Two men on a United Airlines flight from Chicago to Amsterdam were arrested by Dutch authorities on Monday on suspicion of attempting a "dry run" for a terror attack. According to media reports, authorities identified the pair as Ahmed Mohamed Nasser al-Soofi and Hezam al-Murisi, both of Yemeni descent.
The men were reported to have carried a range of "suspicious but not illegal" items in their checked-in baggage, including a mobile phone taped to a bottle of Pepto-Bismol, three mobile phones taped together, several watches taped together, a box cutter and three large knives.
Further $7,000 in cash was said to have been discovered within the baggage of Mr. al-Soofi as he checked in for a prior flight from Birmingham, Alabama, to Chicago, on Sunday.
A law enforcement officer was quoted by CNN as saying that the men who flew out of Chicago’s O’Hare airport may have been trying to test whether bottles of liquid attached to electronic devices could make it past airport security. Ever since a 2006 liquid explosives plot was foiled in the United Kingdom, both U.K. and U.S. authorities have banned passengers from carrying all but small quantities of liquids on board.
In a statement, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security said, "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... This matter continues to be under investigation."
The terror-dry-run hypothesis gained further currency given that Mr. al-Soofi obtained a ticket for a flight to Washington’s Dulles International Airport, with further stops in Dubai and Yemen — and yet both he and Mr. al-Murisi flew on an entirely different sector via the Chicago-to-Amsterdam flight.
In a development that is likely to cause embarrassment to the Department of Homeland Security, Mr. al-Soofi’s luggage reportedly travelled from Chicago to Washington without him – a potentially serious violation of U.S. safety protocols.
A parallel but possibly unrelated incident concerning airline security occurred at Dulles International Airport on Monday night, when a nine-member delegation of Pakistani military officers travelling to U.S. Central Command headquarters in Tampa, Florida, was offloaded from its flight after one officer made "what a flight attendant considered to be an ‘inappropriate remark".
The New York Times reported that members of the delegation, led by a two-star general, were offended by their treatment and cancelled the Central Command meeting. Department of Defence officials were said to have apologised for the incident.