Three men detained entering port


Published: Monday, January 8, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, January 7, 2007 at 10:40 p.m.

MIAMI — Three legal immigrants in a cargo truck were detained at the Port of Miami on Sunday when concerns raised in a routine inspection prompted federal and local officials to investigate, but police say the incident may have stemmed in part from a language barrier.

The port's cargo area was shut down all day Sunday as the Miami-Dade bomb squad X-rayed the truck and scanned it for radioactive materials, but nothing unusual was found.

The men in the truck — two Iraqis and one Lebanese national — were still detained by local police Sunday evening, but authorities said no federal charges were expected. Officials initially said the men, all permanent U.S. residents, had been caught trying to slip past a checkpoint at the port's entrance.

A port security officer became suspicious when the truck driver could not produce proper paperwork in a routine inspection to enter the port about 8 a.m., Miami-Dade police spokeswoman Nancy Goldberg said.

The driver also indicated he was alone in the truck, though security officers who searched the truck found two other men inside the cab. The two passengers, ages 28 and 29, were a friend and family member of the 20-year-old Iraqi driver, she said.

"Due to a miscommunication between the gate security personnel and the truck driver, we believe there was a discrepancy in the number of people in the vehicle attempting to enter the Port of Miami. This, and the fact that one of the individuals did not have any form of ID raised our level of concern," Goldberg said.

"Maybe it could have been a language barrier, we don't know at this point," she said.

The truck's contents — electrical automotive parts in a 40-foot container — matched the driver's cargo manifest, Goldberg said.

More than 20 pallets containing spools of wire and other automotive parts taken from the truck were still being scanned, but no radioactive material had been found, said Jose Ramirez, a U.S. Customs and Border Protection spokesman.

The three men remained in the custody of local police for questioning, Goldberg said. They had not been arrested or charged by Sunday evening.

The men do not appear on any terrorist watch list, said U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokeswoman Barbara Gonzalez.

The FBI and the Department of Homeland Security were called to the scene along with federal and local law enforcement "in an abundance of caution," Goldberg said.

The Port of Miami is among the nation's busiest. More than 3.6 million cruise ship passengers traveled through the port in 2005, and its seaport services more than 30 ocean carriers, which delivered more than 1 million cargo containers there in 2005.

Passengers in the normally busy cruise ship area of the port were unaware of the official bustle in the cargo area. When told of the situation, some said they thought it probably made boarding lines longer. But Officials said Sunday's long lines were normal.

"I feel freaked out," said Connecticut resident Allie Tetreault, 23, who was waiting to board a Caribbean cruise when she heard about the security alert. "That's not good to hear right before you are going on vacation."

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