Heathrow pilot 'instructed hijackers', extradition hearing told

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The Independent Online

An Algerian pilot, arrested in Berkshire, trained four of the hijackers involved in the 11 September terrorist attack on the United States, an extradition hearing at Bow Street magistrates court in London was told today.

Lotfi Raissi, 27, who was living in Colnbrook, Berkshire – close to Heathrow airport – was arrested on an international warrant issued in the US, after initially being held under the Terrorism Act 2000.

Prosecutor Arvinda Sambir said Raissi was wanted in the United States on charges of giving false information in connection with his application for a pilot's license. The prosecution said he qualified in the United States as a pilot in 1997, attending the same Arizona flight school as four of the hijackers involved in the attacks on 11 September.

The prosecution further claimed that Raissi, beside instructing the hijackers, helped make arrangements for them, but gave no details.

Ms Sambir told the court "he was a lead instructor of four of the pilots that were responsible for the hijackings.

"The one that we are concerned about is the one that went into the Pentagon," she added.

She said Raissi visited the US on a number of occasions between June and July this year.

On June 23 he visited Las Vegas with his wife and then flew to Arizona with the Pentagon pilot, she said.

"We say he was there to ensure that pilots were capable and trained for this purpose."

Ms Sambir said when Raissi was arrested by British police log books were found in his house with crucial dates missing.

She said there was sufficient evidence to show his relationship with the hijackers went further than association.

There was also video footage to show that he travelled with the Pentagon pilot to Arizona, she told the court.

District Judge Nicholas Evans ordered that Raissi should remain in custody and appear before the court again on October 5.

Outside court Raissi's solicitor Richard Egan said in a statement that his client was subject to a US government request for his arrest on charges of giving false information.

"Whether that is the full extent of their request remains to be seen.

"He adamantly denied any involvement in the recent appalling tragedy and he is confident he will be absolved of all involvement."

Raissi, who was living in Collnbrook, Berkshire – close to Heathrow airport – was arrested last Friday by anti-terrorist police along with three other people.

It is believed Raissi's name is on an FBI list of more than 200 people who are wanted for questioning in the hunt for the collaborators who helped the suicide hijackers.

Anti-terrorist officers also arrested Raissi's French-born wife Sonia, 25, last week but she was released without charge on Tuesday.

His 29-year-old brother, Mohamed Raissi, of Hounslow, west London, has also been released without charge.

Student Abu Imard, 44, who was detained in Birmingham by anti-terrorist police on September 21, remains in custody.

Relatives of Raissi have said he had flown jets in the US for several years and was undergoing further training at Heathrow.

Police spent two days searching his ground floor flat and took a number of items away for further examination, including flying manuals.

One neighbour claimed he had found documents in his garden which had been stolen from a Heathrow security guard's car.

The man, who did not want to be named, said he handed them to the police who told him a security guard's uniform was still missing from the same car break-in a few weeks ago.

Raissi's uncle Kamal has insisted that the couple had no links with terror groups, saying: "Of course Lotfi has flying manuals at home – he is learning to be a pilot."

Raissi is one of at least 20 people arrested across Europe as part of a co–ordinated effort to crack down on cells of what may be a network of terror stretching across the continent and beyond.

Many of the suspects are believed to have links to Osama bin Laden, the suspected mastermind of the September 11 terror attacks in the US, authorities said.

Some allegedly trained in camps in Afghanistan and others are believed to have plotted attacks on American interests in Europe – including the US Embassy in Paris.

In Spain, six Algerians with connections to other suspects are being held.

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