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RESPONSE TO TERROR

Case Is Dropped Over Hotel Radio

Courts: Another Sept. 11 guest says the aviation transceiver belonged to him and not the Egyptian student who was charged.

January 17, 2002|JOHN J. GOLDMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

NEW YORK — Federal prosecutors late Wednesday dropped all charges against an Egyptian graduate student accused of lying to investigators about possessing an aviation radio in a hotel overlooking the World Trade Center the day terrorists attacked.

A letter filed by the government in U.S. District Court in Manhattan said a private pilot had come forward to say the radio belonged to him, and the claim was legitimate.

On Friday, Abdallah Higazy, 30, a graduate student in computer science at Polytechnic University in Brooklyn, was ordered held without bail by U.S. Magistrate Judge Frank Maas.

A government complaint charged that the radio was found in the safe of the room Higazy occupied Sept. 11. He denied ownership of the transceiver, capable of air-to-ground communications.

After the private pilot who stayed at the same hotel claimed the radio Monday, FBI agents reinterviewed the security agent at the Millennium Hilton Hotel who said he discovered the radio in the safe in the room Higazy had occupied.

Higazy and other guests were ordered out of the hotel soon after the terrorist attacks.

The hotel security agent's recollection changed, prosecutors said. He remembered finding the radio on a table, not in the safe that he had opened with a special key in Higazy's room in October.

The security officer was conducting an inventory of property that guests had left behind when they quickly left the hotel.

The letter to the court Wednesday said the pilot's room was one floor below the room Higazy occupied. The document requested Higazy's immediate release.

"The owner of the aviation radio had no interaction with Mr. Higazy," the letter said. "It is still unclear, therefore, how the radio was transferred from the room on the 50th floor to Mr. Higazy's room on the 51st floor."

Outside the courtroom after Higazy was held without bail, the defense lawyer said anything could have happened in the months after the hotel was evacuated.

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