All charges have been dropped against three African refugees who were accused of putting a fake bomb through security at Phoenix's airport in a possible "dry run" for a terror attack.
U.S. District Judge Neil Wake dropped the charges against Luwiza Daman, Asa Shani and Shullu Gorado on March 13 at the request of a federal prosecutor who cited new information in the case, according to court documents obtained Thursday.
"Based on the new information, further prosecution is not in the interest of justice," wrote Assistant U.S. Attorney Joseph Koehler in his motion to dismiss the charges.
Koehler did not explain what the new information was and a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office refused to elaborate, saying it was not part of the public record.
Daman's attorney, Philip Seplow, told the AP that he thinks the government simply realized the refugees were not guilty and the whole thing was a big misunderstanding, partially because of a significant language barrier.
Daman, Shani and Gorado are from war-torn Eritrea on the Red Sea in the Horn of Africa and spent years in refugee camps before getting asylum in the U.S. Gorado speaks some English, while Daman and Shani speak only their native language, a dialect known as Kunama.
"I had a pretty sympathetic and for most part factually innocent client," Seplow said. "The whole country changed after 9/11 _ why do you think we have to go through all types of scanners when we go through courthouses? The people in power are scared and justifiably so, because you don't want to see a plane get blown up, and that's why they do it."
Daman, Shani and Gorado had been charged with a felony count of causing what appeared to be an explosive device to go through a security checkpoint at Phoenix's Sky Harbor International Airport on Aug. 5.
Authorities had said that Daman had a suspicious item in her bag as she went through airport security intending to board a plane to Des Moines, Iowa. They said Shani had taped the items together and gave the package to Gorado, who gave it to Daman to take on the flight.
The package turned out to be a container of a paste-like food similar to tahini, with a cell phone taped to it. But authorities say it looked just like an improvised explosive device when it went through an X-ray machine, and pointed out that cell phones can be used to trigger bombs.
Investigators said the item suggested that the group could have been testing airport security.
Shortly after their arrests, a federal magistrate said in court that the "fascinating and challenging" case presented the court with two possibilities.
"One, a significant injustice to individuals lawfully present in the United States as refugees because they allegedly misunderstood English," he said. "Or a knowing and intentional attempt by someone ... to attempt a dry run."
Wake had ordered the three refugees to be released from custody in October as their court case proceeded, ruling that they did not pose a threat to the public.
Shani and Gorado live in Phoenix. It's unclear whether Daman is still in Phoenix or returned to Des Moines.
Seplow said when he informed her that she had been cleared of the charges, Daman wept with relief. "She lost a lot of freedom for a while," Seplow said.
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