WASHINGTON (AFP) – Two Saudi passengers on a Mexico-bound Dutch plane, forced last week to return to the Netherlands over security concerns, were brothers who attended the same US-based flight school as a hijacker involved in the September 11 terror attacks.
The report was in Newsweek magazine on Sunday.
The April 8 KLM flight was forced to return to the Netherlands after US anti-terror authorities refused to allow the plane entry to US airspace and Canadian officials declined to allow the plane to land on its territory.
According to the US Department of Homeland Security, at least one of two Saudis on the flight had previously been deported from the United States, and the names of both brothers appear on a so-called “no-fly” list compiled by the Homeland Security department.
US officials said both men had undergone pilot training with September 11 hijacker Hani Hanjour, according to a separate report Sunday in Time magazine, which wrote that the KLM flight carrying 287 passengers was diverted to London, where the men were questioned by Dutch authorities and later released because they were not on any Dutch watch list.
US counterterrorism officials say intelligence indicates Al-Qaeda may be planning to use foreign-based airliners to launch an attack against the US homeland and fear that Mexico with its porous border may become a staging ground for that assault.
But Newsweek magazine reported that the brothers told authorities they were visiting their ill father, a retired Saudi diplomat who is living in Mexico. US authorities told the magazine that the brothers’ story appeared to be holding up.
“I just don’t think this was a plot along the lines of 9/11,” an official told Newsweek.
Meanwhile, Time reported that the US no-fly list has grown from 19,000 names to 31,000, and that the US Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is seeking to expand the use of the no-fly list in the wake of the KLM incident.
The TSA is proposing that all foreign airlines — even those not flying to a US destination — check their manifests against the list if they are flying over US airspace, according to the magazine, but some airlines reportedly have strong objections, fearing the policy could dent the heavy summer travel season.