Police foil 'dry run' for new plane terror blitz
Published 01/09/2010 | 05:00
Two Yemenis accused of making a 'dry run' for a planned terrorist attack were able to fly from Chicago to Amsterdam, despite airport staff finding a mobile phone taped to a bottle and other suspicious items in their luggage .
Yesterday, Dutch prosecutors were interrogating the two men, Ahmed Mohamed Nasser al-Soofi and Hezam al-Murisi, who were taken off a United Airlines flight from Chicago at Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport on Monday morning.
They had aroused suspicions by changing planes in Chicago, while their luggage was sent on another route, via Washington Dulles airport, towards their final destination, the Yemeni capital Sana'a.
A checked bag belonging to Mr al-Soofi was found to contain a phone taped to a medicine bottle, three other mobile phones taped together, watches taped together, and box cutters and three knives.
He was also carrying $7,000 (€5,500) in cash.
The bag was cleared twice, at Birmingham, Alabama, where his journey started, and then again at Washington. It was only taken off the plane in Washington when it was discovered that Mr al-Soofi was not on the flight.
One security official told 'ABC News' that the two men had been allowed to continue to their destination for "investigative purposes".
The incident raised further questions about the efficiency of airline security, coming after Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, who was on a terror watch list, was allowed to board a flight in Amsterdam for Detroit on Christmas day, and tried to ignite explosives hidden in his underpants while on board.
Judith Sargentini, a Dutch Greens MEP, said the latest incident gave cause for real concern. "How on earth were these two men allowed to travel separately from their luggage as, apparently, happened? That seems to break the number one rule of air travel."
Despite raising suspicions, a US official said the items in Mr al-Soofi's bag were not intrinsically dangerous and that the two men were not carrying any banned objects.
The White House promised a "vigorous investigation" into the incident, but said neither man was on any terror watch-list. A Dutch prosecution spokesman said a judge would decide whether the suspects should be released or kept in custody.
Mr al-Soofi was questioned by the US officials as he went through security in Birmingham, Alabama on Sunday on his way to Chicago. He told the authorities he was carrying a lot of cash. Screeners found $7,000 on him, but he was not breaking any law by carrying that much money. It is not unusual for people to carry large amounts of cash when they travel to third-world countries.
Mr al-Soofi was supposed to fly from Chicago to Washington and then on to Dubai. But when he got to Chicago, he changed his travel plans to take a direct flight to Amsterdam, while his luggage went on to Washington. On international flights, passengers and their luggage must be headed toward the same destination, according to US policy. Mr al-Murisi also changed his travel plans in Chicago to take a direct flight to Amsterdam, raising suspicion among US officials.
Federal Air marshals were on the flight from Chicago to Amsterdam.
"This could have been a test or it could have been an honest mistake, but the system in this case worked," said John Sullivan of aviation security consulting firm Welsh-Sullivan. (© Daily Telegraph, London)