Sun, Sep 30, 2001 - Page 1 News List

Britain arrests man suspected of being hijackers' instructor


An Algerian pilot arrested in London was "a lead instructor" of the hijackers who crashed an airliner into the Pentagon, a prosecutor acting on a US warrant said Friday.

Lotfi Raissi, 27, made several trips to the US this summer, and flew with one of the suspected hijackers on June 23 from Las Vegas to Arizona, prosecuting attorney Arvinda Sambir said.

"He was a lead instructor of four of the pilots that were responsible for the hijackings," Sambir said in Bow Street Magistrates Court in central London. "The one that we are concerned about is the one that went into the Pentagon."

Raissi was arrested Friday, after a week in custody, under a warrant from a federal court in Arizona alleging that he gave false information on a Federal Aviation Administration application for a pilot's license. He has not been formally charged with any offense.

Further allegations were expected, Sambir said. "It is no secret that conspiracy to murder is being looked at."

Richard Egan, Raissi's defense lawyer, said his client rejected the allegations.

"He adamantly denies any involvement in the recent appalling tragedies," Egan said outside the court.

Raissi remained in custody pending a further hearing on Oct. 5. US authorities have 60 days to file an extradition request, the Home Office said.

Since the terrorist strikes in Washington and New York City on Sept. 11, 20 people have been arrested in a European sweep for suspected confederates of Osama bin Laden, the chief suspect in the attacks.

Raissi was one of four people detained by British police on Sept. 21. Three were released without charge.

They were identified in news reports as Raissi's 25-year-old wife, Sonia; his 29-year-old brother, Mohamed, and Abu Imard, 44. Imard, who was arrested in Birmingham, was released Friday evening.

Raissi started training for a US commercial pilot's license in 1997, Sambir said. It was unclear where Raissi allegedly attended flight school with the hijackers -- Sambir said he had been at several flight schools, including one in Arizona.

Former employees of the Sawyer School of Aviation in Phoenix said they remembered Raissi using the school's flight simulator at least as recently as 1999 to instruct others.

He often came in late at night with a group of men who huddled around the simulator with him, the employees said.

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