Source:Detroit Free Press
Two Yemeni nationals who at one point lived in metro Detroit have been arrested in the Netherlands on suspicion of plotting terrorism, federal authorities said Monday.
The men were identified as Ahmed Mohamed Nasser al Soofi, 48, a Yemeni who has permanent resident status in the U.S. and who lived in metro Detroit until two or three years ago, and Hezem Abdullah Thabi al Murisi, 37, a Yemeni who traveled to the U.S. on a visitor's visa and also spent time living and working in metro Detroit.
They were arrested in the Netherlands after getting off a United Airlines flight from Chicago to
ABC News reported that Dutch authorities arrested the men at Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport and charged them with "preparation of a terrorist attack." ABC News reported the men were arrested at the request of U.S. authorities. The network quoted unnamed U.S. officials who said the men appeared to be traveling with mock explosives.
CBS News reported the two men were not connected and that officials were focusing mainly on al Soofi.
Authorities said federal air marshals were on the flight. They said neither of the suspects were on no-fly lists or had active warrants against them.
The two suspects were known in metro Detroit's Yemeni-American communities and have distant relatives who live locally, said Imad Hamad, regional director of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee. One of the suspects later moved to Birmingham, Ala., Hamad said.
The other moved to Memphis, Tenn.
Terror test run or a mistake?
Suspicious items in luggage set off the nation's latest terrorism scare, the Department of Homeland Security said Monday night.
The items -- a cell phone taped to a Pepto-Bismol bottle, three cell phones taped together and several watches taped into a bundle -- were found in the checked luggage of Ahmed Mohamed Nasser al Soofi, 48, formerly of metro Detroit. He was flying on a United Airlines flight Sunday night from Chicago to Amsterdam, Netherlands. Authorities also found a knife and a box cutter in his luggage, the Associated Press reported.
"The items were not deemed to be dangerous in and of themselves," the Department of Homeland Security said in a statement.
The statement didn't say whether the men had been detained or arrested.
Authorities said the two men didn't have any prohibited items with them in the plane's cabin or in their carry-on luggage.
ABC News said screeners at the airport in Birmingham, Ala., became suspicious of al Soofi because of his bulky clothing and directed him to secondary inspection. They searched his luggage and found $7,000 in cash and the bottle, cell phones and watches.
While al Soofi was in Chicago, authorities learned that he had checked his luggage on a flight to Dulles airport in Washington for a flight to Dubai, United Arab Emirates, and Yemen, but that he hadn't gotten on that flight. Authorities ordered the flight to return to the gate. No explosives were found.
The network said al Murisi joined al Soofi in Chicago and they flew to Amsterdam.
The two suspects were known in metro Detroit's Yemeni-American communities and have distant relatives who live locally, said Imad Hamad, regional director of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee. One suspect later moved to Birmingham, Ala., Hamad said. The other moved to Memphis, Tenn.
Hamad said he doesn't know the suspects, but said that Yemeni Americans living in metro Detroit told him: "These two young people used to live here."
They were known to work hard in odd jobs to earn money to help relatives in their native Yemen, Hamad said. "They used to work in restaurants ... grocery stores," Hamad said.
Hamad said both men came from "a well-respected (tribal) family in metro Detroit. ... These are two well-known families."
Hamad cautioned against rushing to judgment about the men, saying that these are just allegations for now.
Al Soofi is from a "very large, huge family," said Yemen's consul general in Detroit, Abdul-Hakim Al-Sadah. Al-Sadah said he does not know the suspect, but is familiar with his name, which indicates he is from Al-Dalea, a province in Yemen.
"A lot of immigrants from that province" are in metro Detroit, he said.
Al-Sadah said that the Yemeni-American community condemns any acts of terrorism.
"Yemen is fighting with all its power" against terrorists, he said.
United Airlines, based in Chicago, referred all calls Monday to the Chicago office of the FBI.
Ross Rice, a special agent there, had sparse details: "To our knowledge they have not been charged with any crimes in the U.S.," he said.
The Transportation Security Administration, which is responsible for screening passengers, referred all calls to the Department of Homeland Security.
There was no immediate comment from the Detroit FBI, although FBI agents had visited the southwest Detroit neighborhood where several addresses were found for variations of al Soofi's name, neighbors who declined to give their names told the Associated Press. U.S. Attorney
Barbara McQuade also declined to comment.
The arrests are the latest terror-related incident involving metro Detroit.
Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, a 23-year-old Nigerian national, is accused of trying to detonate a bomb in his underwear on a Delta-Northwest Airlines flight as it approached Detroit Metro Airport on Dec. 25, 2009. Abdulmutallab is in custody and is said to be cooperating with federal authorities.
In 2003, two North African immigrants were convicted in federal court in Detroit of conspiring to provide material support to terrorism in the first trial to result from the federal probe of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
A judge later threw out the convictions at the request of the U.S. Attorney's Office because the prosecutors in the case had withheld key evidence from the defendants.