11 September 2001>News Stories>Saudis and Indians Cast Doubts on Identities of Accused

Saudis and Indians Cast Doubts on Identities of Accused

By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS . NYTimes . 20 September

Officials in both Saudi Arabia and India are saying that some of the men detained in connection with the terror attacks on the World Trade Center in New York were traveling under false passports, casting doubts on the indentities reported American law enforcement.

Saudis say their nation has been unfairly accused because their compatriots' names have been broadcast around the world as suspects in the Sept. 11 terror attacks in New York.

``I wouldn't be surprised if I see my picture (on television) or my name on the FBI list tomorrow,'' Majed al-Jehani, a former Saudi Arabian Airlines pilot who said he trained in Florida, said Thursday.

U.S investigators have said several of the suspected hijackers who crashed planes into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon had learned to fly in Florida. The FBI identified 19 men as suspected hijackers on a list that has been widely reported.

Saudi government officials and media are on the defensive, arguing that suspects are being publicly accused without sufficient proof, that some of those fingered may have had their passports or other identification stolen by the real culprits, or that the names being publicized are so common that many innocent people are coming under suspicion.

``Until now we haven't seen any proof whatsoever that can tell us who is actually responsible,'' an Information Ministry official said Wednesday on condition of anonymity.

Attempts by The Associated Press to interview Saudis who say they were named as suicide hijackers have failed, reportedly because they have been instructed by Saudi authorities not to talk to the press. But that prohibition apparently does not apply to the Saudi press, which is closely monitored by the government.

The Saudi paper al-Medina quoted Saudi pilot Waleed Alshehri, who is currently abroad on a training course, as saying that he will file a case against CNN for slandering him.

Alshehri's father, a Saudi Foreign Ministry diplomat, Ahmed Alshehri, complained to al-Medina of an ``obvious American haphazardness in throwing accusations at innocent people,'' saying that ``many of those mentioned as suspects appeared to be still around and there was no truth in what was spread about them.''

The FBI list includes both a Wail Alshehri, about whom little information has been divulged, and a Waleed M. Alshehri, said to be a pilot from Saudi Arabia. The FBI said both were on American Airlines Flight 11, one of two planes that crashed into New York's World Trade Center in the series of attacks on Sept. 11.

Al-Medina also said an Abdulaziz Alomari, an employee of Saudi Telecom, also planned to file a case against CNN ``for not verifying what it airs.''

Alomari said he lost his passport while studying in Denver.

The FBI named an Abdulaziz Alomari as a hijacker on Flight 11.

Al Sharq al-Awsat newspaper reported that Saeed Alghamdi, a Saudi Arabian Airlines pilot currently in Tunisia for training, saw his photo aired and heard himself identified as a possible hijacker on CNN. He said CNN cautioned that the picture might not be of the prime suspect.

``For sure they got (the photograph) from the flight safety school in Florida'' where Saudi Arabian Airlines sent him for training between 1998-1999, Alghamdi told the newspaper in a telephone interview from Tunisia.

The FBI said an Ahmed Alghamdi was on United Airlines Flight 175, which also crashed into the World Trade Center.

Saudi media are responding to a campaign of ``false information,'' said Turki al-Saudairi, editor-in-chief of the Arabic-language daily Al Riyadh.

``If in the end some of our countrymen are found responsible, we will not stand by them, but if they are innocent then we will back them until the end,'' the editor said.

Meanwhile police in southern India said that two Indian Muslims arrested in Texas as material witnesses had obtained passports with false information, and one of them was traveling under an alias.

Mohammed Jaweed Azmat and Ayub Ali Khan were detained a day after the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. The FBI said they were found with $5,000 in cash, hair dye and box cutters of the type used by hijackers of at least one of the planes crashed in the attacks.

Indian police investigating the suspects' backgrounds said Khan's real name was Gul Mohammed Shah and that both men were actually 32 years old. U.S. officials had reported, based on the false passports, that Khan was 51, and Azmat, 47.

Gul Mohammed Shah obtained a passport with his real name in 1981 but in December 1992 applied for a new one under the name of Ayub Ali Khan. In both passports, he gave different names for his parents and different addresses.

Azmat had two passports, issued in 1984 and 1991, giving false names for his parents and different dates of birth, police said. U.S. officials have given the spelling of his name as Azmath.

Police in Hyderabad, capital of India's southern Andhra Pradesh state, have filed fraud charges against the two men, said S. Umapathy, deputy police commissioner.

Azmat and Khan had tried to fly from New Jersey to Texas on the day of the attacks and, when their plane was grounded in Missouri, continued by train. They were arrested in Fort Worth, on their way to San Antonio, where another man has also been detained in the case.

They were declared material witnesses and have since been taken to New York, where a federal grand jury has been convened to weigh evidence and issue subpoenas.

Gul Mohammed Khan, a younger brother of Ayub Ali Khan, said the two had left for the United States nine years ago with Indian passports and valid U.S. work permits.

Meanwhile, the U.S. ambassador in India, Robert Blackwill, called off a meeting Thursday with New Delhi's chief Muslim cleric after the cleric described the terrorist strikes against the United States as ``divine wrath'' for ``tyrannical'' U.S. policies.

In the two-page statement, Syed Ahmed Bukhari, head cleric of New Delhi's Jama Masjid mosque, also warned of a backlash if the United States avenges the attacks and said India could also face consequences for its offer to help Washington.

Blackwill met a group of Muslim leaders Thursday, but Bukhari was dropped from the list of those invited, embassy officials said.