Three African refugees have pleaded not guilty to charges of causing what appeared to be an explosive device to go through a security checkpoint at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport.
Luwiza Daman, Shullu Gorado, and Asa Shani pleaded not guilty in federal court in downtown Phoenix on Friday to the felony charge.
They all come from Eritrea. Eritrea is a country in the Horn of Africa, bordered by Sudan in the west, Ethiopia in the south, and Djibouti in the southeast.
Reports say Daman carried the suspicious item in her bag on Aug. 5 and went through security at the airport intending to board a plane to Des Moines, Iowa together with her acquaintances.
According to an FBI investigator and Phoenix police, the item was like paste-like food inside a container, with a cell phone taped to it. The item had the appearance of a bomb and could have been put through airport security to test its vulnerabilities.
But defense attorneys said at a court hearing Friday that the incident was a cultural misunderstanding.
Several inconsistencies were discovered in their stories, which put their credibility into great doubt, but their attorney pleaded for them.
He said Gorado had been living in an Ethiopian refugee camp from 2000 to 2007, came to the U.S. in August 2007 and got his permanent legal residency in March 2009. “There is no motive for a man in a refugee camp,” he said.
U.S. Magistrate Michelle Burns set an Oct. 4 trial for them. If convicted, they would face up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. He ordered Gorado to remain in custody, and will consider whether to continue detaining Shani and Daman at a hearing on Thursday.
After the hearing, Daman’s attorney, Philip Seplow, said his client has malaria, is a mother of three and only recently arrived in the U.S. from a refugee camp.