Map led FBI to security guard

Judge denies bond to Va. man called `essential witness'

Unrelated charges filed

Terrorism Strikes America

The Nation

September 27, 2001|By Gail Gibson | Gail Gibson,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON - A scribbled note on a road map left in the car of one of the hijacking suspects has led FBI agents to a Virginia security guard whom federal prosecutors described yesterday as an "essential witness" in the investigation of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Mohamed Abdi, arrested this week on check forgery charges, was ordered held without bond yesterday by a federal judge in Alexandria, Va., after prosecutors said that it was likely that Abdi would try to flee the country if released.

FBI agents want to question Abdi about possible ties to the 19 suspected hijackers, all of whom are presumed dead. In court yesterday, Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert A. Spencer said that Abdi was an important witness and that "he may be more."

Abdi, 44, who lives in an Alexandria apartment with his wife and children, has not been charged with any crimes related to the Sept. 11 attacks. His court-appointed attorney described Abdi yesterday as a $22,000-a-year security guard wrongly swept up in an investigation he knows nothing about.

In an affidavit and in court testimony yesterday, however, FBI Special Agent Kevin W. Ashby detailed the government's interest in Abdi, which began in the parking lot of Washington Dulles International Airport one day after the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

FBI agents searching a 1988 Toyota registered to one of the suspected hijackers on American Airlines Flight 77 found the name "Mohumed" written on a Washington road map, along with a Northern Virginia phone number, according to the affidavit.

The Toyota was registered to Nawaq Alhamzi, a Saudi national, at a California address, the affidavit said. Alhamzi has been named as one of the five suspected hijackers on Flight 77, a Boeing 757, which originated at Dulles and crashed into the Pentagon.

Inside Alhamzi's car, investigators also found a box-cutter knife, four drawings of the cockpit of a 757 airliner, other maps of Washington and New York, and a cashier's check made out to a flight school in Phoenix, the affidavit said.

The phone number on the map led police to Abdi's Alexandria apartment on East Glebe Road. Ashby testified yesterday that when agents arrested Abdi this week, he had with him a newspaper article about Ahmed Ressam, an Algerian sentenced to 130 years in prison for a millennium scheme to blow up the Los Angeles airport.

Ressam has testified about his training at Afghan terrorist camps, where he has said students were taught "how to blow up the infrastructure of a country."

After his arrest, Abdi told agents that he had donated his car in 1999 to the Salvation Army and suggested that might have been how the map with his phone number wound up in Alhamzi's car, Ashby testified. But investigators determined that Abdi did not have that same phone number in 1999, the agent said.

Abdi was held on a charge unrelated to the terrorist attacks. He was accused of forging his landlord's signature on housing subsidy checks he received from Arlington County and then depositing the checks in his own bank account, according to court papers. Ashby swore out the affidavit to support two arrest warrants, but no other arrests in the case have been made public.

Abdi, who is a naturalized U.S. citizen from Somalia, is one of roughly 350 people who have been detained by FBI agents or immigration officials as part of the sweeping probe of the Sept. 11 attacks. Abdi's case, however, is one of the few that federal officials have not placed under court seal.

A woman who answered the telephone at Abdi's home yesterday said she did not speak English. In court, defense attorney Joseph Bowman said his client had no information about the attacks and argued that he should be released on bond.

Spencer, the federal prosecutor in Virginia, said in court that Abdi used to work for an airline catering firm. He would not elaborate on what information investigators think Abdi might have. Justice Department officials refused to comment on the case.

At a second court hearing yesterday in Alexandria, U.S. Magistrate Judge W. Curtis Sewell also ordered Herbert Villalobos held without bond. Villalobos has been charged with helping at least two of the suspected hijackers fraudulently obtain Virginia identification cards, which the men might have used to board commercial airliners.

In New York, where federal prosecutors are coordinating much of the investigation, U.S. Attorney Mary Jo White acknowledged in a statement that a Texas radiologist held for 10 days of questioning by federal officials in New York had been released.

White said that Albader Alhamzi "answered all questions put to him. He was not, and is not, a subject of this investigation."

For a second day, the FBI and the Department of Transportation advised the trucking industry yesterday to watch for suspicious activity involving trucks transporting chemicals or other hazardous materials.

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