Hijacker says he is not the hijacker
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15 pilots on FBI list have Saudi addresses
By Toni Locy, Kevin Johnson and Richard Willing, USA TODAY
09/19/2001 - Updated 10:30 PM ET
Fifteen of the 37 registered pilots being sought for questioning by agents investigating last week's terrorist hijackings have been linked to addresses in Saudi Arabia, including nine listed as pilots with that nation's government-owned airline, a USA TODAY analysis of federal documents indicates. Law enforcement sources confirmed Wednesday that the FBI is interviewing a large number of Saudi pilots as part of its probe into the attacks Sept. 11 on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, which killed thousands. Arab pilots and those with pilot training have become a focus of the FBI's probe as agents try to determine who helped 19 Islamic radicals carry out the worst act of domestic terrorism in U.S. history. At least seven of the hijackers had pilots' licenses or training.
An FBI list of more than 220 people wanted for questioning as possible associates of the hijackers contains at least 32 pilots, five student pilots and 12 aircraft mechanics, a USA TODAY analysis has found. U.S. government pilot registrations show home addresses in Saudi Arabia for 15 of the pilots wanted for questioning, including nine listed as working for Saudia, the national airline of that Middle Eastern country.
Working from its "watch list," the FBI has detained 115 people, most on immigration charges. At least four of those — including a Saudi-born doctor from San Antonio who authorities say knows details about how the terrorists were financed — have been arrested as "material witnesses." That means investigators suspect they have information about the hijackings.
Investigators have been pressing the Saudis for help in tracking down suspects in the attacks since last week, when some of the hijackers were linked to the desert kingdom, which is a U.S. ally. But the probe is being complicated by mounting evidence that many of the hijackers used multiple identities — some possibly stolen from legitimate pilots — as they became enmeshed in American society and trained at flight schools across the nation.
In Saudi Arabia on Wednesday, government officials warned U.S. agents against moving too quickly, noting that some of the men identified as hijackers might have used identification stolen from Saudi citizens.
"The name is my name, and the birthdate is the same as mine, but I am not the one who bombed the World Trade Center in New York," Abdulaziz Alomari, whose name was on the FBI's list of dead hijackers, told Asharq al-Aswat, an Arabic-language newspaper in London.
The paper said Alomari's passport was stolen in 1995, when an apartment he kept in Denver was burglarized.
U.S. Justice Department spokeswoman Mindy Tucker acknowledged that some hijackers might have provided false identification when they checked in for their flights, raising questions about their true identities.
Meanwhile, investigators say they believe that terrorists are not likely to mount a second wave of attacks Saturday. Because of suspicious airline bookings by some of those on the FBI's watch list and other information, officials had suggested that further terrorism might have been planned for that date.
Also Wednesday, investigators continued to focus on three Arab men who were arrested on criminal immigration charges Tuesday in Detroit. The arrests are not officially counted as part of the hijacking probe, but the men were found in an apartment registered to Nabil al-Marabh, who is on the FBI's watch list.
FBI agents looking for al-Marabh found Ahmed Hannan, 33; Karim Koubriti, 23; and Farouk Ali-Haimoud, 21, with what the agents said was a false immigration admission form, visa and immigrant identification card.
Court records indicate the agents also removed computer files, hundreds of pages of documents written in Arabic and a day planner with notations that referred to the "American base in Turkey," "the American foreign minister" and "Alia Airport" in Jordan.
Federal sources in Detroit said authorities are interested in interviewing the men about a thwarted terrorist attack on a U.S. military base in Incirlik, Turkey.
Agents investigating the hijackings also want to question the men. A bond hearing is scheduled for them Friday in federal court in Detroit.
FBI agents are investigating whether the Detroit suspects might be part of the trail of stolen IDs left by the terrorists and some of those believed to have associated with them.
Agents want to question a 24-year-old Massachusetts man whose Social Security card was hidden among the allegedly forged documents in the Detroit apartment. One of the men arrested in the Detroit raid said all the false documents in the apartment belonged to the Massachusetts man, who had left them there for safekeeping.
A person who answered the phone at the Massachusetts man's home suggested that the man might be the victim of identification theft.
The Detroit raid reflects the fluidity of an investigation that involves more than 10,000 investigators following leads around the globe.
Attorney General John Ashcroft, who has said other nations likely assisted the hijackers, re-emphasized that theme Wednesday. "It is pretty clear that the networks that conduct these kinds of events are harbored, supported, sustained and protected by a variety of foreign governments," he said.
When asked whether he was referring to Iraq, the antagonist nation of the Persian Gulf War that has long been accused of harboring and supporting terrorists, Ashcroft replied, "I think the statement speaks for itself."
Several arrests around the world have been linked to the hijackings. U.S. agents, working with foreign authorities, are looking for possible links to the terrorists in Arab communities.
In Paraguay on Wednesday, 40 U.S. agents arrived in Ciudad del Este, which is on that nation's eastern border with Brazil. It is a major trading hub that is home to a large Arab community.
As they track down the financial network that directed cash to the terrorists, U.S. agents are examining groups here and abroad that support Osama bin Laden, the millionaire Saudi-born sponsor of terrorism believed to be hiding in Afghanistan.
U.S. agents monitoring e-mail, electronic banking and other communication in the hours after the attacks on Sept. 11 quickly focused on the activities of Al-Bader Al-Hazmi, 34, a radiologist at the University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio.
Al-Hazmi is in the final year of a 4-year residency that is sponsored by ARAMCO, the Saudi oil giant. He drew investigators' attention because he and three others on the FBI watch list were booked on a flight Saturday from San Antonio to San Diego via Denver.
Al-Hazmi, who has been arrested as a material witness, has been taken to New York for questioning by the FBI. Law enforcement sources say they believe he can provide information about how at least one team of hijackers was financed. A source indicated that Al-Hazmi could appear before a federal grand jury in White Plains, N.Y., that is investigating the hijacking case.
Robert Arndt, a spokesman for ARAMCO, said the company is cooperating with U.S. investigators and has been "in touch" with Al-Hazmi's wife and children, "giving them some help."
Contributing: Blake Morrison, Laura Parker, Alan Levin and Martin Kasindorf