Federal agents have arrested a Saudi Arabian traveler who arrived at Detroit Metropolitan Airport with a pressure cooker, a key component used in the Boston Marathon bombings last month.
Hussain Al Khawahir appeared for a brief hearing at 1 p.m. in federal court on charges he allegedly used an altered passport and lied to a U.S. Customs and Border Protection Agent about the pressure cooker.
It was unclear Monday whether his arrest is terrorism related or a misunderstanding. But the prosecutor handling the case is Assistant U.S. Attorney Jonathan Tukel, who prosecuted the terror case against underwear bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab.
“I am in the dark, too,” said Rita Chastang, his court-appointed lawyer.
U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade declined comment on the particulars of the case or whether there are any links to terrorism.
“We never want to jump to conclusions and read more into a situation than is there, but we want to make sure all cases are fully investigated to protect the public,” McQuade said.
The slight-built, goateed Al Khawahir, 33, was dressed in a green Wayne County Jail uniform Monday and wearing ankle chains.
Flanked by an Arabic translator, he said nothing as Tukel asked to reschedule a detention hearing to 1 p.m. Tuesday.
That’s when a federal magistrate judge will decide whether Al Khawahir will be released on bond.
Al Khawahir arrived at the airport Saturday from Saudi Arabia, via Amsterdam, according to a criminal complaint filed Monday in federal court.
Al Khawahir was traveling with a B1/B2 visa, which lets him travel to the U.S. temporarily for business or tourism.
He told agents he was visiting his nephew, who attends the University of Toledo. During baggage inspection, officers noticed a page missing from Al Khawahir’s passport.
Al Khawahir told officers he did not know how the page was removed from the passport.
During the baggage exam, officers found a pressure cooker.
Al Khawahir said he brought the pressure cooker for his nephew because the devices are not sold in the United States, according to the complaint.
Later, he changed his story and admitted that his nephew had purchased a pressure cooker in the U.S. but it was cheap and broken.
Dawud Walid, executive director of the Michigan chapter of the Council of American-Islamic Relations, urged caution.
“I hope that our government is not criminalizing people if they travel and have cooking items just because they are Muslim or come from the Muslim world,” Walid said. “I don’t think someone flying with an empty pressure cooker elevates to a level of terrorism unless the government has some other sound information.”
The Detroit News