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FBI: Men not plotting terror

Photo by Corinne Nicholson

Photo by Corinne Nicholson

WASHINGTON -- The FBI probe of two men arrested in Amsterdam after suspicious items turned up in one of the men's luggage is finding they were probably not on a test run for a future terror attack, a U.S. official said Tuesday, casting doubt on earlier suggestions even as Dutch authorities held the pair on suspicion of conspiring to commit a terrorist act.

The U.S. does not expect to charge the men, a law enforcement official said. The two men arrested in Amsterdam -- both traveling to Yemen -- did not know each other and were not traveling together, a U.S. government official said.

The officials spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity to discuss the investigation.

The Amsterdam arrests came at a time of heightened alert less than two weeks before the ninth anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks. U.S. officials have also been concerned about Americans traveling to Yemen to join al-Qaida.

Before officials began casting doubt on the test run theory, FBI agents were chasing down leads in Detroit, Birmingham, Ala., and Memphis, Tenn., a law enforcement official said.

''These two passengers have not been charged with any crime in the United States and we caution you against jumping to any conclusions,'' Homeland Security spokeswoman Amy Kudwa said Tuesday.

U.S. officials had earlier said they were investigating whether the two men had been conducting a dry run for a potential terrorist attack. But as the probe evolved, officials said that appeared unlikely.

Both of the detained men missed flights to Washington 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.

The men were not on any U.S. terror watch lists, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs told CNN on Tuesday.

A Dutch prosecutor Tuesday did not address why the two men continued to be held even as U.S. officials cast doubt on the case.

''We are taking it seriously. Otherwise we would not have arrested them,'' Theo D'Anjou of the Dutch national prosecutor's office said. Anjou added that the Dutch investigation was under way ''to see whether we can charge them, and if we can charge them, with what.''

Under Dutch law, they can be held for three days and 15 hours from the time of their arrest. After that period, they must be taken before an investigating judge if officials want their custody extended.

A U.S. official identified the men as Ahmed Mohamed Nasser al Soofi and Hezam al Murisi. Al Soofi had a Detroit address. Al Soofi had been living in Tuscaloosa, Ala., and working in a convenience store, the state's homeland security director Jim Walker said. There was nothing that al Soofi had done in Alabama that brought him to the attention of Alabama officials, Walker said.