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RESPONSE TO TERROR

Suspect in Ariz. Ordered to Remain in Custody

Investigation: Middle Eastern pilot's case and that of a newly indicted California student shed light on the prosecutions developing since Sept. 11.

November 02, 2001|RICH CONNELL and JOSH GETLIN | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

PHOENIX — A Middle Eastern pilot whose arrest here last week stemmed from a federal investigation into terrorist activity will remain in custody until at least Tuesday, a judge ruled Thursday.

Malek Mohamed Seif is accused of making false statements to federal agencies and is not charged with any terrorist involvement. But newly unsealed court records and testimony Thursday show how he came to be swept up in the global terrorism investigation launched after the Sept. 11 attacks.

Separately, authorities in New York said Thursday that a federal grand jury indicted a San Diego County college student for allegedly lying about his association with one of the men suspected of helping seize the jet that hit the Pentagon.

The Seif case and the indictment of Osama Awadallah in New York shed light on the prosecutions developing as authorities try to piece together who may be linked to the Sept. 11 attacks or to possible future terrorist acts.

Seif, 36, who is believed to be a native of Djibouti, was held for questioning earlier this month by French intelligence officials after his name appeared on a U.S. government "watch list," court records show.

Other records show that investigators are interested in Seif because he reportedly took flight training at the same time and same Phoenix-area school as Lotfi Raissi, an Algerian in custody in Britain. Authorities there say they suspect Raissi helped oversee training of some of the Sept. 11 hijackers. Raissi has denied any involvement in the attacks.

Seif left the Phoenix area shortly before Sept. 11, but his attorney, Thomas Hoidal, says it was to prepare for his wedding, planned for later this month in Yemen. French investigators released Seif after three days because they lacked evidence that he was involved with the skyjackers, a French law enforcement official told The Times.

After discussions with an FBI liaison in France, Seif then voluntarily agreed to return to Phoenix last Thursday for questioning, FBI agent Jonathon Bauman testified Thursday. Seif was picked up at Sky Harbor International Airport. He was questioned by FBI agents and not advised until afterward that he had already been indicted and that the agents were placing him under arrest, Bauman said.

Seif is charged with making false statements on a Social Security card application and on a Federal Aviation Administration pilot's medical certificate. An affidavit in support of a search warrant shows the Social Security fraud case was initiated as "part of an ongoing investigation into terrorist activity."

Federal prosecutors say they are simply pursuing alleged illegal acts they uncovered in the course of their investigation.

They contend that Seif has created two identities, one as a Somali and another as a Djibouti, obtaining two Arizona driver's licenses and Social Security cards. They argued that Seif, who has traveled extensively and has few ties remaining here, is a flight risk.

Lawyer Says His Client Should Be Released

Hoidal, Seif's attorney, said his client has not been involved in terrorist activity and has cooperated with investigators. He said it is possible Seif crossed paths in the Phoenix area with Raissi or Hani Hanjour, who is suspected of steering the airliner into the Pentagon. But Hoidal said he has no indication that Seif knew Raissi or Hanjour.

He contends that his client should be freed pending trial because he returned to Arizona voluntarily. Hoidal also has suggested that authorities lured his client back under false pretenses, when they could have sought his extradition.

"They told him all they wanted to do was talk to him," Hoidal said.

Magistrate Judge Lawrence Anderson continued the detention hearing until Tuesday so he could review FBI investigative reports in the case and decide if any of them should be turned over to Hoidal.

In New York, Awadallah, 21, a Jordanian immigrant studying computer science at Grossmont College in El Cajon, was charged in an indictment with the same offenses filed in a complaint last month: lying to a grand jury by claiming not to know suspected hijacker Khalid Almihdhar.

The indictment cleared the way for a possible trial. An arraignment is scheduled for Monday.

Investigators found videos in Awadallah's car titled "Martyrs of Bosnia," "Bosnia 1993" and "The Koran v. The Bible, Which is God's Word?" the indictment says. A search of his apartment uncovered photos of Osama bin Laden, it says.

A piece of paper with Awadallah's first name and his previous phone number were in a car at Washington Dulles International Airport registered to alleged hijacker Nawaf Alhazmi, according to the indictment.

Alhazmi and Almihdhar lived together in San Diego last year and are suspected of helping take over the plane that left Dulles and crashed into the Pentagon.

Awadallah told the grand jury last month that he knew Alhazmi, court papers say, but he denied knowing Almihdhar.

"By lying to the grand jury, [Awadallah] . . . promoted terrorism," Assistant U.S. Atty. Robin Baker said.

The government, Baker added, would prosecute the case as a "seditious conspiracy to levy war against the United States."

Jesse Berman, Awadallah's attorney, said his client was "confused" about Almihdhar's identity and that he "had nothing to do with the terrible things that happened on Sept. 11."

*

Connell reported from Phoenix and Getlin from New York. Times staff writers H.G. Reza in San Diego and Robert J. Lopez in Los Angeles contributed to this report.

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