Dutch question 2 men arrested at Amsterdam airport; US authorities suspicious of their luggageBy Mike Corder, AP
Tuesday, August 31, 2010
Dutch question 2 men in suspected US terror probe
THE HAGUE, Netherlands — Dutch investigators on Tuesday questioned two men arrested at Amsterdam’s airport after 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 pair were arrested Monday morning at Schiphol Airport after getting off a United Airlines flight from Chicago, where their decision to change their flight plans raised flags in the U.S., officials said.
They were being held at the airport for questioning, but neither has been charged with any offense in the Netherlands, said Martijn Boelhouwer, spokesman for the national prosecutor’s office. Under Dutch law, the men can be held without charges for up to six days.
Edmond Messchaert, a spokesman for the Dutch National Coordinator for Counterterrorism, said his agency was aware of the case but would not comment further. Dutch authorities do not release the names of suspects in criminal investigations. Boelhouwer would not confirm their nationalities or say if U.S. authorities had requested their extradition.
But a U.S. law enforcement official identified the men as Ahmed Mohamed Nasser al Soofi and Hezam al Murisi.
Al Soofi had an address in Detroit, Michigan, the official said. Another U.S. law enforcement official said the men had not been charged with anything in the United States. They spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the ongoing investigation and sensitive security issues.
Al Soofi was questioned as he went through security in Birmingham, Alabama, on his way to Chicago, one of the officials said. He told the Transportation Security Administration 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.
Officials also found multiple cell phones taped together and multiple watches taped together in his checked baggage. It is not illegal, however, to carry knives or taped cell phones and watches in checked baggage.
Al Soofi was supposed to fly from Chicago to Washington Dulles International Airport in Virginia and then on to Amsterdam, the official said. But when he got to Chicago, he changed his travel plans to take a direct flight to Amsterdam.
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.
Homeland Security spokeswoman Amy Kudwa said once officials found suspicious items in luggage associated with two passengers on Sunday night’s flight, they notified the Dutch authorities.
“The items were not deemed to be dangerous in and of themselves,” Kudwa said. She would not identify the passengers.
FBI agents on Monday visited the Detroit neighborhood where several addresses were found for variations of al Soofi’s name, according to neighbors who declined to give their names to The Associated Press.
Security at Amsterdam’s main airport has been boosted this year, after Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, a Nigerian student, flew from Schiphol airport to Detroit on Christmas Day with explosives in his underwear. Abdulmutallab allegedly tried to detonate the explosives over the United States before being grabbed by passengers and crew.
After the Abdulmutallab security lapse, Schiphol ordered 60 new full body scanners to screen passengers flying to the United States. Those who do not pass through the scanners are patted down.
American passengers arriving from the United States on Tuesday appeared to take the news of the arrests in stride.
“There is always going to be problems but I think that the system in terms of security works pretty well. I am traveling all the time and I feel pretty safe,” Steve Harriot of Chicago told AP Television News.
“I think we have to be vigilant, all of us. It is not going to change my travel,” Francois Binette of San Francisco said.
Associated Press writers Eileen Sullivan in Washington, D.C., and Corey Williams in Detroit contributed to this report.
Tags: Amsterdam, Chicago, Europe, Hague, Illinois, Law Enforcement, Michigan, Netherlands, North America, Suspicious-luggage, United States, Western Europe