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Man, 27, charged in bomb scare at airport

He allegedly joked he was of Al Qaeda

Ermiyas Asfaw is a taxi driver from Washington, D.C. Ermiyas Asfaw is a taxi driver from Washington, D.C.

A 27-year-old man from Ethiopia was arraigned yesterday at East Boston District Court on charges of joking that he was a member of Al Qaeda and that he planned to "blow things up" at Logan International Airport.

Ermiyas A. Asfaw, a taxi driver who lives in Washington, D.C., walked up to an AirTran check-in counter in Terminal C on Saturday night and was asked by an agent why he had stickers on his luggage from Dubai.

Asfaw responded that he had been there.

The agent asked, "Were you there on business or pleasure?"

According to prosecutors, Asfaw responded: "No. I'm Al Qaeda. I'm with them, and I'm here to blow things up."

Phil Orlandella - a spokesman for the Massachusetts Port Authority, which operates the airport - compared Asfaw's remark to other recent occurrences at the airport that resulted in arrests.

"The message we want to give is that we're not going to tolerate these kinds of activities," said Orlandella. "It's not acceptable," he said. "You're going to be arrested and brought to trial, even if you're joking. These kinds of things cause a lot of reaction around here."

In July, John C. Megelich, a 53-year-old businessman from Charlotte, N.C., was arrested by State Police after screeners at Logan discovered a loaded .38-caliber handgun in his carry-on luggage.

Last month, Star Simpson, a 19-year-old sophomore at MIT, made headlines after police arrested her for wearing a device on her sweatshirt that included lights and wires and carrying what looked like putty in her hands.

Orlandella described the recent incidents as "dumb, dumber, and the dumbest," the latter referring to yesterday's arrest.

In court yesterday, prosecutors said the agent responded that Asfaw's statement was not funny and was against the law. Asfaw laughed, prosecutors said, and walked away from the counter.

The ticket agent alerted a supervisor, who notified State Police.

Troopers sent a K-9 unit to check the bags but found no explosives. Police searched Terminal C but could not find Asfaw.

Shortly before 8 p.m., about 30 minutes later, a trooper called the cellphone listed on Asfaw's airline reservation. He was flying back to Washington, D.C., but had not left Logan. The trooper arranged to meet Asfaw and arrested him on charges of making a bomb threat.

Asfaw pleaded not guilty to making a bomb threat and shook his head as the prosecutor read the charges against him.

A public defender said his client was in Boston to see his girlfriend. He said Asfaw graduated from the University of the District of Columbia in Washington and has no criminal record.

He asked Judge Paul Mahoney to set bail at $600, arguing that Asfaw was clearly making a joke. Prosecutors asked the judge to set bail at $10,000.

Mahoney ordered him held on $1,500 bail. Asfaw is scheduled to return to court Oct. 19.

After his arraignment, Asfaw declined to comment.

David Abel can be reached at dabel@globe.com.

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