Expelled Saudi knew two hijackers

By Geoff Cumming

The Saudi student expelled from New Zealand as a national security threat knew not one but two September 11 hijackers, according to Government papers.

An Immigration Service analysis mentions a "direct association" between the student, Rayed Mohammed Abdullah Ali, and Nawaf al-Hazmi, a hijacker on American Airlines Flight 77, which flew into the Pentagon.

Flight 77's pilot was presumed to be Hani Hanjour, whom Ali met and briefly roomed with when he arrived in the United States in late 1997.

The analysis, marked "Restricted", is among a grab-bag of documents obtained by the Weekend Herald under the Official Information Act. The material helped to influence the Government decision to deport Ali on May 30, three months after he was allowed into New Zealand to attend an English language course.

The Government has withheld several documents for reasons it says range from security to privacy.

The released papers provide no details of the nature of the association between Ali and al-Hazmi, who reportedly was one of the first suicide-hijackers nominated by Osama bin Laden for the September 11 attacks.

The analysis says the association "is not detailed and [is] still not available in a discloseable report".

It is based largely on records of the interrogation of September 11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed (captured in Pakistan in 2003 and handed to the US) which provide insight into Al Qaeda's methods.

The records were presented as "substitute testimony" in the US trial of Zacarias Moussaoui, jailed for life in May for his role in the plotting.

The analysis notes the "effectiveness of [Al Qaeda's] approach to operational security and their success in limiting knowledge of the operation to a small handful of people."

"Therefore, it is likely that [Ali] could claim no knowledge of the 9/11 plot and be essentially truthful."

But lack of knowledge would not necessarily mean an individual had no association with Al Qaeda, it says.

The fact that Hanjour and al-Hazmi were two of the best-informed hijackers suggested Ali's relationship with them might not have been entirely coincidental.

" ... it is striking that [Ali] was close to, or associated with two of what may be described as the 'inner circle' of 9/11 hijackers."

The analysis speculates that Ali and al-Hazmi could have known each other, as they grew up in the same Saudi Arabian city, Mecca, which has a similar population to Auckland.

But Ali's American-based brother, who is one year younger and went to high school with him, told the Weekend Herald Ali never mentioned Nawaf al-Hazmi.

The Weekend Herald has found no link between Ali and al-Hazmi in the 9/11 Commission Report or in news reports on September 11 planning.

Ali was encouraged to the US by his high school friend Bandar al-Hazmi, who met him on arrival in Florida and introduced him to Hanjour. An FBI investigation found "no evidence of a familial relationship" between the al-Hazmis.

Other documents released by the Government support Ali's claim that he saw little of Hanjour after rooming with him in Florida when he arrived to attend an English language course.

Meanwhile, Green MP Keith Locke has asked Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Peters to retain an interest in Ali's welfare.

In a letter to Mr Peters, he says it would help if the Government indicated to the Saudis that it had nothing more on Ali than "the old information of his circumstantial association" with Hanjour.

Locke says Ali's family is allowed fortnightly visits while the Saudi Government investigates him.

His brother, Abdul Mohammed, says officials have taken a computer from the family home as part of the investigation. "I feel good about that, I know there is nothing to find."

>> Click on the link below for more on this story, and to read the NZ Immigration Service report on Rayed Ali.

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