Ahmed Mohamed Nasser al Soofi, left, and Hezem al Murisi, were taken off a United Airlines flight in the Netherlands Photo: ABC
Two Yemenis suspected of making a “dry run” for a planned terrorist attack were able to fly from Chicago to Amsterdam, despite airport staff finding in their luggage a mobile phone taped to a bottle and other suspicious items.
By Martin Banks in Brussels and Alex Spillius in Washington
Dutch prosecutors are currently 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 (£4,500) 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 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 terrorist watch list, was allowed to board a flight in Amsterdam for Detroit on Christmas Day, and tried to light explosives hidden in his underpants while on board.
Judith Sargentini, a Dutch Greens MEP, said the latest incident gave “cause for real concern”.
“My question is: 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 terrorist watch-list. The Department of Homeland Security however urged people against “jumping to any conclusions”.
A Dutch prosecution spokesman said a judge would decide whether the suspects should be released or kept in custody.