Reporting from Washington — Two Yemeni men who arrived in Amsterdam on a flight from Chicago were arrested Monday by Dutch authorities and charged with preparing a terrorist attack after officials found suspicious items in their luggage, Dutch and U.S. officials said.
U.S. authorities requested the arrest after discovering that one of the men had checked his luggage from Chicago to Dulles International Airport in Virginia, but then left Chicago on a different flight to Amsterdam, said a U.S. official, who asked not to be identified due to the sensitive nature of the case.
The luggage sent to Virginia contained a cellphone taped to a bottle of Pepto-Bismol, in addition to three cellphones taped together and several watches taped together. The owner of the luggage, Ahmed Mohamed Nasser al Soofi, a Yemeni citizen who lives in Detroit, also was carrying $7,000 in cash, said a Dutch official, who also spoke on condition anonymity.
After sending his luggage to Dulles, Al Soofi was joined in Chicago by a second man, Hezam al Murisi, and the two men flew on United Airlines flight 908 to Amsterdam. U.S. air marshals also were on the flight.
Al Soofi’s luggage was flown to Virginia and was headed for Dubai and then Yemen. But once authorities learned al Soofi had flown on a different flight, federal officials in Virginia ordered the flight returned to the gate to remove Al Soofi’s luggage. Another inspection revealed no explosives.
In a statement Monday night, the Department of Homeland Security confirmed that authorities found “suspicious items” in checked luggage belonging to two passengers aboard a United flight from O’Hare International Airport in Chicago to Amsterdam on Sunday night.
“The items were not deemed to be dangerous in and of themselves, and as we share information with our international partners, Dutch authorities were notified of the suspicious items,” the DHS statement said.
U.S. officials said the matter is under investigation due to the types of items found taped together..
The arrests were first reported Monday by ABC News.
Authorities’ suspicions were first aroused when federal airport screeners in Birmingham, Ala., stopped al Soofi for an additional security check because his clothing was bulky. It was officials in Birmingham who initially searched the luggage and found the Pepto-Bismol taped to the cellphone and the watches, but because those are not banned items, he was permitted to board a flight to O’Hare in Chicago.
In Chicago, the two men were searched and their luggage inspected. Again finding no banned items, the men were allowed to board the flight to Amsterdam.
Dutch authorities questioned the men Monday, though the luggage remained in the possession of U.S. officials, the official said.
No court appearance is expected for several days, he said.