Reports: Terror suspects knew each other

August 31, 2010 (CHICAGO)

As unnamed American officials back off their original statements that this appeared to be a dry run by terrorists, U.S. authorities insist that the two suspects who flew from Chicago to Amsterdam didn't even know each other and were not traveling together. That seems to be false, based on interviews and information obtained Tuesday night for the ABC7 Intelligence Report.

The I-Team met flight attendant Debra Kohlman who was on United 908 Sunday night as she returned from Amsterdam at O'Hare on Tuesday.

"It was fine. I can't really make a comment though, I'm sorry," said Kohlmann. "No commotion."

As video shot by a 908 passenger shows, two men were taken into custody by Dutch authorities right when the jetliner landed in Amsterdam.

GOUDIE: "Were you told that there was somebody of interest or two men of some concern?
KOHLMAN: I can't comment on that, I'm sorry.
GOUDIE: United has told you not to comment?
KOHLMAN: Yeah, we are not supposed to comment ever on something that happened on the plane."

Witnesses who were onboard the Boeing 777 jumbo jet say that the two men appeared to be traveling together.

Even though Ahmed Mohamed Nasser al Soofi and Hezem al Murisi did arrive at O'Hare from different cities, they sat next to each other on the eight hour flight from Chicago to Amsterdam, according to witnesses. They were side by side in row 24, seats H and J, witnesses told ABC7, appearing to know each other and laughed and carried on like friends, which they were according to an Arab-American leader in Detroit who knows them both.

"They know each other. They were friends. They worked at restaurants, grocery stores, supermarkets here and...Mr. al Soofi did go to Alabama simply because his brother who owns a convenience store there," said Imad Hamadm, American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee.

While flight attendant Kohlman was skittish about discussing what happened, her answer to one question was puzzling.

GOUDIE: "Have you talked to investigators, can you tell me that, on the other end?
KOHLMAN: I have not talked to investigators. People on the airplane have talked to investigators.
GOUDIE: Passengers?

The two men remain in custody in Amsterdam. The Dutch have not been as quick as some American officials to dismiss this.

How the case has been handled here has angered some in the U.S. aviation industry, criticizing protocols for the way flight crews are notified of a potential onboard danger.

In the case of United 908, the I-Team has been told that United crew members didn't know they were ferrying possible terrorist suspects until six hours into flight.

U.S. Dept. of Homeland Security's Full Statement:

"This matter is under investigation but as of right now, these two passengers have not been charged with any crime in the United States and we caution you against jumping to any conclusions.

"This incident illustrates how airport security protocols, law enforcement cooperation, and prompt international information sharing allows us to respond quickly to potential threats. In this instance, sound judgment led to suspicious items being identified, which triggered automatic security responses by US security personnel. Appropriate security screening measures took place to ensure the safety of all passengers, including the proper screening, handling and matching of all checked luggage. Federal Air Marshals already on board the flight were notified.

When the investigation tells us more we will let you know but we don't have anything else at this time."

Chicago Department of Aviation's Statement

"This is an ongoing investigation. The Chicago Department of Aviation (CDA) is cooperating with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and the FBI in this investigation.

The Chicago Department of Aviation and all of its aviation partners are focused on maintaining a safe and efficient travel experience at O'Hare and Midway International Airports."

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