The Dutch police have released two Yemeni men taken off a United Airlines flight that landed in Amsterdam from Chicago, saying there was no evidence connecting them to terrorism. However, the circumstances of their arrest clearly point to a “dry run” or deliberate provocation of security, with important questions remaining unanswered.
The two men, Ahmed Mohammed Nasser al-Soofi and Hezam al-Murisi, were arrested on their way to Yemen, where a very active branch of Al-Qaeda exists led by the American imam Anwar al-Awlaki. The affiliate is known for its success in recruiting Americans, including up to three dozen prison converts. Al-Awlaki has connections to numerous plots, including the Fort Hood shooting and the Christmas Day underwear bomb plot.
Al-Soofi first received scrutiny when he was flying to Chicago from Birmingham. Security found that he had $7,000 in cash on him, as well as a cell phone taped to a Pepto-Bismol bottle, three cell phones taped together, watches taped together, a box cutter and three large knives in his checked baggage. Airport security did not detect explosives and allowed al-Soofi and his materials to make it to Chicago.
In Chicago, both he and al-Murisi missed their flight and so they were booked on another flight to Amsterdam at the last moment. Al-Soofi’s luggage had already been boarded on his original flight going to Dulles Airport to Dubai to Yemen. When the authorities learned al-Soofi did not go on that flight, his bags were taken off of the flight. Officials are telling the press that the two men did not know each other, but witnesses say the two men sat together and appeared to know each other. Detroit law enforcement sources, however, confirm the two were friends and the men were allowed to fly for “investigative purposes.”
There has been no explanation given as to why al-Soofi had those items or why authorities concluded after their arrest that there was no connection to terrorism. Steve Schippert, co-founder of the Center for Threat Awareness and Managing Editor of ThreatsWatch.org, told FrontPage that if the incident was a dry run, it would fit a pattern as terrorists who are known to carefully rehearse and plan their operations.
“Terrorists do not just grab some chemicals that go boom, mix them, and board a flight or park a truck blindly. They must case, do surveillance, determine likelihood of success. Jihadi terrorists are very risk averse,” Schippert said. He said that terrorists are very careful because “For them, losing a jihadi to capture is like having an aircraft carrier sunk in a naval battle.”
He also theorized that al-Soofi and his possible accomplice may have been deliberately trying to provoke security, perhaps hoping to file a lawsuit claiming they were discriminated against as part of “lawfare.”