Deported pilot made no secret of his identity

By David Fisher, Patrick Crewdson

The Yemeni man deported from New Zealand presented a passport with his complete name when entering the country - fully identifying himself to immigration officials.

The Herald on Sunday yesterday viewed a copy of the passport made out to Rayed Mohammed Abdullah Ali. It identifies his occupation as a "decorator" and date of birth as 24 September 1977, in Mecca.

It shows Mr Ali - deported to Saudi Arabia on May 30 for links with a September 11 hijacker - made no secret of his identity when presenting himself to immigration officials.

Last night, Immigration Minister David Cunliffe defended the decision to deport Mr Ali but refused to supply more information. He had cited Mr Ali's connections with those involved in the September 11 attacks, and his actions in the United States and in New Zealand.

He said he possessed information he could not disclose and instead asked the public to trust that the Government had made the right decision.

Mr Ali was arrested on May 29 in Palmerston North where he was found to be building up flying hours at the Manawatu Aero Club.

Mr Cunliffe told the Herald on Sunday Mr Ali's identity was not known until he arrived in New Zealand.

He said Mr Ali used a different version of his name when applying for permission to enter.

Mr Ali's ability to enter the country under his real name raises questions about whether there was a hole in our border security - or whether he was deliberately let in and then kept under strict surveillance.

Mr Cunliffe would not reveal whether the decision to let Mr Ali enter was deliberate. "He was monitored and he was removed in an expeditious manner. The Government does have confidence the overall border security worked."

The Herald on Sunday understands that shortly after Mr Ali entered the country, New Zealand intelligence officials began watching him. The level of manpower used was large and the surveillance went on for two months.

The Herald on Sunday understands New Zealand intelligence operatives were joined by their United States counterparts. It is believed a decision was made to allow Mr Ali to stay here for months - apparently prompted by United States intelligence desires to monitor and follow the 29-year-old.

The paper has been told that his presence became too much for New Zealand officials. His connection to a 9/11 hijacker and the time he was spending at the controls of a plane were behind the decision to deport Mr Ali, possibly against US wishes.

Mr Ali's name was mentioned in the United States 9/11 Commission report - the only basis the Government is publicly offering for deporting the man. The report said he knew Saudi Hani Hanjour, who flew American Airlines Flight 77 into the Pentagon. The pair had friends in common, met occasionally and had trained at the same flying school.

However, in the 18 months following the 9/11 attacks, Mr Ali was not detained even though he was interviewed at least a dozen times by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

The Washington Post also reported that he was put through five lie detector tests in a bid to find links with al Qaeda.

There were growing calls last night for the Government to offer reasons for deporting Mr Ali. The FBI has confirmed to the Herald on Sunday that it has no current interest in Mr Ali. Deedra Abboud of the Phoenix branch of Muslim America Society remembered Mr Ali as a conservative man with a "beautiful voice". She said he was well regarded for the poetic way he would issue the call to prayer.

"The FBI never had anything on him," she said. "If they ever had a hair or anything on him, they would have detained or deported him. He eventually left the country because he was tired of being harassed."

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