Saudi men arrested after jumping aboard public school bus in Tampa, Fla. (courtesy WTSP-TV)
TAMPA, Fla. – Local and federal authorities are trying to determine the real reason two Saudi men jumped aboard a local school bus on Friday, alarming students as well as education officials.
Mana Saleh Almanajam, 23, and Shaker Mohsen Alsidran, 20, were immediately taken into custody when the bus arrived at Wharton High School, and they are being charged with trespassing on school property, and are held without bail.
“Both defendants gave several versions of the reason they took a school bus to a high school,” Hillsborough County sheriff’s spokesman J.D. Callaway told the Tampa Tribune, noting the pair seemed cagey and evasive as they answered questions. “They said they wanted to go to Wharton to look around, and then they said they wanted to go there to have some fun, and then they said they wanted to enroll in the English classes there.”
“We’re not sure if this was a situation of them just being new to this country, or if they were confused or what it was,” he continued. “We were unsure as to exactly what the final reason was, but it did cause great concern for the students on the bus and for us. One of the guys was wearing shorts with a black trench coat.”
During their time on the bus, the men were reportedly speaking in Arabic, making funny sounds and laughing.
The FBI was notified, along with the sheriff’s Homeland Security Division, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement’s Regional Domestic Security Task Force, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
“It sounds like a dry run for a Beslan type of terror attack in the U.S.,” said one concerned WND reader. “I don’t believe these guys.”
Another reader, Dan Lakemper, said: “Someone should be asking why these guys went anywhere on the bus. Why was it not stopped and evacuated immediately, and police called then and there? Was the driver an imbecile? And a trench coat in Florida in mid-May? If my kid was on that bus I would hope he would have the sense to pull the emergency door as those bastards were getting on. Where is the emergency training in that district? Non-existent I’d say – which means the terrorists found out what they wanted to, and how.”
Ahmed Bedier, director of the Central Florida Council on American-Islamic Relations, told the St. Petersburg Times the incident sounded like a cultural mixup.
“Obviously, if they had recently arrived here and they are from Saudi Arabia, they may not be familiar with American rules and laws,” Bedier said. “They might have thought it was some kind of public transportation.”
Sgt. Mike Klingebiel, a spokesman for the University of South Florida Police Department, said the two have been enrolled at the English Language Institute at USF since January, having come to America six months ago on student visas. He told the Times the men are taking the language classes to help them qualify to enroll as full-time college students.