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Arrest of Saudi man with pressure cooker 'overzealous': lawyer

By Bernie Woodall

DETROIT (Reuters) - The attorney for a Saudi Arabian man arrested at the Detroit airport over the weekend carrying a pressure cooker in his luggage said his client is the victim of a misunderstanding by overzealous U.S. customs agents.

Hussain Al Khawahir, 33, was detained after arriving in Detroit on a flight from Amsterdam.

Pressure cookers packed with explosive powder and shrapnel were set off at the finish line of the Boston Marathon on April 15, killing three people and injured 264.

"I'm afraid that some overzealous agents were looking for anything," said James Howarth, the attorney representing Al Khawahir. "They see a pressure cooker and say, 'This is a man who has to be detained.'"

Howarth said many people from Saudi Arabia travel with pressure cookers to cook lamb.

"Carrying a pressure cooker in America is not against the law," he said.

On May 11, Al Khawahir was questioned about two missing pages from his passport and the pressure cooker he had in his luggage, according to a complaint filed by federal prosecutors.

Al Khawahir initially said he brought the pressure cooker from Saudi Arabia for his nephew, a student at the University of Toledo in Ohio, because they are not sold in America. But he then said that his nephew had bought a pressure cooker but it was cheap and broke when he tried to use it, according to the complaint.

He is charged with offering false information to customs agents, part of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

Howarth spoke to reporters at a hearing on Tuesday to determine whether Al Khawahir would be released on bond. His lawyer said that he asked that the hearing not proceed because it was clear Al Khawahir would be kept behind bars by U.S. customs authorities whatever the outcome of the hearing.

A May 28 date was set to determine whether U.S. prosecutors have enough evidence to bring the matter to a federal court.

The two pages missing from Al Khawahir's passport were near the back of the booklet and likely were not important, Howarth said.

He said that if Al Khawahir had not been carrying a pressure cooker, his competing statements about it would not be cause for alarm.

"If he had made a mistake about an electric skillet, he would be in Toledo today," Howarth told reporters. Toledo is about 60 miles south of Detroit.

Al Khawahir faces up to five years in federal prison if he is found guilty of giving false information to the U.S. agents.

(Reporting by Bernie Woodall; Editing by Greg McCune and Eric Beech)

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