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Afghan refugee stopped on U.S.-bound flight with explosive materials, but terrorism not suspected

Luggage included blasting caps and igniter but U.S. officials believe materials were for work related to U.S. government contracting. Passenger red flagged and kept from U.S.

Updated: September 7, 2021 - 3:20pm

A male Afghan refugee who was departing the Ramstein Air Base in Germany for the United States was detained Monday after it was discovered during pre-flight screening that he had blasting caps and other explosives materials in his carry-on luggage, three U.S. officials told Just the News.

The man, who was born in the early 1990s and an Afghan citizen, was working as contractor for the U.S. government when he was evacuated, and officials believe the materials were related to his work and not terrorism, officials said.

Nonetheless, the man was placed on a restricted list and prevented from traveling to the U.S., according to a Transportation Security Administration summary of the incident obtained by Just the News. "Subject has been moved to a 'red list' and will not travel to the U.S." and U.S. air marshals were advised, the TSA memo stated.

Screeners, including a member of the German military assisting the U.S. at the Air Force base in Germany, found five blasting caps, one igniter switch, a "def cord" and one shock tube when the refugee was apprehended late Monday morning German time, according to officials and the TSA summary report.

"TSA advised that during the physical search (full open) of the individuals baggage a German military member identified a suspicious item in the baggage," the TSA memo stated. The explosives were taken outside the hangar, an ordinance team was summoned and the man removed from the entry line from the flight, the memo stated.

Though the man wasn't suspected of ill intent, the incident is a poignant reminder that the rushed evacuation and processing of refugees from a country with significant terrorist sympathies poses risks, although officials stressed the pre-flight screening did in fact work as it should.

It was not immediately clear how the man got the explosive materials inside Ramstein, but officials said they were working on the hypothesis that he had brought them with him from Afghanistan during his evacuation.

Officials said the Pentagon was taking the lead investigating since the episode occurred on a U.S. military installation. The FBI, Customs Border Protection, TSA and Homeland Security were assisting the investigation.

The incident occurred the same day Secretary of State Antony Blinken acknowledged many Afghan refugees were not fully vetted before they were evacuated from their country to U.S. bases elsewhere.

"In our effort to get as many people out as fast as we can while we had the airport functioning, we focused on doing just that," Blinken said, but officials are now "doing accountings on the back end as people arrive in the United States."