The icing on this cake though was that one of the Yemenis was an illegal alien.
The men were identified as Ahmed Mohamed Nasser al Soofi, 48, a Yemeni who has
permanent resident status in the U.S. and who lived in metro Detroit until two
or three years ago, and Hezem Abdullah Thabi al Murisi, 37, a Yemeni who
traveled to the U.S. on a visitor's visa and also spent time living and working
in metro Detroit.
It appears that the issue over changed flights was not part of the test-run, but missed flights.
Both of the detained men missed flights to Dulles International Airport from
Chicago, and United Airlines then booked them on the same flight to Amsterdam,
the U.S. government official said. The men were sitting near each other on the
flight, but not together.
However, one of the aliens was carrying $7,000.00 in cash, just below the $10K reporting requirement for the export of financial instruments, as well as strange objects in their checked luggage.
In addition, officials said, al Soofi was found to be carrying $7,000 in cash
and a check of his luggage found a cell phone taped to a Pepto-Bismol bottle,
three cell phones taped together, several watches taped together, a box cutter
and three large knives. Officials said there was no indication of explosives and
he and his luggage were cleared for the flight from Birmingham to Chicago
I find it hard to believe that TSA routinely finds bundles of watches taped together, much less a single watch taped to a bottle.
Kip Hawley, the former Transportation Security administrator, said it is not
unusual to find items like watches and cell phones bound together on flights to
countries like Yemen. He said this would always catch the screener's eye. In
2007, TSA alerted screeners that suspicious items found at U.S. airports may
indicate that terrorists were conducting dry runs. Screeners are deliberately on
the lookout for such items. None of the items found on the men or in their
luggage violated U.S. security rules. But the items and the men's changing
travel itinerary raised concern that it may have been a deliberate test of the
U.S. aviation security system to determine what would raise red flags.
While it is unlikely that terrorists do make dry-runs for their final assault, but they do routinely assign others to test security and report back what can pass through security.
The official says he can't recall a dry run in any of the scores of cases he's
worked on. "Rehearsing an attack runs the considerable risk you'll be caught
without ever being able to attempt the strike — which is the only goal of
terrorists," he says. "If you're determined to strike and have chosen your
method, you'd be better off taking your chances, since success isn't even an
option if you don't try. Testing the terrain simply increases the risk you'll be
caught without ever really have constituted a threat." Most would-be terrorists,
he says, go through painstaking, detail-obsessed planning in the shadows to
increase their chances of success once they go into action — though that sort of
sweating the small stuff usually helps set off vigilante antiterrorism