Dutch hold two over suspected 'terrorist' plot

31st August 2010, Comments 0 comments

Dutch prosecutors on Tuesday said two Yemenis arrested in Amsterdam after a flight from Chicago faced possible terrorism charges but US authorities warned against "jumping to any conclusions."

The two men were arrested at Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport on Monday after US authorities found a mobile phone taped to a bottle in their luggage.

As a Dutch judge was set to weigh in on the case, the US Department of Homeland Security struck a cautious note, amid signs the incident may have been a misunderstanding.

"This matter is under investigation but as of right now, these two passengers have not been charged with any crime in the United States and we caution you against jumping to any conclusions," the Homeland Security department said in a statement.

A spokesman for the Dutch prosecutors, Theo d'Anjou, told reporters the men were being held "on suspicion of a conspiracy to a terrorist criminal act."

A judge will decide by late Thursday whether to charge the pair or release them, he added.

D'Anjou said the two men were arrested by Dutch border police shortly after their arrival at Schiphol at 9:15 am (0715 GMT) Monday on a flight from Chicago.

US media identified the men as Ahmed Mohamed Nasser al-Soofi, of Detroit, Michigan, and Hezam al-Murisi.

The men, of Yemeni nationality, were due to proceed to the Yemeni capital Sanaa.

US authorities initially had raised concerns because luggage with unusual items belonging to one of the suspects, Ahmed Mohamed Nasser al-Soofi, ended up on a plane bound for Dulles airport outside Washington, even though Soofi was not aboard the aircraft and instead flew to Amsterdam.

But FBI officials said that both men had missed their connecting flight in Chicago, which was bound for Washington, and that could explain how Soofi's luggage was placed aboard the plane.

Soofi was also carrying 7,000 dollars in cash, authorities said.

FBI officials said there was no sign that the two men knew each other.

Both were in the United States "legally" and were not on any US government terrorist watch list, a senior intelligence official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told reporters in Washington.

In Amsterdam, d'Anjou said that mobile phones were found in the luggage on the domestic flight to Washington, while US officials reportedly said the suitcases included box cutters and knives.

"In this luggage mobile phones were found, taped, one phone was taped to a plastic bottle. These phones were seized in the US and stayed there," d'Anjou said.

"The luggage of the flight to Amsterdam was searched, but nothing suspicious was found."

The Department of Homeland Security said the items in the luggage "were not deemed to be dangerous in and of themselves."

Dutch counterterrorism expert Edwin Bakker told AFP the incident may have been "a test of the counterterrorism measures in place" at airports and US officials earlier said they could not rule out that scenario.

The New York Times quoted a man claiming to be Soofi's cousin as saying his relative's luggage contents were not surprising, as he had probably been taking electronic equipment and medication back home and had simply taped together items intended for the same recipient.

The Homeland Security department said the incident "illustrates how airport security protocols, law enforcement cooperation, and prompt international information sharing allows us to respond quickly to potential threats."

US authorities allow bags to be placed on aircraft on domestic flights even if the passenger is not on board.

© 2010 AFP

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