Sri Lankans who triggered bomb scare wanted asylum, officials say
Fri July 21, 2006 16:59 EDT .
Associated Press Writer
ROCHESTER, N.Y. (AP) _ Two Sri Lankans who triggered a bomb scare aboard an Air Canada plane while being questioned at an airport about the validity of their passports were trying to flee their volatile homeland and did not pose a threat to the public, authorities said Friday.
Nayeem Sukkoor, 34, and Mercy Antony, 39, flew into Los Angeles last week, took a bus to Rochester and were attempting to board a commuter flight to Toronto on Wednesday when officials became suspicious about their travel documents. While being questioned, Sukkoor apparently made a confusing remark about explosives in his luggage.
The plane, which had taken off with 11 passengers, was diverted back to Rochester's airport as a precaution when it was learned that one of their bags was aboard, officials said. No explosives were found.
In federal court Friday, the pair were denied bail after Magistrate Judge Jonathan Feldman ruled that they posed ``a flight risk.'' The government, he added, had not asked to keep them in custody on grounds that they represented a ``risk to the community.''
``This is just a false passport case at this point,'' prosecutor Richard Resnik told reporters. ``I moved (to deny bail) just on risk of flight.''
Sukkoor and Antony were charged with felony counts of possessing false or altered Canadian passports, false visas and attempting to use those documents to defraud the United States. If convicted, their sentences could range from probation to six years in prison, Resnik said.
Sukkoor told the judge his wife was living in a refugee camp in Sri Lanka with their three children.
``I understand you are trying to escape from your country for asylum purposes and we will not be contacting (Sri Lankan) consular representatives if you don't want us to,'' Feldman said.
In court papers, a federal agent said Sukkoor and Antony told of leaving Sri Lanka six months ago in an attempt to travel to Canada to seek political asylum. Their journey took them to Malaysia, South Africa, Brazil, Chile, Easter Island and Tahiti, where they took a flight to Los Angeles.
The pair, members of Sri Lanka's ethnic Tamil minority, were likely to face additional immigration charges, the judge noted. It wasn't immediately clear whether they would be eligible to apply for asylum in the United States.
A recent surge of violence in Sri Lanka's northeast corner is threatening to re-ignite a civil war in the island nation after a four-year truce. Rebel forces want to create a separate homeland for Tamils, saying they face discrimination from the majority Sinhalese.
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Published: Fri Jul 21 18:05:57 EDT 2006