Hijack suspect had flight training in US

Did Kerim Chatty plan to crash into an American embassy in Europe?

Fears of a terrorist attack close to the anniversary of 11 September mounted yesterday when it emerged that an armed man arrested at a Swedish airport had received pilot training in the US.

Kerim Chatty, a 29-year-old Swedish citizen with a Tunisian father, was held on Thursday after a pistol was found in his hand luggage at Vaesteren airport near Stockholm. He was trying to board a Ryanair flight to Stansted.

Yesterday, as Chatty was being questioned for a third day by Swedish detectives, a military intelligence source told Reuters: "We know for sure that the plan was to crash the plane into a US embassy in Europe." Four other members of his cell, one an explosives expert, were being sought, said the source.

The same allegations were repeated by CIA sources to another news agency, but confusion quickly arose. Margareta Linderoth, director of Sweden's Sapo national security police, called the reports "false information", saying: "I deny it absolutely." The CIA sources also withdrew their claims, although Reuters said it stood by its report.

Ms Linderoth confirmed, however, that Chatty had attended a flight training course in South Carolina between September 1996 and June 1997. Although Swedish police said he did not complete the course, it was a chilling echo of 11 September, when hijackers who trained at US flight schools crashed airliners into the World Trade Centre in New York and the Pentagon in Washington. A fourth aircraft went down in Pennsylvania while heading for a target in Washington.

The scare is sure to tighten nerves around the world, and particularly in the US, as next Wednesday's anniversary approaches. Some schools in Manhattan will be closed, and travellers are expected to stay away from commuter trains and buses as well as scheduled flights. Several airlines have cancelled flights on the day.

The motives of Chatty, who has a Tunisian father and a Swedish mother, remain mysterious, but local newspapers discovered yesterday that he had a criminal record which included a firearms offence, theft and assault.

A friend of Chatty's told Expressen newspaper that he had made several trips abroad and had been under investigation by Sapo. After 11 September he was questioned by the security service to establish whether he had any contacts within al-Qa'ida.

"He wanted to participate in jihad, but not in a random group," said the friend. "He was more into ideas about going to Chechnya and fighting the Russians. He talked a lot about Chechnya, as well as listening to speeches on tapes."

The 29-year-old's lawyer, Nils Uggla, said: "He is denying that this is about hijacking or any terrorist action." Chatty had "a good explanation" why he brought the gun on board the Ryanair plane.

Although Chatty had been widely described as a devout Muslim, said the lawyer, he had discussed religion with his client, and "his religious background has nothing to do with this at all. It is irrelevant.

"He is almost experiencing this as a religious persecution. Don't forget that he has a Swedish mother, was born here and has lived here all his life. He thinks that if both his parents were Swedish, there would never had been the same dimension to all this."

Mr Uggla added that Chatty regretted causing trouble for the 20 people booked on the same flight who also were detained for questioning and later released. All were travelling together to an Islamic conference in Birmingham.

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