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Dulles Ranks 7th in ‘Security Catches’

What do smoke grenades, leeches, counterfeit guitars and dead birds have in common?  They are all contraband items seized by officials at Dulles International Airport over the last 13 months.

Recently, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) released its annual list of Top 10 "unusual good catches" detected at airports in 2020, and Dulles ranked 7th on the list of best security catches. 

What was it that led to Dulles’ high ranking?   

TSA officers found a live military smoke grenade in a traveler’s checked bag in September 2020. 

"As the checked bag was screened, it triggered an alarm and was pulled aside for additional screening, resulting in the need for a TSA officer to inspect the contents of the bag to ensure that there was no threat item inside," according to a TSA news release.

A TSA officer found a military smoke canister labeled “Smoke/Yellow” with a triggering device at the top similar to those on hand grenades.  TSA notified the Metropolitan Washington Airport Authority Police who found the passenger.  The man told officials that he had purchased the canister at a military surplus store several years ago, and he believed it was inert. 

A TSA explosives specialist along with the Virginia State Police bomb squad examined the item and the bomb squad removed it from the airport.  The item was determined to be a live smoke grenade, authorities said.

Dulles airport is no stranger to interesting catches coming through TSA screening.

Back in January 2020, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) specialists seized a package of tiny dead birds in a passenger's bag.  According to officials, the traveler arrived on a flight from Beijing, China; the traveler's final destination was a home in Prince George's County, MD.

Last weekend, customs officials seized almost $66,000 from two travelers for violating federal currency reporting laws.  CBP officers inspected a U.S. woman after she arrived from a flight from Dubai, United Arab Emirates.  The woman told the officers she was carrying $10,070 and had completed a Treasury FINCEN-105 form for that amount.  After searching the woman's carry-on bag and purse, they discovered $39,536.  They seized the money and released the woman.

Days later, CBP officers inspected a man who was a U.S. lawful permanent resident at the departure gate for a flight heading to Casablanca, Morocco.  Although the man said he had $10,000 and had reported that amount on a FINCEN-105 form, officers found $26,000 in the man's carry-on bag and jacket.  After seizing the money, the officers gave the man $1,300 for humanitarian relief and released him.

Last December, CBP officers seized 36 counterfeit guitars, which, if they were authentic, could have fetched more than $158,000.  The guitars, which were bound for addresses in 21 states and Australia, arrived Dec. 15, in 36 separate shipments from China.  At the time, customs officials suspected the guitars were counterfeit and seized them in order to continue their investigation.

They included 27 Gibson, six Fender, two CF Marti, and one Paul Reed Smith guitars. The most expensive was a Gibson Ace Frehley guitar that was valued at $9,000.  

Over the last five weeks, officials seized illegal wildlife products, including crocodile skin bags, ivory, and leeches, from three travelers.  CBP and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service took possession of the items that were in violation of international laws protecting endangered species.

While searching the baggage of a traveler arriving from Ghana on Jan. 15, CBP officers found two crocodile skin handbags and belt. Two weeks later, CBP agriculture specialists found an ivory necklace in the baggage of another traveler from Ghana.

On Feb. 12, a detector dog alerted to quince fruit in the baggage of a U.S. citizen traveler arriving from Istanbul, Turkey.  The inspector found numerous leeches, the importation of which is a violation of the Endangered Species Act.

Last week, CBP officers arrested an Omaha, Nebraska, man who was wanted in the sexual assault of a child.  Officers arrested Kokou Domkpo, 42, a Togolese national and U.S. lawful permanent resident as he was about to board a flight to Ethiopia.  Dompko was wanted on a warrant from the Douglas County Sheriff's Office that charged him with three counts of first-degree sexual assault of a child, according to the CBP.

Earlier this week, the 31-year-old wife of the Mexican drug kingpin known as El Chapo became the latest person to run afoul of federal authorities at Dulles airport.

Emma Coronel Aispuro is accused of helping her husband run his multibillion-dollar cartel and plot his escape from a Mexican prison in 2015.

Her arrest is the latest twist in the bloody, multinational saga involving El Chapo, the longtime head of the Sinaloa drug cartel, whose two dramatic prison escapes in Mexico fed into a legend that he and his family were all but untouchable.  He was extradited to the United States in 2017 and is serving life in prison.

Aispuro has been charged with conspiracy to distribute cocaine, methamphetamine, heroin and marijuana in the U.S.

These arrests and seizures illustrate how TSA, USFWS and “Customs and Border Protection's unique border security missions support our law enforcement partners by intercepting dangerous wanted fugitives” and preventing the illegal importation of dangerous, hazardous or protected items into our nation, according to Keith Fleming, acting director of CBP field operations in Baltimore.