found suspicious items in their checked luggage, including a cell phone taped to a Pepto-Bismol bottle and a knife and box cutter.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security said the suspicious items were found in the checked luggage of one passenger, Ahmed Mohamed Nasser al Soofi of Tuscaloosa, Ala., flying on a United Airlines flight Sunday night from Chicago to Amsterdam. Another man, Hezem al Murisi of Memphis, Tenn., was also detained.

"Suspicious items were located in checked luggage associated with two passengers on United Flight 908 from Chicago O'Hare to Amsterdam last night," department officials said in a statement Monday. "The items were not deemed to be dangerous in and of themselves, and as we share information with our international partners, Dutch authorities were notified of the suspicious items."

U.S. officials also found multiple cell phones taped together and multiple watches taped together in al Soofi's checked baggage.The pair were arrested Monday morning at Schiphol Airport after getting off the United Airlines flight from Chicago, where their earlier decision to change their flight plans raised flags in the U.S., officials said.

Both of the detained men are friends who had once lived and worked in Dearborn, said Imad Hamad of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee. The al Soofi and al Murisi families are prominent within the Yemeni-American community in Dearborn, Hamad told The News.

"When the news broke, people were surprised because they knew them as good people, respected people who always worked and worked hard," Hamad said.
The duo had changed flight plans from their original bookings:
A Transportation Security Administration official said al Soofi had originally booked a ticket from Birmingham to Chicago and onward to Washington, D.C.'s Dulles International and then to Dubai and Yemen.

But when he got to Chicago, he changed his travel plans to take a direct flight to Amsterdam. Al Soofi's luggage made it to Chicago and to Washington, despite the fact he did not board the flight from Chicago to Washington.

Al Murisi also changed his travel plans in Chicago to take a direct flight to Amsterdam, raising suspicion among U.S. officials. Federal Air marshals were on the flight from Chicago to Amsterdam, a law enforcement official said.
A cousin of one of the men arrested claims that the arrest was a mistake and that al Soofi would not be involved in terrorism. He further thinks that his cousin may have been tricked into carrying the suspicious items.

This AP report is saying that the FBI isn't finding that the two men were on a terror test-run.
The FBI probe of two men arrested in Amsterdam after suspicious items turned up in one of the men's luggage is finding they were probably not on a test run for a future terror attack, a U.S. official said Tuesday, casting doubt on earlier suggestions even as Dutch authorities held the pair on suspicion of conspiring to commit a terrorist act.

The U.S. does not expect to charge the men, a law enforcement official said. The two men arrested in Amsterdam — both traveling to Yemen — did not know each other and were not traveling together, a U.S. government official said.

The officials spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity to discuss the investigation.

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