TAMPA – Two Saudi men were arrested Friday after they boarded a school bus and rode to Wharton High School in New Tampa.
Students on the bus became alarmed, as did the bus driver, who called ahead. Hillsborough County sheriff’s deputies met the bus at the school and detained the men. No one was injured and nothing out of line occurred on the bus, deputies said.
Mana Saleh Almanajam, 23, who lives in Apt. 302 in The Point apartments, and Shaker Mohsen Alsidran, 20 Monticello Gardens, Apt. 304-A, each were charged with trespassing on school property. Both remained in Orient Road Jail on Friday evening. Bail for each was set at $250.
“Both defendants gave several versions of the reason they took a school bus to a high school,” said Hillsborough County sheriff’s spokesman J.D. Callaway.
“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,” Callaway said.
“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,” Callaway said. “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.”
While on the bus, the men laughed and spoke in Arabic, Callaway said.
Ahmed Bedier, Tampa director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations said the men likely meant no harm and that because “they were from Saudi Arabia, that escalated the situation.”
He blamed the incident on cultural differences.
“They didn’t differentiate between a school bus and public transportation,” he said.
The bus picked up the students and the men at about 7 a.m. Friday at the corner of Fletcher Avenue and 42nd Street, deputies said.
The bus driver, a substitute, reached her supervisors by telephone. They relayed the information to Wharton High resource Deputy Mike Eastman, who met the bus when it arrived at school at about 7:30 a.m., and detained the men.
The sheriff’s Homeland Security Division, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement’s Regional Domestic Security Task Force, Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the FBI all were notified.
Almanajam and Alsidran at first told deputies they were from Morocco, but later admitted being from Saudi Arabia, deputies said. They said they were enrolled at the English Language Institute at the University of South Florida.
Both arrived in the United States about six months ago and have student visas that require them to be enrolled at the English Language Institute, Callaway said.
Authorities searched the apartments of the two men and found nothing of concern, he said.