MIAMI – Three Middle Eastern men in a cargo truck sparked a brief terrorism scare at the Port of Miami until officials determined their freight was harmless and the incident had stemmed from a simple misunderstanding.
Officials initially said the men, permanent U.S. residents from Iraq and Lebanon, had been caught trying to slip past a checkpoint at the port's entrance.
The port's cargo area was shut down Sunday and a bomb squad moved the truck away from public areas to scan it for radioactive materials. Nothing unusual was found, officials said.
The men were taken into local police custody, and authorities said no federal charges were expected.
The truck's contents — electrical automotive parts in a 40-foot container — matched the driver's cargo manifest, said Miami-Dade police spokeswoman Nancy Goldberg.
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., Goldberg said.
The driver also indicated he was alone in the truck, though security officers found two other men in the cab, she said. The passengers, ages 28 and 29, were a friend and a relative 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," Goldberg said. "This, and the fact that one of the individuals did not have any form of ID, raised our level of concern."
The FBI and the Department of Homeland Security were called to the scene, along with federal and local law enforcers, "in an abundance of caution," Goldberg said.
More than 20 pallets containing spools of wire and other automotive parts taken from the truck were scanned, but no radioactive material had been found, said Jose Ramirez, a U.S. Customs and Border Protection spokesman.
The three men do not appear on any terrorist watch list, said Barbara Gonzalez, a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokeswoman. Their identities were not released and their employer was unknown.
The Port of Miami is among the nation's busiest. More than 3.6 million cruise ship passengers traveled through in 2005. 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."