Suspect 'allowed to leave US' eight years ago

War against terrorism: FBI
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The Independent US

One of the men on President George Bush's "most wanted" list of 22 terrorist suspects was within the grasp of law enforcement agencies after the first attack on the World Trade Centre eight years ago. He was released and allowed to leave the United States because the Federal Bureau of Investigation thought it had no case against him.

The lapse, which caused debate within the FBI at the time, is now haunting those anxious to dismantle the al-Qa'ida network and other groups that are almost certainly planning attacks on American targets.

Abdul Rahman Yasin, a second-generation Iraqi immigrant from Indiana, was questioned at length after the 1993 truck bombing of the World Trade Centre, which killed six people. The FBI asked him about his flatmates in Jersey City, many of whom were later indicted for involvement in the bombing, about his contact with explosive chemicals and about his relationship with Ramzi Yousef, later convicted as the operation's mastermind.

"He ... went in quite voluntarily, spoke at length to the FBI and went home," Mr Yasin's US lawyer, Stephen Somerstein, told the Los Angeles Times yesterday. "And the FBI appeared to be satisfied. They let him walk out the door." A chemical burn on Mr Yasin's leg should have suggested involvement with explosives used in the attack.

The FBI's main mistake was to fail to place any restrictions on his movements. A week after the bombing, Mr Yasin flew to Jordan and never returned. He is now believed to be living in Iraq. By August 1993, Mr Yasin was indicted as one of the bombers, and a $2m bounty was placed on his head.

His links to Iraq and his suspected presence there are likely to bolster the argument that the "war on those who harbour terrorists" should focus on America's old Gulf War enemy.