Two Nigerian brothers have been arrested in connection to the attack on Jussie Smollett, Chicago police confirmed Friday.
In an earlier statement, police said they had “probable cause” that the two men may have been involved.
On January 29, the “Empire” star says he was attacked by men who hurled racist and antigay slurs at him, shouted, “This is MAGA country!”, poured an unknown substance, possibly bleach, on him, and put a noose around his neck.
The two men are being represented by attorney Gloria Schmidt, who told CBS News:
“They are baffled about why they are people of interest. It’s an awful thing that happened to Jussie, but it’s not my guys.”
She said that the men, who have not yet been publicly identified, worked on the set of Smollett’s Fox TV show “Empire” and even worked out with him at the gym.
“This is someone that they know, this is someone that they’ve worked with,” she added. “So they don’t want to see somebody go through that.”
The news comes after two Chicago news affiliates for ABC and CBS reported Thursday that police were investigating whether the men helped Smollett fake the attack, citing as a motive that he was being written off the hit show.
Those reports were quickly shot down by Chicago police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi.
“Media reports anout [sic] the Empire incident being a hoax are unconfirmed by case detectives,” Guglielmi tweeted. “Supt Eddie Johnson has contacted @ABC7Chicago to state on the record that we have no evidence to support their reporting and their supposed CPD sources are uninformed and inaccurate.”
For what it’s worth (and it’s worth quite a lot in our view), 20th Century Fox Television and Fox Entertainment strongly denied there were plans to write off Smollett’s character, the out musician “Jamal Lyon,” drawing into further question the legitimacy of the two news reports.
“The idea that Jussie Smollett has been, or would be, written off of EMPIRE is patently ridiculous,” the network’s statement said. “He remains a core player on this very successful series and we continue to stand behind him.”
According to CBS News, the brothers left for Nigeria the same day as the attack and were detained upon their return by police at O’Hare International Airport in Chicago Wednesday.
A police raid at the brothers’ Chicago home uncovered bleach, a “black facemask hat,” a red hat, an “Empire” script, and other items.
In his first interview since the attack, the 36-year-old actor told ABC’s Robin Roberts:
“At first it was the thing of like, listen, if I tell the truth then that’s it because it’s the truth. Then it became a thing of, like, how can you doubt that? How can you not believe that? It’s the truth.”
Watch the first interview below: