The Detroit News reported Saturday that a U.S. Customs official has reversed himself, "admitting a passenger from Northwest Flight 253 was placed in handcuffs, searched, and released after a security dog alerted officers to the passenger's carry-on luggage." -- He had earlier claimed that the incident, which was witnessed by Detroit attorneys Kurt and Lori Haskell, passengers on the flight, was unrelated to NW 253. -- The couple regards the reversal as a "small victory" that corroborates their truthfulness. -- The couple say they also observed a well-dressed older man assist NW 253 bomber Umar Farouk Abtulmutallab in evading the standard passport control at Amsterdam Airport Schiphol; this claim has yet to be confirmed by U.S. officials....
OFFICIAL REVERSES, CONFIRMS 2nd ARREST FROM FLIGHT 253
By Jennifer Chambers and Paul Egan
January 2, 2010
DETROIT -- A U.S. Customs official reversed himself Friday, admitting a passenger from Northwest Flight 253 was placed in handcuffs, searched, and released after a security dog alerted officers to the passenger's carry-on luggage.
Ronald G. Smith, chief U.S. Customs and Border Protection officer in the Detroit area, sent an e-mail to the Detroit News late Thursday apologizing that the information on the passenger -- which was made public by a pair of Taylor attorneys, Kurt and Lori Haskell, who were passengers on the flight -- was not officially announced earlier.
FBI officials had said only one man from the flight was arrested. That man, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, a 23-year-old Nigerian being held at the Milan federal prison, is charged with trying to destroy an aircraft and taking a destructive device aboard an aircraft.
He created a small fire before landing when he tried to set off explosive chemicals hidden in his underwear, according to court records. Passengers jumped on him and put out the blaze with the help of the flight crew, witnesses said.
The Haskells told federal investigators they saw another man being questioned by federal officials and led away from the airport baggage area in handcuffs after a sniffer dog reacted to something in the man's carry-on luggage.
The couple said the man, who appeared to be in his early 30s and of Indian descent, was taken to a room for questioning and later led out of that room in handcuffs.
In previous statements to the media, Smith had said the Haskells' account was a composite of two events that occurred at the airport around the time passengers got off Flight 253. The incidents were unrelated to the terrorist incident, Smith had said.
Yet in the e-mail, which also was sent to the couple, Smith said he had just received information he did not have previously and hoped "it will clear up the matter."
Smith said a second man from Flight 253 was handcuffed, escorted to a room where he was interviewed, and searched. Nothing was found. The man was not arrested or detained, and no further information was available about him, Smith said.
"This information is consistent with eyewitness accounts," Smith said.
Reached by phone on Friday, Lori Haskell said the e-mail was a small victory for the couple, yet it angered them at the same time.
"I just want them to look into our claims," Lori Haskell said. "Our story has been the same since day one because we are telling the truth."
The Haskells, who were questioned Tuesday by FBI agents at their law office, earlier told The Detroit News that Kurt Haskell saw Abdulmutallab in Amsterdam, Netherlands, apparently trying to board the flight without a passport.
Kurt Haskell said he saw a well-dressed Indian man, who was older than the Indian man arrested at Detroit Metro, attempting to negotiate with airline officials to get Abdulmutallab on the plane without a passport. He appeared to be trying to pass Abdulmutallab off as a Sudanese refugee, Haskell said.
Nigerian officials have said Abdulmutallab presented a valid Nigerian passport and multi-entry U.S. visa when he began his trip in Lagos.
Federal officials seized both documents in Detroit, a person familiar with the investigation said.
Officials have said Abdulmutallab's name was included in a large database of people with possible terrorist ties but was not on the more exclusive no-fly list.