Jennifer Smith, Daily Mail, February 15 2019
The two Nigerian brothers being questioned over the Jussie Smollett attack are actors Abimbola ‘Abel’ and Olabinjo ‘Ola’ Osundairo, DailyMail.com can exclusively reveal.
The pair were picked up by police at Chicago O’Hare Airport on Wednesday as they arrived back in America after visiting family in Nigeria to be questioned over the January 29 attack involving the star.
Family say they went to Africa on January 29, hours after the Smollett attack. Ola appeared on Empire in 2015 and both brothers have had minor roles on Chicago PD.
Smollett follows their joint Instagram account and, according to their lawyer, sometimes goes to the gym with them.
DailyMail.com has identified photographs of one of the brothers inside the gym in Smollett’s apartment building in June. The gym is private to residents of the luxury condominium building.
On Thursday night, the star was accused by anonymous police sources cited by local networks of staging the attack.
The sources accused Smollett of orchestrating the hoax because he was being written out of the show and wanted to drum up publicity to save his role — a claim that has been strenuously denied by the show and uncorroborated by the police department.
In his reports to police, Smollett says he was attacked by two assailants whose facial features he could not make out but that it was a racist, homophobic ambush during which they called him ‘Empire f****t n****r’ and shouted: ‘This is MAGA country!’
The brothers’ names are also included on a list of evidence that was left at their home after Chicago PD officers ransacked it on Thursday and the pair are listed in public records as the tenants of that house.
They have not been charged and are their lawyer insists they are not the people who attacked Jussie, revealing that the three are friends who sometimes work out together.
Police on Friday however said they were now being treated as ‘potential suspects’ instead of ‘persons of interest’.
‘The two individuals interviewed are classfied (sic) as potential suspects.
‘Detectives have probable cause that they may have been involved in an alleged crime and we are working to corroborate the allegations and investigative timeline as our investigation continues,’ Anthony Guglielmi, the chief communications officer for the Chicago Police Department, said in a statement.
Before returning to the US on Wednesday, they shared photographs and videos on Instagram of their time in Nigeria.
Neither has been charged and Chicago Police Department has until 5.45pm on Friday to arrest them or release them.
The brothers’ lawyer Gloria Schmidt spoke out on Thursday to say they were ‘baffled’ by the allegations against them and that they are innocent.
‘They were actually detained at customs at O’Hare airport yesterday around 5:45 p.m.
‘They had no idea what was going on, and they’ve been detained since then,’ Gloria Schmidt, the pair’s lawyer, told CBS Chicago on Thursday night.
‘When they first learned about what happened to him they were horrified.
‘This is someone they know.
‘This is someone they’ve worked with, so they don’t want to see somebody go through that.
‘They are really baffled why they are people of interest.
‘They really don’t understand how they even got information that linked them to this horrific crime, but they are not guilty of it,’ she said.
TMZ reported that detectives found the men by looking at ride-sharing history records from the night of the attack.
Smollett, 36, says he was attacked by two men on January 29 as he walked home from a Subway at 2am.
He has since said he believes he was targeted because he is a vocal critic of President Trump and that he would have had more public support if he had said his attackers were ‘black, Muslim or Mexican’.
While Chicago PD will not confirm on the record that the two men being questioned are the two black actors, they did tell DailyMail.com on Thursday that they are the men who were seen in surveillance camera footage walking near the area of the attack at around the same time.
Smollett said on Thursday that he had ‘no doubt’ the people in the video were who punched him, tied a noose around his neck and poured bleach on him.
He said the attack, which only lasted around 30 seconds, included them saying: ‘This is MAGA country!’ and calling him ‘Empire f****t n****r’.
On Thursday, the show issued a statement to deny that Jussie was being written out of the show.
‘The idea that Jussie Smollett has been, or would be, written off of EMPIRE is patently ridiculous.
‘He remains a core player on this very successful series and we continue to stand behind him,’ it said.
Chicago police also would not confirm that it was a hoax.
‘Interviews will resume today with the two people of interest and their attorney.
‘While we haven’t found any video documenting the alleged attack.
‘There is also no evidence to say that this is a hoax. The alleged victim is being cooperative at this time and continues to be treated as the victim, not a suspect.
‘The investigation continues,’ Anthony Guglielmi, Chicago PD spokesman, said on Friday.
Police seized a black face mask hat, an Empire script, a phone, receipts, five bottles of bleach, a red hat, two laptops and other items from the home where the brothers live.
The relative, who was home when the raid happened on Wednesday night, described hearing loud banging on the door before police flooded into the home and announced that they had a search warrant.
The woman, who is in her 20s, told CBS Chicago she was ‘so scared’ and thought she was going to die. She said she was patted down by an officer and asked by detectives if she knew Smollett.
She said that she thinks the brothers are being question because of their loose Empire connection to Smollett and the fact that they left for Nigeria on the same day of the attack.
In his hour-long interview with Good Morning America that was aired in part on Thursday, Smollett, wearing a collection of badges to show his support of Freedom and Pride among other causes, revealed his frustration at some of the public disbelief surrounding his version of events.
He said he does not think he would have been met with the same cynicism if his attackers weren’t Trump supporters and revealed his belief that he was targeted because he is a vocal critic of the president.
Smollett also went into detail about why he did not immediately hand over his phone to the police to verify parts of his story and said he was trying to protect private photographs, videos, songs and phone numbers of high profile people and his partner.
He said he was frustrated that Chicago Police had not yet found surveillance footage of the incident and revealed his disappointment after learning that a camera at the very spot of the attack was turned in the opposite direction when it took place.
Choking back tears, he explained when asked why it took so long for him to contact the authorities: ‘There is a level of pride there. We live in a society where as a gay man you are considered somehow to be weak and I am not weak. I am not weak and we as a people are not weak.’
Describing the chain of events once police arrived at his apartment at the request of 60-year-old Frank Gatson, his friend who was at the apartment when the attack took place.
‘I told them what happened. I asked them to turn their body cameras off. I was like, “Please just come in.
‘I don’t want a big scene with my neighbors,”‘ he said, adding that he had left the rope around his neck and his bleach-doused clothes on for them to see.
He said that while he left the rope around his neck, it was not ‘wrapped’ tightly.
Smollett is pictured in the hospital after a friend called the police to report him being attacked. He did not want to involve authorities
After the police had come into his apartment, he took them down to where the attack happened to walk them through it and became excited when he noticed a camera overlooking the exact spot where it took place.
‘I looked up and saw there was a camera, directly on the post on the intersection.
‘Then the detective told me that the camera was facing north so they didn’t have it and that was disappointing.’
Later, he added how desperate he was for them to find footage of the attack.
‘I want that video found so badly because, for probably four reasons.
‘Number one, I want them to find the people that did it.
‘Number two, I want them to stop being able to say “alleged” attack.
‘Number three, I want them to see that I fought back,’ he continued, welling-up.
‘I want a little gay boy who might watch this to see that I fought the f*** back. They ran off,’ I didn’t,’ he said.
He was overcome with emotion when presented with the prospect that his attackers might not be found.
‘Let’s just hope that they are found.
‘Let’s not go there yet. I was talking to a friend and I said,”I just hope they find them.” And she said, “Sweetie, they’re not going to find them.”