Pilot accused of links to hijack 'had access to funds and fake documents'

War on Terrorism: Courts
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The Independent Online

An Algerian pilot accused of training four hijackers involved in the attacks on America had access to forged documents and money to finance flight-simulator instructions, a court was told yesterday.

Lotfi Raissi, 27, was remanded in custody for three weeks after a hearing at the high-security Belmarsh magistrates' court in south-east London was told further details of his alleged role in the attacks.

The commercial pilot, who faces extradition to the United States, was claimed at an earlier hearing to have had close links with the team that crashed into the Pentagon on American Airlines flight 77.

Mr Raissi's lawyer said there was no evidence to substantiate the allegations against his client, who is being held on three "holding" charges of providing false information for his US pilot's licence. But prosecutors told the court that Mr Raissi, of Colnbrook, near Slough, Berkshire, had a history of deception. He used a false identity when he was arrested in 1993 on an allegation of theft using an alias, they said.

Three years on he allegedly obtained a visa to travel to the US from Tunisia with the purpose of taking flying lessons. He took a flat in a complex, Wickertree Apartments, in north Phoenix, Arizona, late in 1996. Arvinder Sambei, for the prosecution, said Mr Raissi then enrolled in a flying school for continuous training between May 1997 and June last year, during which time he allegedly helped train the hijackers.

The court was told that on three separate occasions he trained Hani Hanjour, the man believed by the FBI to have flown flight 77 into the Pentagon, and the pair had been filmed on video together.

Once Mr Raissi had obtained his Federal Aviation Authority commercial pilot's licence in 1997, he was alleged to have arranged for Hanjour and two other men to have lessons on a flight simulator.

The bill for the lessons, consisting of a $300 (£215) registration fee every month and an hourly rate of £100 (£70), was met each time by the married Algerian, the court was told

Ms Sambei said the reason for the simulator sessions was to train colleagues: "Raissi had a huge and unusual number of [simulator] flying hours for a man of his qualifications. He had no need of further training but was continuing to make himself out as a student."

The court was told that between October 1997 and June 2001 there were large gaps in Mr Raissi's flight log-books, including ripped out pages. There was independent evidence that he was still flying at the time, the prosecution said.

Ms Sambei said that the authorities were opposed to bail on the ground that Mr Raissi had access to false documents and money that would allow him to flee.

Hugo Keith, for the defence, said his client had been caught up in a storm of "sensationalism and extraordinary innuendo", and was being held on charges that amounted to perjury rather than terrorism. He said: "These allegations consist of a number of pieces of a jigsaw forced together to paint a sinister portrait of a man in some way connected with the events of 11 September."

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