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19 September 2001 / 22 Rajab 1423

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  ‘Hijackers’ denting FBI credibility
By Molouk Y. Ba-Isa, Arab News Staff

JEDDAH/WASHINGTON, 19 September — The Saudi media is continuing the investigative reporting into the backgrounds of the alleged hijackers on the FBI’s list. As more of the “hijackers” are found alive this is having an effect on the FBI’s credibility. Western media outlets such as American Broadcasting ‘Corp. in the United States have begun picking up the local reports and are asking the FBI for comment.

There are many individuals in the Kingdom with the name Ahmed Alnami. Al-Watan newspaper has found one Ahmed Abdallah Alnami who is currently missing. According to his father, who was speaking from Asir, Alnami went to perform Umrah one year and 3 months ago and disappeared. The 23-year-old was single and had become very religious in the period before his disappearance. His family received a telephone call from him 4 months back from an undisclosed location. At that time they asked him to come back and complete his studies at the Shariah College of King Khaled University in Abha, but he never returned. A close associate of the family is hoping that his name being on the list is a confusion of some type. They wish the young man would call to say he’s alive.

There definitely is a serious confusion in regards to information on alleged hijacker Waleed M. Alshehri. Yesterday Arab News reported the details of a Waleed M. Alshehri reported missing from the Al Baha region. Now details are emerging of another Waleed M. Alshehri who according to his father is alive, well and flying his normal schedule for Saudi Arabian Airlines.

Mohammed Alshehri is a diplomat who worked for the Saudi Embassy in Washington for five years. He stated that his son Waleed was living in the US with him during that time. Alshehri’s father was transferred to a new post in Bombay in 1998 and then 10 months ago was transferred back to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Riyadh.

Alshehri’s father added that Waleed graduated from Embry University in the United States and applied to work for Saudi Arabian Airlines. Saudia sent him for training in Florida. He has not been back to the United States since that time.

Meanwhile, the father of an Egyptian man believed to have been at the controls of the first plane to hit the World Trade Center said yesterday that his son was no killer. “My son is innocent,” Muhammad Al-Amir Atta, 65, told reporters at his home in the Cairo suburb of Giza.

The younger Atta had trained as an engineer in Egypt before moving to Germany to study city planning. His colleagues said he was a model student at Hamburg’s Technical University and graduated with top marks. Atta’s father, a lawyer, said he had not heard from his son since the attack, but was confident he had nothing to do with the carnage.

US investigators want to question nearly 200 people who may have information about last week’s deadly airline attacks, and are investigating if any of those in custody may have planned other hijackings, federal law enforcement officials said yesterday.

As the biggest investigation in FBI history completed its first week, the officials said the number of those sought for questioning had expanded as investigators stepped up the search for possible accomplices of the 19 hijackers.

“There is a list of people out there with close to 200 names that we would like to talk to. They are not suspects, but they may have information that is relevant or helpful,” one official said. The number has expanded quickly since Attorney General John Ashcroft, the nation’s top law enforcement officer, said Friday the FBI had a list of more than 100 names wanted for questioning in the hijackings of four commercial airplanes last Tuesday.

Justice Department spokeswoman Mindy Tucker has said the number of names on the list of those the FBI wants to talk to because they may have information “helpful” to the investigation would fluctuate constantly. The officials also said the FBI was investigating whether any of the 49 individuals being held for immigration violations in the course of questioning about the attacks or those arrested as material witnesses may have been plotting other hijackings.

In San Antonio, a Saudi-born radiologist had been detained and was being questioned by the FBI after his apartment was raided last week, FBI agents said. He works at the University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio.

Health Science Center President Francisco Cigarroa said the FBI seized a computer from the center’s main library and copied information from files in the radiology department. Cigarroa said the physician “was last seen at a radiology conference at 5 p.m. on Monday, Sept. 10” and did not appear for a scheduled hospital assignment the next day when the attacks occurred.

The radiologist’s neighbors said they had not seen him in the area for about a week before the attacks. He has been employed at the medical school since 1997.

The FBI would not say whether he was suspected of being connected to two men who are in custody in New York after they were removed from an Amtrak train in Fort Worth, Texas, last week carrying box cutters and a large amount of cash. The train was headed for San Antonio, and agents said the box cutters were similar to those believed to have been used by hijackers in the attacks. Federal law enforcement officials said the FBI remained interested in the two men, who gave their names to police in Texas as Ayub Ali Khan, 51, and Mohammed Jaweed Azmath, 47. They were flown to New York for questioning, they said.

Investigators also remained interested in the first man who was arrested last week on a material witness warrant. The man, of Middle Eastern descent, has not been identified. He initially had been stopped by police at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York with a fake pilot’s license. Another person flown to New York for questioning had been held in Minnesota, the officials said.

That man was detained on Aug. 17 for immigration violations after he aroused suspicions by seeking to buy time on a flight simulator for jetliners at a Minnesota flight school, despite a lack of experience or skills, they said.

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