Friday, 3 September 2010

US should apologize for Yemenis' arrest: Yemen ambassador

Source: AFP , 03/09/2010

THE HAGUE — The United States should apologize for the wrongful arrest of two Yemenis on Dutch soil after gifts in their luggage gave rise to terror suspicions, Yemen's ambassador to The Hague said Thursday.

"Our government should ... receive a letter from the US government to say: 'We are sorry that this has happened'. An apology," ambassador Nageeb Ahmed Obeid told AFP, claiming the events have tarnished Yemen's image.

"And they should investigate their officials who made this mistake," he added.

Two Yemenis were freed by Dutch authorities on Wednesday two days after their arrest in Amsterdam "on suspicion of possible involvement in the planning of a terrorist act," according to prosecutors.

They were Ahmed Mohamed Nasser al-Soofi, who Obeid said works in a shop in Alabama and has a US green card, and Hezam al-Murisi, a Yemeni teacher returning home after receiving medical treatment in the United States.

Dutch officials said they had acted "on the basis of information provided by the US authorities".

US security officials had spotted suspicious-looking items, including a mobile phone taped to a plastic medicine bottle, in Soofi's luggage which was on a plane bound for Washington Dulles airport while he was on a flight to Amsterdam.

But further investigations in the Netherlands and the United States yielded no evidence of wrongdoing.

An "angry" Obeid said the two men should get compensation for damage to their reputation, but did not know whether a claim would be pursued.

"We hope that they can get compensation," he said, adding that the men "are still, until now, in shock. They don't understand what happened."

The pair left for Sanaa via Istanbul on a flight from Schiphol on Thursday morning.

The ambassador explained that the "suspicious" items in Soofi's luggage were gifts of mobile phones, watches and a medicine bottle.

"Some of his friends gave these phones and also medicine to send to their family in Yemen," he said, adding that Soofi had taped together items intended for the same recipient.

Soofi and al-Murisi met for the first time at the airport in Chicago when they both arrived to find the gate for their flight to Sanaa via Washington closed, Obeid said. United Airlines rerouted them via Amsterdam.

"They didn't change their tickets themselves. United Airlines asked them to take another flight," the envoy said. "The FBI should just have asked United Airlines.

"They should have investigated in their country why this luggage went by itself, with their airlines."

Obeid said the "disinformation" surrounding the arrests has "damaged investment, damaged tourism in our country. We need now more months, maybe years, to work to repair this again."

"We will ask our colleagues in the United States to be more careful next time. To get good evidence," he said.

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