Image: Arrest at Amsterdam's Schipol Airport
AP
A man is led away from a plane at Schipol Airport in Amsterdam Monday in this image taken from TV.  U.S. officials told NBC News that the two men arrested Monday are likely to go free.
updated 9/1/2010 7:50:29 PM ET 2010-09-01T23:50:29

Two Yemeni men arrested on arrival from the United States on suspicion they may have been conducting a dry run for an airline terror attack were released without charge Wednesday after investigations turned up no evidence to link them to a terror plot, Dutch prosecutors said.

The national prosecutor's office said in a statement on its website that because of the lack of evidence "there is no reason to hold the men any longer."

Ahmed Mohamed Nasser al-Soofi and Hezam al-Murisi were arrested by airport police Monday in Amsterdam on a United Airlines flight from Chicago following a request from U.S. law enforcement officials.

The whereabouts of the two men following their release was not immediately known. Their lawyers could not immediately be reached for comment.

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Prosecutors said an initial test by U.S. authorities on an item of luggage belonging to one of the men "showed the possible presence of a trace of explosives." However "more accurate" later tests did not reveal any signs of explosive material, the they said.

"Investigations in the U.S. and the Netherlands have shown that there is no longer any indication of any possible involvement of the men in any crime," the prosecution statement said.

The arrests came just days before the ninth anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks in the United States. U.S. officials have also been concerned about Americans traveling to Yemen to join al-Qaida.

Al-Soofi's Dutch lawyer Wouter Hendrickx told The Associated Press before news of the release broke that al-Soofi insists he is innocent.

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"He says 'I have no connections to terrorist activities whatsoever,'" Hendrickx said.

Hendrickx said al-Soofi was on his way to Yemen to visit his family when he was detained.

In a statement, the Yemeni Embassy said some media coverage of the arrests highlighted "an unfortunate, yet ongoing misunderstanding of Yemen and its citizens."

"It is important to emphasize that Yemen is a victim of terrorism as well, with al-Qaida operatives having killed over fifty Yemenis in the past three months," spokesman Mohammed Albasha said.

Al-Soofi and al-Murisi missed flights to Washington Dulles International Airport from Chicago, and United Airlines then booked them on the same flight to Amsterdam, a U.S. government official said. The men were sitting near each other on the flight, but not together.

Al-Soofi also raised suspicions in the United States on Sunday because he was carrying $7,000 in cash. An inspection of his checked luggage uncovered a cell phone taped to a small bottle, multiple cell phones and watches taped together, and a knife and box cutter, according to a U.S. official who had been briefed on the investigation.

None of the checked items violated U.S. security rules, so authorities allowed al-Soofi to fly. But his bags later were transferred to another flight and were not on the flight to Amsterdam, Dutch prosecutors said.

Al-Soofi and al-Murisi changed their travel plans at the last minute and took a direct flight to Amsterdam, raising suspicion among U.S. officials.

The U.S. Homeland Security Department confirmed that the FBI and other law enforcement agencies found no links to terrorism, but said "we will continue to pursue any and all leads in this matter."

"This incident illustrates how airport security protocols, law enforcement cooperation, and prompt international information sharing allows us to respond quickly to potential threats," it said in a statement.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Video: Airline scare could be a false alarm

  1. Transcript of: Airline scare could be a false alarm

    BRIAN WILLIAMS, anchor: We told you last night about the arrest of two men who arrived in Amsterdam among -- on a flight from Chicago , men the authorities suspected might have been conducting some sort of dry run for a terrorist attack on an airplane. Well, tonight officials here at home have backed way off of that. They now say it looks like nothing more than a series of odd coincidences. Our report from our justice correspondent Pete Williams .

    PETE WILLIAMS reporting: Amateur video shows police arresting two men in Amsterdam , arriving from Chicago . Dutch security officials, stung by missing the would-be Christmas Day bomber when he passed through Amsterdam , were taking no chances this time.

    Mr. THEO D'ANJOU (Dutch Prosecutor): The men are held in custody on suspicion of a conspiracy to a terrorist criminal act.

    P. WILLIAMS: US officials say it all began Sunday at the Birmingham , Alabama , airport with a legal permanent resident, Ahmed Mohamed Nasser al Soofi , on his way to visit relatives in Yemen . In his checked bags, screeners found cell phones and watches taped together and a phone taped to a bottle of Pepto-Bismol . It looked suspicious, but no explosives were found and he was cleared for travel. Al Soofi booked flights from Birmingham to Chicago , then to Washington-Dulles and on to Amsterdam . But when he got to Chicago , investigators say, he missed the Dulles flight, so the airline put him on a direct flight to Amsterdam while his suitcase flew on to Dulles . It was intercepted when security officials realized al Soofi was no longer flying with it. The second man arrested in Amsterdam had nothing suspicious found in his bag and was mistakenly thought to be flying with al Soofi . Tonight US officials say they think the items were taped together to be given to separate relatives. They view this false alarm as proof that the system is working. Pete Williams , NBC News , at the Department of Homeland Security .

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