Attorneys Lori and Kurt Haskell insist they saw a man questioned and arrested by federal authorities on Christmas Day, and that the man was on Flight 253. (David Guralnick / The Detroit News)
Romulus -- New details emerged Thursday about a series of events at Detroit Metropolitan Airport following an attempted Christmas Day terrorist attack, as two passengers from Northwest Flight 253 alleged the government is concealing facts about a second man who was placed under arrest.
Kurt and Lori Haskell, two Taylor attorneys, say they saw a man get questioned by federal officials and later led away in handcuffs after a sniffer dog reacted to something in the man's carry-on luggage in the airport's baggage area. 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, they said.
The FBI has said only one man from the flight was arrested. 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.
Ron Smith, chief Customs and Border Protection officer in the Detroit area, said the Haskells' account appears to be a composite of two events at the airport around the time passengers got off Flight 253. Both events were unrelated to the suspected terrorist incident, Smith said.
A man from another flight -- Northwest Flight 249, also from Amsterdam, Netherlands -- was arrested at the jetway as he got off his flight and would have been led handcuffed through the area where the Flight 253 passengers were gathered, Smith said. He would not release the name of the man because he said he was arrested on suspicion of immigration violations, not on a criminal matter.
A sniffer dog reacted to agricultural or food products inside the bag of a third man, who was off yet another flight, Smith said. He was questioned and may have had some items confiscated but was not arrested, Smith said. Smith could not identify the flight number for the man found with prohibited food or plant products.
Lori Haskell said Thursday that she and her husband stand by their original story.
"I walked off the plane with the individual," who was later arrested, Lori Haskell said. "He was standing around 15 to 20 feet away from us ... the entire time."
She said federal officials had cleared the baggage area so passengers from Flight 253 would not mingle with passengers from other flights before they were questioned by the FBI.
Smith said officials did attempt to segregate Flight 253 passengers but the entire baggage area was not cleared. Passengers from other flights continued to use baggage carousels not connected with Flight 253, he said.
The Haskells, who were questioned by FBI agents at their law office Tuesday after initially being questioned along with other passengers at the airport on Christmas, earlier told The Detroit News that Kurt Haskell saw Abdulmutallab in Amsterdam 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.
Lori Haskell said Thursday she believes Abdulmutallab had the travel documents but did not want to present them in Amsterdam because he was afraid his name would be on a watch list or no-fly list. Officials have said the man's name was included in a large database of people with possible terrorist ties but not on the more exclusive no-fly list.