In Palmerston North for only a month, Rayed Mohammed Abdullah Ali barely had time to put down roots before his swift exit from the country.
He flew at the Aero Club, forged a few friendships at Massey's flight school, dined on kebabs in a downtown foodcourt, and retired at night to a flat a few blocks from the CBD.
Grant Hadfield, president of the Manawatu Districts Aero Club, said the man had a bountiful self-confidence common among pilots. The club's chief flight officer, Captain Ravindra Singh, a "father figure" for Ali said he showed no trace of religious or political extremism. He seemed a moderate Muslim from a middle-class family, said Singh. And when asked, Ali vehemently denied supporting or associating with the 9/11 terrorists.
Perceived as polite and inoffensive by those who met him, he wore a baseball cap, listened to American pop music and preferred burgers to halal food.
Singh said Ali had made friends with a group of Omani students at Massey University's School of Aviation, next door to the aero club. Singh gave the cash-strapped Ali free accommodation, letting him stay with a couple of international students in a Cook St flat. The understanding was that Ali would repay him when he could.
Ali's former flatmates refused to speak about him.
As a practising Muslim, living only four doors down from the Manawatu Muslim Association, it seems hard to believe that Ali would not have prayed there.
But Muslim association president Abdul Lateef Smith was adamant he had never met Ali.
"The Muslim population is like a tide that ebbs in and out," he said.By Patrick Crewdson