Dutch hold two over suspected plane plot

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Dutch prosecutors said two Yemenis arrested at Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport on Tuesday after US security found a cellphone taped to a bottle in their luggage were being held for possible terrorism offences.

"The men are held in custody on suspicion of a conspiracy to a terrorist criminal act," prosecution spokesman Theo d'Anjou told reporters at the airport.

A judge will decide by late Thursday whether to charge the pair or release them, he added. Under Dutch law, police can hold suspects for up to 72 hours without charge.

The White House promised that US authorities would conduct a "vigorous investigation" into the incident which some officials suggested may have been a dry run for a terror attack.

But US officials did not rule out that the incident may have simply been a misunderstanding.

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.

The men, of Yemeni nationality, were due to have travelled onwards to the Yemeni capital Sanaa.

"The luggage of the men had ended up on an internal flight to Washington," said d'Anjou. "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," he said.

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

US news reports said airport security scanners found suspicious-looking items in the men's checked luggage before they flew out of Chicago, including a cellphone taped to a medicine bottle, three cellphones taped together, watches taped together, and box cutters and knives.

One of the men, a 48-year-old, was also carrying 7,000 dollars in cash.

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

US media sources said that Soofi checked his luggage on a flight from Chicago to Sanaa, with scheduled stops at Dulles International Airport -- just outside Washington -- and Dubai.

Officials at Dulles Airport, upon realising that Soofi was not on the same plane as his bag, reportedly recalled the flight and removed the luggage.

D'Anjou confirmed the arrests "took place on the basis of information provided by the US authorities", who were being consulted in the course of the investigation.

It was not clear why the men were allowed to board a flight.

Dutch counterterrorism expert Edwin Bakker told AFP it was possible the incident may have been "a test of the counterterrorism measures in place" at Schiphol.

"The fact that they did not take the same flight as their luggage is a good reason to interrogate them," he added. "It is very strange."

But 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.

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs told CNN television that intelligence and law enforcement officials were piecing together the events, adding that neither of the arrested men was on US surveillance lists.

"They went through some extra screening," he said. "Their bags were pulled off of a flight because they were not on that flight. So obviously extra precautions were taken as some of these circumstances popped up, and now obviously the next step is getting some answers to why those curious circumstances happened in the first place."


© 2010 AFP

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