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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Sweden Nabs Potential Hijacker

STOCKHOLM, Sweden -- A Swedish man of Tunisian origin, arrested on suspicion he was about to hijack a plane, was planning to crash the aircraft into a U.S. embassy in Europe, Swedish intelligence and police sources said Saturday.

A top police official said the man had taken flying lessons in the United States -- adding to fears of copycat attacks as the first anniversary of the Sept. 11 suicide attacks on New York and Washington approaches.

However, intelligence sources and police were at odds over the incident, which began when a gun was found in the man's hand luggage as he boarded a flight to Britain from Vasteras, west of Stockholm. One police official flatly denied the embassy plan.

A highly placed intelligence source said police were hunting four more men, including an explosives expert, who were believed to have worked on the plan with the suspect, identified by Swedish media as Kerim Chatty, aged 29.

"We know for sure that the plan was to crash the plane into a U.S. embassy in Europe," the source said.

The report was certain to unnerve Western governments who have already ordered extra security precautions ahead of Sept. 11, the anniversary of attacks by hijackers who killed more than 3,000 people by crashing four seized airliners into buildings in New York, Washington and a field in Pennsylvania.

The hijackers that U.S. officials suspected of flying the planes had learned to fly on courses in the United States.

But a source in Sweden's Sapo security police said Sapo had been instructed by the government to play the incident down at a politically sensitive time, two weeks before an election.

Margareta Linderoth, a Sapo official responsible for several departments, including the one handling international terrorism, denied that police believed the arrested man was planning to attack an embassy or that four more men were being sought.

"I have never heard that the man has planned to do what you say he has," she said.

"We are not looking for four other men."

Linderoth told Swedish radio that the suspect had taken flying lessons in the United States but had not completed his training. It was possible he had qualified since then, she said.

James Lamb, assistant chief flight instructor with the North American Institute of Aviation in Conway, South Carolina, said an FBI agent was at the school Saturday seeking information on Chatty, a former student who attended the school from September 1996 to April 1997.

Lamb said Chatty had been "terminated" for poor performance and lack of progress.

"He was a very substandard student," Lamb said, noting most students acquire a private pilot's license within seven to nine months of training.

Another Sapo source said the security police were working on the theory that the group was planning to crash at least one plane, and possibly more, into a U.S. embassy. They did not know which embassy had been targeted.

The man's lawyer, Nils Uggla, said his client denied that he had anything to do with terrorism or any attacks.

Asked why his client had a gun, Uggla said: "He has given an explanation to me and to the police and I am forbidden to give you the explanation."

Swedish police do not believe the arrested man or anyone he was working with were part of Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida group, blamed by Washington for the Sept. 11 attacks. Instead, they believe a copycat attack was being planned.

"There is nothing to suggest that this is al-Qaida," one Sapo security police source said.

"It's more likely that they are some kind of 'wannabes.'"

The suspect was moved to a high-security prison and was expected to be charged Monday with hijacking or illegal possession of a firearm. The tabloid newspaper Expressen said it was a 6.5 mm pistol, loaded with three or four rounds.

Police said they were investigating the man's background for any possible links to militant groups.

The military intelligence and Sapo sources said two officers from the United States' Central Intelligence Agency and two from Britain's MI5 counterespionage service had flown to Sweden from Britain, though this was also officially denied by Linderoth.