Sunday 5th June, 2005 Posted: 18:46 CIT (23:46 GMT)
SAN NICOLAS, Aruba (AP) – Authorities detained two men and seized three vehicles on Sunday in connection with the disappearance of an Alabama teenager, who went missing nearly a week ago in Aruba while on a high school senior trip, the attorney general said.
The men – ages 28 and 30 – are “suspects” in the disappearance of 18–year–old Natalee Holloway, but they have not been charged,
Attorney General Caren Janssen said. The men were not among the three described Saturday by police as “persons of interest.”
Ms Janssen said she expected the suspects could be charged later on Sunday.
Suspects on the Dutch Caribbean island can be detained without charge for 48 hours, and then a judge must determine whether the detention is legal.
Police and the FBI, which is helping with the investigation, were conducting forensic tests on the three cars, Ms Janssen told The Associated Press. She declined to provide further details.
Twenty police officers and FBI agents took the men into custody at different houses in the southeastern town of San Nicolas, Ms Janssen said.
Police knocked on the door of one house, put the suspect on the floor and handcuffed him, according to an AP photographer at the scene.
Officers later detained a second man. They were both led to an unmarked police car and taken away. Authorities were also seen leaving the houses with clothing and a small safe, but officials declined to confirm it.
Neighbours described the suspects as security guards who worked at a hotel closed for renovation near where the blonde honours student was staying at the Holiday Inn. Police and FBI agents searched the renovated hotel on Saturday.
Deputy police chief Gerold Dompig confirmed the suspects were security guards.
Ms Holloway was on a five–day excursion with 124 seniors and several chaperones from Mountain Brook High School, near Birmingham, Alabama. She spent the last night of her holiday eating and dancing at Carlos 'N Charlie's bar and restaurant.
She didn't show up for her return flight on May 30. Police found her passport in her hotel room, and her mother said her bags had been packed and she would not have run away.
“We are continuing the search for the missing girl,” Ms Jannsen said.
Ms Holloway's uncle, Paul Reynolds, who came from Houston to help the search, said he hoped the development would help investigators. “Of course I'm excited about any developments,” he said.
An official close to the investigation, speaking on condition of anonymity, has said the three other men, who are not suspects, legal Aruban residents between the ages of 18 and 25, told police they had taken Ms Holloway to Arashi beach on the northwestern tip of Aruba before dropping her off at her hotel.
But Mr. Reynolds said he was told security cameras did not show Ms Holloway returning to the hotel that night. Police declined to comment on that.
Police, who have said they have found no evidence Ms Holloway was abducted, have been searching Arashi for days. Thirteen FBI agents are helping local authorities.
Authorities have checked out several reported sightings of the 5–foot, 4–inch teenager, all to no avail.
Hundreds of Arubans and American residents have joined the hunt, upset about their tranquil island's marred image. About 500,000 Americans visited Aruba last year, lured by turquoise beaches and people brimming with smiles and helpful tips for foreigners.
The Aruban government and local tourism organizations have offered a US$20,000 reward for information leading to Ms Holloway's rescue. Her family and benefactors in Alabama have offered another US$30,000.
The coast guard in Aruba and nearby Dutch territories were searching surrounding waters. But the search has not been extended to Venezuela, whose coastline is less than 20 miles from Aruba, or the neighbouring Dutch island of Curacao.
Ms Holloway, a straight–A student who won awards for volunteering, had earned a full scholarship at the University of Alabama and planned to study a premedical course.
Her disappearance has shaken a sense of safety many Arubans long took for granted in an island of 72,000 people that saw one murder and six rapes last year. This year, there have been two murders and three rapes, police said.