Three African refugees who conspired to take a fake bomb through a checkpoint at Sky Harbor airport last week were likely trying to probe weaknesses in airport security, the FBI says in a federal complaint.
Luwiza Laku Daman, 51, of Ethiopia, took the device in her carry-on bag through security on August 5 while attempting to board a Delta flight to Minneapolis.
The simulated explosive device was used, the FBI believes, "because the successful transit of such an object through a TSA security checkpoint would reveal potential weaknesses in the security screening methods employed in United States airports, and the level of response that occurs when a suspected explosive device is encountered..."
On July 29, the same day that Daman arrived in Phoenix, a similar incident with a similar fake bomb occurred at the airport in Memphis, Tennessee, the complaint says.
The document (scroll down to see it) doesn't state whether authorities have connected that incident with the three African refugees arrested in Phoenix.
The complaint charges the three Africans with scheming to bring a fake bomb into the security area of an airport, a Title 18 violation.
The complaint describes the simulated bomb in detail and follows the convoluted story told by Daman about how she came into possession of the device.
While detained at the airport, Daman told authorities she'd been in Phoenix for a wedding, having recently moved from Ethiopia to Des Moines, Iowa.
She met a guy she only knew as "Jaffa," at the wedding, and he stopped by Daman's sister's house while Daman was there on August 4. He gave Damon's sister, Grasela, a "box of candy with a cellular phone taped to it," Damon told the FBI.
Grasela then asked her to take the package back to Des Moines and give it to a guy named "Michel," according to Daman.
Though Daman had initially claimed that her phone number and e-mail address was on the Expedia reservation for the flight, the FBI soon figured out that the contact info matched that of "Jaffa," whose real name was Shullu Gorado.
Gorado's contact info was also found on Daman's phone -- she claimed she had no idea how it got there, and that someone else must have put it there.
Police soon caught up with Gorado at a Phoenix apartment -- who told them he'd gotten the package from another man, Asa Shani.
Shani, when confronted by police, said he found the cell phone at a bus stop at 19th Avenue and McDowell. It was broken, so he used tape to hold it together, he claimed.
Judging from the complaint, authorities have enough leads to keep them busy for a while. As soon as possible, and maybe sooner, the FBI needs to locate the head honchos behind this scheme and stop them before they learn too much about our airport security.
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All three remain in Maricopa County Jail on a $75,000 bond.