TWO men suspected of carrying out a dry run for a terrorist attack on an airliner were being questioned by police last night.
The Yemenis were held at Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport after security services in the US found what could have been a dummy bomb in one of their suitcases which had been placed on another plane.
Their arrests came amid a period of extra security in the run-up to the ninth anniversary of the September 11 attacks.
The luggage had been removed from a plane in America and checked after its owner suddenly switched flights, along with the other man.
Prosecutors in the Netherlands said the men flew in from Chicago yesterday en route for Sana’a, the Yemeni capital.
Meanwhile their luggage was sent on a US internal flight to Washington. But security called the plane back and examined the bags after discovering its owners were not on it.
They found a mobile phone taped to a medicine bottle, knives, several mobile phones taped together and multiple watches also taped together.
Dutch prosecutors said today the men were being held “on suspicion of a conspiracy to commit a terrorist criminal act”.
It will be announced in a few days if they will be charged.
None of the items found on the men or in their luggage broke US security rules. But together with the men’s changing travel itinerary they raised concern that it may have been a deliberate test of the US aviation security system to determine what would raise an alarm.
A US source said the men were Ahmed Mohamed Nasser al-Soofi and Hezam al-Murisi. Al-Soofi had a Detroit address. He had been living in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, and working at a convenience store for the past three months.
The White House said the men were not on any US terror watch list.
Al-Soofi was questioned by the US Transportation Security Administration as he went through security in Birmingham, Alabama, on Sunday on his way to Chicago.
Screeners found $7,000 on him, but he was not breaking any law by carrying that much money.
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.
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.
The men were arrested yesterday at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport after getting off the United Airlines flight from Chicago.
A Homeland Security spokeswoman said once officials found suspicious items in luggage associated with two passengers on Sunday night’s flight, they notified the Dutch authorities.
“This could have been a test or it could have been an honest mistake, but the system in this case worked,” said John Sullivan, managing partner of aviation security consulting firm Welsh-Sullivan.
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