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Saturday, 21 September, 2002, 04:11 GMT 05:11 UK
Florida Muslim arrests were mistake
Omer Choudhary (l) and Ayman Gheith (r) after their release
The men say their aim is to help people, not hurt them

Authorities in Florida have admitted they got it wrong when they detained three Muslim men for 17 hours for being suspected terrorists.

Students' cars
Sniffer dogs and a robot were used to search the cars for explosives
Police originally said the three medical students, who are US citizens of Arab descent, had been overheard in a diner plotting an attack, before driving off at high speed through toll booths without paying.

Now the authorities have admitted their conversation was not about terrorism and that CCTV footage has shown they did in fact stop and pay the toll.

The whole incident has angered Muslims, who have not ruled out taking legal action on the men's behalf.

Police swooped

The video footage just released shows the three men driving normally and stopping to pay the toll just before being surrounded by police and arrested.

Eunice Stone (left) leaves her home
Eunice Stone (left) overheard a "plot"

Originally officers in Florida had said the men had been overheard in a diner by a customer plotting a terrorist attack on Miami.

Police say their car was then spotted driving at high speed through toll booths without paying.

But the video now disproves that.

The arrest of the men last week gripped America.

They were held for 17 hours while 600 policemen were drafted into the area. National television even carried live pictures of their car being searched by sniffer dogs and robots.

A bag was taken out and blown up but nothing was found and the men were released without charge.

Muslim anger

For Muslim groups, the police's admission has come too late.

Speaking at a news conference, Altaf Ali, chairman of the Council on American Islamic Relations, says the whole incident was a complete over-reaction based on stereotypes. He has not ruled out legal action.

The students - who have since been barred from the medical conference they were driving to because of the publicity - have said in a statement that as trainee doctors their aim in life is to help people, not hurt them.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Fergal Parkinson
"The men were released without charge"
See also:

14 Sep 02 | Americas
11 Sep 02 | Americas
08 Sep 02 | Middle East
20 Apr 02 | Americas
12 Feb 02 | Americas
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