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Algerian's Past Still Puzzling Authorities

Immigration: Prosecutor cites his illegal status, ID cards, passport, facility with languages as hints of terror ties. Defense claims racial profiling.

July 12, 2002|LOUIS SAHAGUN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The FBI is still trying to determine whether a man arrested in Signal Hill in April on false document charges has links to terrorism or is just another illegal immigrant.

Algerian citizen Ouiddir Saadi--a.k.a. Saadi Ouiddir, Ouiddir Saudi, Ahcene Azrine, Hacene Azrine, Hocine Bouchouit--who appeared Thursday at a Long Beach Superior Court hearing, isn't talking. But in an interview, Deputy Dist. Atty. Christopher Frisco said Saadi's background, although not definitive proof of a terrorism link, is troubling and suspicious.

"He's here illegally, he has several false identification cards, and [he] speaks six languages, including educated German," Frisco said. "He also has a passport issued by the French Embassy, but the name on it is not his.

"The passport is of such high quality," the prosecutor added, "that he either has highly placed contacts within the embassy, or he paid at least $20,000 for it on the black market."

But Mark McBride, Saadi's court-appointed attorney, believes that his client is a victim of racial profiling. "I have no reason to believe he's a terrorist," McBride said. "He's just another illegal alien who's been living the life of a transient in motels along Pacific Coast Highway."

Saadi remains in custody in lieu of $100,000 bail and is on a U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service "hold," meaning the agency has decided not to initiate deportation proceedings pending completion of a federal investigation into his past.

He faces at least five years in prison if convicted of forgery, use of false documents, counterfeiting a Social Security seal and manufacturing or importing a deceptive identification document.

The case unfolded about 1 a.m. April 7, when Saadi was pulled over and questioned by Signal Hill police at the border with Long Beach. The officers were investigating a reported convenience store robbery in the area.

A search of Saadi's gray 1989 Buick Century turned up numerous documents with at least nine aliases and various addresses in Pennsylvania and New York, authorities said.

Also found were a passport with an airline boarding pass for travel from Brussels to New York; five passport-size photographs, only one of which was of Saadi; and five postcards of Pennsylvania skyscrapers, they said.

Saadi, who is believed to be 32, told officers that he was in the United States on a student visa and that he had arrived in Long Beach that day.

However, investigators said they turned up a traffic ticket issued to him March 26 in that city.

An investigation by the FBI and the Long Beach Joint Terrorism Task Force determined that the name on Saadi's Social Security card actually belonged to a 1-year-old in Illinois, authorities said.

It also found that, in addition to Arabic and German, Saadi speaks English, French, Spanish and Italian. Frisco noted that the countries where these languages are spoken are believed to have been staging grounds for terrorists.

Saadi was initially charged with misdemeanor false identification offenses.

But the continuing investigation of his personal documents and background motivated prosecutors to file multiple felony charges against him.

Trial has been set for Aug. 30.

In the meantime, Saadi "is frustrated," McBride said. "He sees other prisoners being held in jail on similar charges, but they're getting out and he isn't.

"It's not uncommon for people wanting to live in this country to have false identification," McBride said. "Nor is it uncommon for people in Europe to speak six languages."

Frisco said that if Saadi is convicted, the prosecutor will call for incarceration and recommend against probation.

"This is not your typical false identification case," Frisco said.

McBride disagreed.

Prosecutors "are being overly nervous," he said.

"But show me one thing that connects him with terrorists. Until then," McBride said, "you need more than just a hunch to treat him differently under the law."

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