PHOENIX — Within days of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the East Coast, the investigative trail led federal authorities to Arizona.
It was soon learned that at least one of the terrorists had a decade-long tie to the state and the FBI's terrorism investigation would eventually focus on other current and former Arizonans, though none have been charged with terrorism.
The terrorism probe was the top Arizona news story of 2001, according to a vote by members of The Associated Press from around the state.
Nearly 3,000 people were killed or declared missing after 19 terrorists hijacked four jetliners on Sept. 11, flying two into New York's World Trade Center towers and one into the Pentagon. The other plane crashed in a field in rural Pennsylvania after passengers apparently tried to wrest control of the aircraft from the hijackers.
On Sept. 14, the first hard Arizona tie emerged as federal authorities confirmed that Hani Hanjour, one of five hijackers aboard the plane that slammed into the Pentagon, had once lived in the state. Hanjour is believed to have been the pilot of American Airlines Flight 77.
Hanjour received pilot instruction at Scottsdale's CRM Airline Training Center for three months in 1996 and in December 1997 and also at a Mesa flight school in early 1998.
He is also believed to have used a flight simulator at the Sawyer School of Aviation in Phoenix as early as 1998 and as recently as last summer.
Hanjour's ties to Arizona go back to 1991, when he took an eight-week course at the University of Arizona's Center for English as a Second Language.
The second Arizona tie emerged when British authorities said that another former Arizona resident, Lotfi Raissi, helped train some of the hijackers. He has denied any involvement.
Raissi, an Algerian pilot who has been detained since Sept. 21 in London, reportedly held four pilot licenses that listed the address of a Phoenix apartment complex.
Former employees at the Sawyer School of Aviation remember Raissi using its flight simulator as recently as 1999 to instruct others, including one of the hijacking suspects.
Sawyer officials said Raissi would bring as many as five other people with him.
Raissi, 27, is one of five current or former Arizona residents indicted in connection with the federal anti-terrorism probe, although they are accused of identity theft and other crimes and haven't been charged in the Sept. 11 attacks.
All have denied any connection to terrorism.
Faisal Al Salmi, 34, was indicted on charges of lying to the FBI because he denied knowing Hanjour. Investigators claim Al Salmi, who lived in Tempe and had been a student at Mesa Community College since 1998, actually had known Hanjour and had spoken with him several times, including once when they talked of a mutual interest in aviation.
Authorities also said Al Salmi, who received a private pilot license at Sunbird Aviation in Chandler in 1999, was using a flight simulator at Sawyer Aviation in Phoenix from last June 23 to Aug. 3. Hanjour also booked time on the simulator during that period, according to authorities.
Three other men with Arizona ties arrested in the terrorism sweep — Sofiane Laimeche, Redouane Dahmani and Malek Mohamed Seif — also are awaiting trial.
Laimeche, a 28-year-old Algerian living in Phoenix, is charged with five counts of Social Security fraud and two counts of making false statements to the government.
Dahmani, a 26-year-old Algerian living in Scottsdale, faces federal conspiracy charges regarding his asylum request and Maricopa County charges of forgery, perjury and identity theft. Authorities said Dahmani was once Raissi's roommate.
Seif, a 36-year-old former Tempe resident who had moved to France, was indicted by a federal grand jury in Phoenix on charges he lied on Social Security and Federal Aviation Administration forms.
— Arizona Daily Sun