Tags: U.S. | Wants | Hijacking | Trainer

U.S. Wants Hijacking Trainer

Friday, 28 September 2001 12:00 AM

A prosecutor at London's Bow Street Magistrates Court identified 27-year-old Lotfi Raissi as the "lead instructor" for four of the hijackers, including the man who drove a jetliner into the Pentagon near Washington.

Raissi was in court as the result of an international arrest warrant issued by the United States, technically on a charge of giving false information in connection with a pilot's license.

But "we are looking at far more serious charges," said Arvinda Sambir, a lawyer representing the United States, according to the U.K. Press Association. "We are looking at conspiracy to murder."

She said, "What we say is that he [Raissi] was in fact a lead instructor for four of the pilots responsible for the hijackings" of four airliners - two which were steered into the World Trade Center in New York City, a third into the Pentagon and a fourth which crashed in a field in Pennsylvania.

"The one we are concerned about is the one involving the plane that went into the Pentagon," Sambir told the court.

She said that part of Raissi's mission involved traveling last summer to Arizona, where some of the hijackers were taught how to fly jetliners. "His job was to ensure the pilots were capable and were trained."

Sambir also said authorities had "sufficient documentary evidence" that included video footage of Raissi with the hijackers.

The technicality under which the chubby, windbreaker-clad pilot was held centered on his previous conviction for theft and a history of medical problems. A Scotland Yard spokeswoman told United Press International the FBI had 60 days during which to provide grounds for Raissi's extradition to the United States.

Legal sources told UPI the processes of sending the man over to the United States could take much longer. Three men already in British custody for the 1998 attacks on U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania are fighting extradition in the House of Lords, the upper house of Parliament and Britain's appeal court of last resort.

Hugo Keith, Raissi's attorney, said his client "categorically denies" any involvement in the terrorist attacks and that "we put the U.S. government on notice we will be demanding proof."

Raissi was ordered held in custody pending that proof. The pilot is scheduled to return to the magistrates court on Oct. 5 for a further hearing.

Authorities said Raissi was one of at least 20 men and women arrested across Europe in a coordinated crackdown on "cells" of suspected terrorists. He was originally under Britain's Prevention of Terrorism Act.

He was officially rearrested Friday under the U.S.-issued warrant.

His wife, Sonia, 25, and his brother Mohamed Raissi, 29, were released without charge while another man, Abu Imard, 44, was held by the anti-terrorist police awaiting a decision whether to charge him.

Three other men arrested in the northern city of Leicester were also being questioned by the anti-terrorist squad Friday. The men, one in his 20s and the others aged 29 and 35, were arrested at two houses in Leicester in connection with alleged plans to attack the U.S. Embassy in Paris.

Police also questioned seven men who were detained on suspicion of terrorism and immigration offenses after they were found in a truck at the entrance to a Royal Air Force base at Lakenheath, Suffolk. The base is used by U.S. Air Force aircraft and personnel.

On Thursday, Scotland Yard told United Press International that it had received more than 100 requests from FBI that related to suspected terrorist operations with links to Britain.

The stepped-up activity by Britain's anti-terrorist forces comes amid renewed warnings from senior government officials that fresh attacks cannot be ruled out. Minister for Europe Peter Hain said Thursday night he believed more attacks were planned for the coming weeks by people working with Saudi dissident Osama bin Laden's al Qaida group.

"I understand that he is preparing already for high-impact terrorist attacks in the coming weeks, if he's able to," Hain said. "We've got to track him down, we've got to stop him doing it again."

Home Secretary David Blunkett said security forces had investigated reports that 11 of the suspected hijackers in the attacks passed through Britain on their way to America. In the absence of direct, attributable explanations from security forces, news media carried conflicting accounts of how long the 11 had spent in Britain.

The Sun tabloid newspaper said it had learned from an unnamed source in MI5 criminal intelligence service that "most of them were merely transit passengers" whose UK network had been "disrupted and is no more." Meanwhile, The Times, published by the same Rupert Murdoch group, cited intelligence chiefs who told the newspaper that five of the hijackers left London airports in June to fly to the US after possibly attending "a vital planning meeting." It claimed that "dozens" of bin Laden's associates were on the run in Britain.

The Times quoted an unnamed "senior security source" as saying the number of terror suspects on the loose was thought to "run into double figures." Analysts said the media were likely to have a field day with speculative reporting on anti-terrorist operations because few of those reports were likely to be confirmed or denied.

On Thursday, the Evening Standard tabloid newspaper said the FBI had supplied Britain with more than 100 names of suspects, but Scotland Yard said the list in fact consisted of requests that varied "in content, complexity and urgency."

The government is facing calls from numerous anti-terrorism experts wheeled out by the media to improve surveillance and install new technologies to catch suspects. Some of these experts warned that biometric or face-scanning technology and the ability to electronically check passports and compare against a database would do nothing to prevent "clean" potential terrorists entering Britain.

Copyright 2001 by United Press International. All rights reserved.

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A prosecutor at London's Bow Street Magistrates Court identified 27-year-old Lotfi Raissi as the lead instructor for four of the hijackers, including the man who drove a jetliner into the Pentagon near Washington. Raissi was in court as the result of an international...
Friday, 28 September 2001 12:00 AM
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