Ahmed Mohamed Nasser al Soofi and Hezem al Murisi were arrested in Amsterdam after disembarking from United Airlines flight 908. The two men boarded the plane in Chicago, the country's second busiest airport.
Suspicions were raised when al Soofi's luggage was sent to Washington Dulles airport.
A law enforcement official on Tuesday morning said al Soofi missed his flight to Dulles, partly because of a gate change in Chicago, and was re-booked by United on the direct flight to Amsterdam. United was unable to change the routing on his bag, which was found to contain large amounts of cash, cell phones taped together and to a Pepto-Bismol bottle, as well as knives and a box cutter.
The second man detained in Amsterdam, Hezzam Abdullah Thabi al Murisi, also missed his flight to Dulles and he, too, was rebooked directly to Amsterdam. Both men ended up sitting next to each other on the flight overseas, which law enforcement officials now believe was a coincidence, according to sources.
So far, a check of al Soofi's background has failed to turn up anything suspicious, U.S. officials say.
That hasn’t stopped Dutch officials from holding the suspects, who will be taken before a judge in the next few days. Their arrests come at a time of heightened alert just days before the ninth anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks and their final destination of Yemen.
“We know the two men were bound for Yemen. We know their baggage ended up in Washington, D.C. on an internal flight and suspicious items - among them phones taped to bottle were found,” said a Dutch Justice Ministry spokesman. “The question now is was this a dry run ? Were these men trying to find how far they could get. One of them had a lot of money.”
Amsterdam airport has been on high alert ever since the Christmas Day bomber boarded a flight there after a connection from Yemen.