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THE SEPT. 11 COMMISSION

Deported Friend of Terrorists in Report

The Yemeni denies allegations that he knew of the plot while in San Diego.

June 17, 2004|H.G. Reza | Times Staff Writer

SAN DIEGO — Mohdar Abdullah, who befriended two of the Sept. 11 hijackers in San Diego, denied any advance knowledge of their plot, as was alleged Wednesday in a staff report by the commission investigating the terrorist attacks.

The report said that cellmates of Adullah's said he claimed that he knew about the attacks. Abdullah, a Yemeni citizen, spent more than two years in custody in San Diego on charges of lying on immigration forms while the government took steps to deport him.

In a telephone interview Wednesday from Yemen, where he was deported last month by U.S. immigration officials, Abdullah denied telling anybody that he knew the attacks were going to be launched.

"I only had two cellmates, Omer Bakarbashat [another friend of the hijackers also deported to Yemen] and an Algerian guy. I don't believe they told the government that I had prior knowledge, because I never said I did," said Abdullah.

Randy Hamud, Abdullah's attorney, said he too was surprised by the mention in the commission staff report because he said FBI agents told him Abdullah "was so lacking in credibility nothing he said was believable."

"We offered full cooperation with the government. Time and again they informed us they didn't think Abdullah had any credible information about 9/11 or terrorism," said Hamud.

The report said Abdullah was "particularly close" to the two terrorists, Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar, and shared their "extremist sympathies." The two Saudis were among the hijackers who crashed an American Airlines plane into the Pentagon.

But Abdullah said his association with the hijackers never went beyond friendship, and he did not share their philosophy about jihad.

For a while, Abdullah and Alhazmi worked at the same Texaco station in La Mesa, east of San Diego.

Abdullah said his efforts to help Alhazmi and Almihdhar settle in San Diego's Muslim community were misinterpreted by FBI agents.

The staff report said he helped the hijackers obtain driver's licenses and enroll in school.

But Abdullah said he only told them how to get to the Department of Motor Vehicles and called language schools where the two could enroll in English classes.

"I never gave those guys any material help ... told the FBI this over and over," said Abdullah, a former San Diego State University student.

However, he acknowledged calling a flight school in Florida for Alhazmi because Alhazmi did not speak English. He said he told Alhazmi that school officials said he needed a special visa to take flying lessons.

The report says that Abdullah picked up Alhazmi and Almihdhar at Los Angeles International Airport and drove them to San Diego when they arrived in the U.S. in January 2000.

The government got that wrong too, he said. He met the men for the first time later that month at a dinner party in El Cajon where he was asked to help them get settled in the community.

"I told the FBI that I rode with them when Alhazmi drove Almihdhar to LAX in about June 2000, when Almihdhar returned home. I didn't drive them to the airport or to San Diego," Abdullah said.

In 2001, several friends of Abdullah and the hijackers told The Times that Omar Albayoumi, another Saudi, drove the two hijackers from Los Angeles to San Diego around mid-January 2000.

Abdullah expressed concern about his name being included in the report.

He said Yemeni government agents had been monitoring his every move since he got back.

"I'm subject to being detained at any time. I didn't need my name mentioned in the report, especially since I didn't do anything wrong," he said.

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