Florida School Bus Scare: More Questions than Answers

*UPDATE - Hillsborough Circuit Judge Mark Wolfe released Saudi Arabian nationals Mana Saleh Almanajam, 23, and Shaker Mohsen Alsidran, 20, from their jail cells without a requirement for them to post bond on Tuesday 23 May, 2006. Both men, who are in the U.S. on a scholarship paid for by the government of Saudi Arabia, are free to go about their business pending initiation of legal proceedings against them.

* Hillsborough County Sheriff’s spokesman J.D. Callaway described the two as “cagey and evasive” as they answered questions.

* Northeast Intelligence Network investigators interviewed a neighbor of one of the two men… “I don’t believe it was an accident, not at all….”

tampa21Mana Saleh Almanajam (left) & Shaker Mohsen Alsidran (right)

20 May 2006: Two men from Saudi Arabia were arrested in Tampa, Florida on Friday and are being held without bond after they boarded a school bus taking students to Wharton High School. Mana Saleh Almanajam, 23, and Shaker Mohsen Alsidran, 20, both of Tampa, were charged with trespassing on school grounds as unlawful riders on a school bus after they boarded the school bus at a regular stop at 42nd Street and Fletcher Avenue in Tampa at approximately 7:00 AM. According to law enforcement officials, one of the men was dressed in a black trench coat despite hot temperatures and was sweating, and both were evasive when confronted by school and law enforcement officials.According to J.D. Callaway of the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office, the men were “speaking in Arabic, they were making funny sounds, it was very unusual. It was alarming for the students on the bus,” describing their behavior once they boarded the school bus.

According to sheriff’s deputies, the bus driver and the students became concerned as they boarded the bus and engaged in unusual behavior and their odd attire. The bus driver notified her supervisors who, in turn, called authorities. A sheriff’s deputy met the bus at Wharton High school at approximately 7:30 PM and charged the men with trespassing.

They Lied and “Acted Cagey”

Hillsborough County Sheriff’s spokesman J.D. Callaway described the two as “cagey and evasive” as they answered questions. They said they were from Morocco, Callaway said, and then Saudi Arabia. The men told authorities they said they were from Morocco because they worried Americans fear Saudi Arabian men.

“They told authorities they are enrolled at the English Language Institute at the University of South Florida. The defendants gave several versions of the reason they took a school bus to a high school, among those being they wanted to enroll in easier English language classes.”

When asked why they boarded the bus, Callaway said Almanajam and Alsidran gave different answers. They wanted to enroll in an easier English language program than the one they have attended at USF; they wanted to see a high school; and they thought it would be fun.

Investigation conducted by investigators from the Northeast Intelligence Network verified that the two men have been living in the United States for at least six months and are enrolled at the English Language Institute. Additional investigation was conducted by Northeast Intelligence Network investigators and included a telephone interview with a neighbor of ALMANAJAM, the older of the two men. The neighbor, who asked that his name not be used, stated that he could not understand how such a mix-up could have occurred, adding that ALMANAJAM seemed to have a good understanding of the (English) language and “most certainly knows the difference between a school bus and a regular bus.” “I don’t believe it was an accident, not at all. But I don’t know why he would have done this (boarded the bus),” he added.

Meanwhile, Ahmed Bedier, director of the Central Florida Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), said that it sounded like a harmless cultural mix-up. “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.”

Report by Douglas J. Hagmann & Sean Osborne