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.”
This isn’t the first case of suspicious individuals likely probing for weaknesses in airport security. On June 4, 2009, a man named Raed Abdhul-Rahman Alsaif was arrested for trying to bring a seven-inch knife “artfully” concealed in his bag onboard a U.S. Airways flight at Tampa International Airport headed to Phoenix. About 35 minutes after, two other individuals were arrested in Philadelphia for sneaking a handgun onboard another U.S. Airways flight to Phoenix.
In 2004, reporter Annie Jacobsen received widespread attention after reporting a dry run on a flight from Detroit to Los Angeles. She and other eyewitnesses said that 12 Syrian musicians and their Lebanese promoter had expired visas and acted suspiciously, including blocking the aisle. One man ran towards the cockpit and quickly turned into a bathroom, where he spent 20 minutes. Another person brought a small bag into the bathroom and smelled like toilet bowl chemicals upon returning, confirmed a Homeland Security report about the incident. According to Jacobsen and those she spoke with, the group communicated via hand signals, with one giving a thumbs-up to the individual leaving the bathroom with a bag and another signaling “no.”
As the flight began descending, four of them moved to the back of the aircraft and began using the bathroom as another man began stretching near the exit. According to the government report, the Lebanese promoter was already in an FBI database because of another incident on an airliner. Jacobsen has also reported the FBI warned two months prior that terrorists might plan to board airliners using cultural or sports visas, just as this group of “musicians” did. She has since found out that at least two of the Syrians were involved in another suspected dry run on January 24, 2004.
The most high-profile incident resembling a dry run happened on November 20, 2006 often referred to as the “Flying Imams” case. Six imams were removed from a flight after they prayed loudly in Arabic, spread out across the airliner to occupy different rows, ordered seat-belt extenders they didn’t need and openly criticized U.S. foreign policy. They then teamed up with the Council on American-Islamic Relations to sue U.S. Airways.
As reported in Muslim Mafia, the leader of the “Flying Imams,” Omar Shahin, has admitted to being a former supporter of Osama Bin Laden and his mosque in Tucson has been tied to Al-Qaeda. The previous president of the mosque worked with the terrorist group, and one of the 9⁄11 hijackers was an attendee. Remarkably, in 1999, two college students that went to Shahin’s mosque engaged in nearly identical behavior. The two prayed loudly in Arabic, asked questions about the plane, walked around the aircraft, ordered a seat-belt extender that was not used and twice tried to open the cockpit. After they were removed from the flight, Shahin and CAIR began a lawsuit. The 9⁄11 Commission reports that it is now suspected that the incident was a dry run for the September 11 attacks.
The latest possible dry run is not an isolated incident, but the continuance of a pattern. Suspicious Muslims continue to probe our defenses and provoke security and then sue when the appropriate measures are taken. Whether the two men on that flight from Chicago were carrying out a dry run and/or engaging in “lawfare,” the airlines continue to be a prized target for our adversaries.