Why were Yemeni terror suspects freed?

September 1, 2010 (CHICAGO)

In this I-Team Intelligence Report: Why were the men detained as terror suspects on a flight from Chicago to Amsterdam let go?

What first caught the attention of airport security officials were several items in one of the suspect's checked luggage: knives and cell phones wrapped up in duct tape, along with a Blackberry device taped to a Pepto-Bismol bottle. That, and a last minute change in their itinerary while at O'Hare, and counterterrorism investigators were convinced the men were on a dry run for a jetliner attack.

When Ahmed Mohamed Nasser al-Soofi and Hezam al-Murisi were arrested by airport police Monday in Amsterdam on the United Airlines flight from Chicago, a menacing looking picture of one of the men's luggage flashed around the world. The suggestion was that these were the mock components of a terrorist weapon put in checked luggage to see how American security would react.

But, in an exclusive interview with investigator Heather Catallo of ABC 7's Detroit affiliate WXYZ, al-Soofi's brother says there was nothing sinister about what was in the baggage bound for Yemen.

"Any person that goes in to my country, they have to put every one as separate," said al-Soofi's brother, "and they tape every one, and they put the name on it to remember when they go to Yemen, what's this item for -- it's for this person and another one for the other person. They did like this."

The brother, who asked not to be shown or named, says he told the FBI to go to Tuscaloosa, Alabama, where Ahmed al-Soofi recently moved and where he worked in a Texaco gas station. It was a friend in Tuscaloosa who gave him the cell phones and medicine to take to Yemen.

That friend, Faiz al-Kisi, said on the phone that he asked al-Soofi to take seven cell phones, watches, medicine and shampoo back to Yemen for his family, and that he was the one who taped everything together.

"I sent a telephone for my family, and I send a couple of medicine for my family," said al-Kisi.

What was al-Soofi's brother's reaction when authorities said he was suspected of a terrorist plot? "I couldn't believe it," his brother said.

"My brother, he was still nice with everyone, because he was happy every time and all time. He never bothered anyone," the brother said.

As the I-Team first reported, the suspects sat next each other on the United jetliner from Chicago, and according to witnesses appeared to know each other. The one suspect's brother in Detroit said he didn't think they did know each other and that they may have just "bonded on the plane" because they spoke the same language.

Tests on their luggage by U.S. security screeners first showed trace explosives. Later, more accurate tests revealed nothing according to Dutch officials.

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