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Terror scare men: 'We want our dignity back'

From left:  Ayman Gheith, Kambiz Butt and Omer Choudhary appear on CNN's
From left: Ayman Gheith, Kambiz Butt and Omer Choudhary appear on CNN's "Larry King Live" Monday night.  


MIAMI, Florida (CNN) -- Three medical students -- the focus of a terrorism scare on a Florida interstate last Friday -- said public prejudice against Muslim Americans is more responsible for igniting a fear that they could be terrorists than anything they might have said.

"We're here to make it clear to the public that we want our dignity back," Ayman Gheith, 27, said Monday on CNN's "Larry King Live."

"We value human life, and this is why we chose to become doctors -- to protect human life," he said. "Not only did I mourn 9/11, I have friends that are directly affected by 9/11. I had friends who had family members who were in the building."

Gheith; Kambiz Butt, 25; and Omer Choudhary, 23, were detained for hours Friday by Florida officials on suspicion of carrying explosives. No explosives were ever found.

They were en route to Miami from Kansas City, Missouri, when they were pulled over in Collier County on the east-west stretch of I-75, known as Alligator Alley.

CNN NewsPass VIDEO
Three Muslim medical students detained in south Florida tell CNN's Mark Potter they made no jokes or references to terror plans (September 13)

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Eunice Stone says she heard three men discussing apparent terror plans at a Shoney's on Calhoun, Georgia. CNN's Wolf Blitzer reports (September 13)

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Map: ' Alligator Alley '
 

Florida authorities had been told to be on the lookout for the men -- traveling in two cars -- after a woman said she heard them make what she thought were suspect comments about September 11 and September 13 at a restaurant in north Georgia.

Gheith said he and his friends never mentioned September 11 while dining, not even jokingly, but that is not what restaurant patron Eunice Stone remembers.

Stone said in a WFLZ Radio interview that she was dining next to the students in a Shoney's restaurant when she heard parts of their conversation, which included:

"One guy said, 'Do you think that will bring it down?' I looked at my son and we were just looking at each other and he said, 'If that doesn't bring it down, I have contacts. I'll get enough to bring it down.' And to me, that meant, they were planning to blow up something."

The students told CNN they were talking about bringing down a car for school transportation -- nothing more.

"I was the only one of us three that didn't buy a car before the semester started in Miami," said Choudhary, a third-year medical student. "So my plan was that once we get to Miami I would buy a car before classes started, and I said that in case I don't find one in Miami, I could have one shipped down from Kansas City."

The students said they did not remember Stone until they saw her on television after their experience on Alligator Alley was over.

Michael Prieto, an attorney speaking for Stone, who was treated and released for stress at Emory Hospital in Atlanta on Monday, said the students were not taking responsibility for their actions.

"I don't have any reason to believe they are in fact terrorists, however, I do believe they said exactly what Ms. Stone said that they did, and at this point they're just trying to cover their own actions," he said.

Prieto said Stone has a multi-cultural family that includes Middle Eastern relatives and has no reason to fabricate a story based on the students' appearance. It's more likely that the students were toying with people in the restaurant who may have given them dirty looks, he said.

According to Prieto, Stone could hear distinct aspects of their conversation.

"There were certain things she wasn't sure of, but the laughing about September 11 and the mention of September 13, there was no mistake whatsoever," he said.

Last week Stone said she heard the bearded man, Gheith, say that if Americans "were sad on 9/11, wait until 9/13."

"You have to consider the fact that we, as a country on that day, were in a Code Orange alert," Prieto said. "Homeland security is something after 9/11 that everyone should be taking very seriously. She did take that seriously. Whether these medical students were stating this to have fun with the crowd or because people were staring at them, or for whatever reason, she did take it serious, and she did the appropriate thing."

Gheith admitted that he and his friends felt uncomfortable stares in the restaurant. "As soon as we walked in this restaurant, we were suspects obviously by this woman," he said.

"When we walk in anywhere, things stop -- People turn and look," added Choudhary. "We've come to live with it. We've come to accept it because it's so common. It happens everywhere."

"We'll do little things like raise our voice in a conversation just to show people we can speak English because most people off the bat they assume that you can't speak English," said Gheith.

The students -- all U.S. citizens -- said Stone also thought she heard them speak Arabic, but they said only one of them understands and speaks it.

They said they must now contemplate their futures. The Miami hospital where they were to have interned has canceled their internships. They will return to their school, Ross Medical School, on the Caribbean island of Dominica to discuss future internships, Gheith said.



 
 
 
 


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