Federal authorities detained twelve people — all male and of Middle Eastern descent — suspected to be affiliated with Tuesday’s terrorist attacks and later released eleven of the men, and cleared all them of any connection to the suicide missions.
LaGuardia, Kennedy, and Newark airports, which all serve the New York region, reopened Friday morning.
Newspapers like The Washington Post cited “unidentified sources” that three of the men were arrested by gunpoint, many were carrying knives, and one had a fake pilot’s license.
Later in the morning, Sen. Joe Biden (D-Del.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told CNN connections between the arrests and Tuesday’s hijackers were “totally, totally coincidental.”
Thursday afternoon, federal authorities shut down New York’s Kennedy and LaGuardia airports when they believed that two groups of terrorists were attempting to carry out another suicide hijacking or flee the New York area.
Police officials intercepted an American Airlines flight to San Jose, California, one of the first flights out of Kennedy Airport. After questioning about 15 people, the police detained ten of the men and aborted the flight. The airport was closed shortly afterwards.
The men, who had been travelling to a Boeing Corp. conference, were feared to be “impersonating crew,” Biden said. One man was wearing an American Airlines crew uniform and officers believed that another had a fake pilot’s license and flight training similar to that of Tuesday’s hijackers.
Another passenger, Mike Glass, 43, from Seattle, told The New York Times that police officers questioned and searched “[a]nyone with dark skin or who spoke with an accent … And then they went after any male with too much facial hair.”
FBI agents reported later that the pilot’s license was legitimate.
Sen. Biden explained that the passenger “coincidentally had his brother’s identification as well,” and his brother, a pilot, “happened to live in an apartment complex that was one in Boston where some of these people had actually been. Totally coincidental.”
Officials also evacuated a terminal in LaGuardia airport last night when a Saudi pilot tried to retrieve luggage he left in the airport Tuesday. The man was questioned and released, authorities said.
At Newark, New Jersey’s airport, two men, both mistaken to be on a terrorist watch list, were detained when they tried to board a Saudi aircraft.
In addition to these men, other people of Middle Eastern descent have reported being harassed and even threatened.
In Washington, D.C., the head of the Arab American Institute, Jim Zogby, reported that he and his family had received death threats on Tuesday.
Zogby told reporters: “We’re getting death threats. My nephew was taunted on his college campus. They’re whipping up hysteria that is certainly not making us comfortable. We have friends and family that work in the World Trade Center…It’s really quite hurtful.”