'Bring it down' was about a car, students' lawyer says
MIAMI, Florida (CNN) -- A car, not a building, was what three Muslim medical students were talking about "bringing down" in a restaurant conversation that triggered the daylong closure of a Florida highway, lawyers for the students said Sunday.
"Our conversation at Shoney's had nothing to do with terrorism or 9/11 or 9/13," said Kambiz Butt, one of the three students. "We were basically sitting down having a regular conversation about our trip, the experience we were about to face in Miami, we were talking about school and friends."
Police in Florida detained Butt, 25; Ayman Gheith, 27; and Omer Choudhary, 23, for 17 hours Friday after a woman at the Shoney's in north Georgia told authorities she suspected they were plotting a terrorist attack in the Miami area. Investigators closed off a 20-mile stretch of Interstate 75 -- the major east-west connector in south Florida -- while they searched the students' cars.
Florida authorities were told to be on the lookout for the students, who were traveling in two cars, after the woman told police she heard one of the men asking, "Do you think we have enough to bring it down?" Another one of the men replied, "If we don't have enough to bring it down, I have contacts and we can get enough to bring it down."
The woman, Eunice Stone, said she was certain that meant the men wanted "to blow up something."
Brett Newkirk, a lawyer representing the students, said there was a legitimate explanation for what Stone overheard.
"Omer had a car that he wanted to have shipped down so that he could use it in Florida, to have it brought down -- 'Do you think we could bring the car down?' -- and he has some contacts that might get the car down," he said.
"You're going to see that these things, which can be construed with the pressure and the fear that would be going on right after the anniversary of September 11, were things which were quite innocent," he said.
Their lawyers said the men had no complaint with how law enforcement officers treated them, but they were retained to represent them in case Georgia officials bring charges against the students in connection with the incident.
Butt said they have "no animosity, no anger, toward Ms. Stone."
"She might have heard a few key words that she misconstrued, and she was trying to be a patriot, I guess, for America, which is understandable," he said.
The students were released without being charged Friday evening after investigators found they had no explosives or connections to terrorist organizations.
All three are U.S. citizens who attend Ross University Medical School on the Caribbean island of Dominica. They were en route to Miami to begin a nine-week internship at Larkin Community Hospital when they were stopped.
Since Friday, the hospital has asked the students to transfer somewhere else after receiving numerous threats. Hospital president Dr. Jack Michel said Saturday his hospital has received an overwhelming number of e-mails and phone calls that he described as "threatening, ethnic, racial e-mails directed at Muslim-Americans."
"We're medical students. We are not terrorists. Our primary concern in life is to become doctors. We want to help people. We don't want to hurt," Butt said. However, he said, their medical careers were "in limbo" after the incident.
"We don't know what's going to happen. We don't know if Georgia is planning to press any charges against us," he said. "We don't know if we're going to be able to go come back to the university. We have no idea where our lives are going to head right now, all because of a statement made by some woman."
The students took no questions during a news conference in suburban Miami held by the Council on American-Islamic Relations on Sunday, but Newkirk said the "full story" would come out within a few days.
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