Tape shows hijacker's traffic stop

He was pulled over by state police Sept. 9 for speeding

Plane crashed in Pa.

Trooper handled incident properly, superintendent says

January 09, 2002|By Del Quentin Wilber | Del Quentin Wilber,SUN STAFF

The Maryland state trooper who caught Ziad Jarrah speeding two days before he hijacked a plane Sept. 11 said the man remained "calm" and "cooperative" during an eight-minute traffic stop recorded on a videotape publicly released yesterday.

After Jarrah signed and accepted a ticket for driving 90 mph on Interstate 95, Trooper Joseph Catalano told him he was "free to go," having no way of knowing what Jarrah would soon do.

Catalano and state police officials described the trooper's brush with Jarrah, one of the alleged ringleaders of the Sept. 11 plot, during a news conference yesterday. Police officials also played a grainy videotape of the traffic stop that was taken from a windshield-mounted camera in Catalano's patrol car.

The tape -- which also recorded sound through a microphone attached to the trooper's uniform -- and police statements show a calm and collected Jarrah.

Jarrah and three other terrorists boarded United Airlines Flight 93 at Newark International Airport in New Jersey on the morning of Sept. 11. The plane crashed into a field in Pennsylvania after passengers wrestled with the hijackers. All 44 people aboard were killed.

Catalano, who joined the state police three years ago, would not say how he felt about his brief encounter with Jarrah, saying he preferred not to get into his "personal emotions."

Col. David B. Mitchell, the state police superintendent, said Catalano acted appropriately and that he was "proud" of the way the trooper handled himself.

"There was nothing evident to the trooper about what [Jarrah] was involved in," Mitchell said. "There were no circumstances to question this man more than we did."

Catalano spotted Jarrah speeding in a 65-mph zone shortly after midnight and pulled him over on the right shoulder of northbound I-95 about 3 miles north of the Susquehanna River bridge, state police said.

The video shows flickering red and blue police lights illuminating Jarrah's rental car, which is also illuminated by the cruiser's headlights and spotlight. Brake lights on Jarrah's car, a red Mitsubishi, cast a red glow as dozens of cars and trucks zip along the highway.

Catalano walks around his patrol car, knocks on the passenger-side door of the Mitsubishi. Jarrah opens the door. "How are you doing today," Catalano asks. "Driver's license and registration, please."

Catalano pauses and studies Jarrah's identification -- a Virginia driver's license -- and the registration of the rental car, which had New Jersey tags.

"Do you still live in Springfield, on Quick Silver Drive?" Catalano asks. Jarrah's response cannot be clearly heard on the tape, but Catalano said he answered "yes" and nodded his head.

"I'll be right with you," Catalano says as he walks back to the cruiser.

For the next six minutes, Catalano writes the ticket. Music can be heard from the cruiser's radio. Catalano then approaches the car again, tells Jarrah he needs to sign the ticket and that he faces a $270 fine.

"You're free to go," Catalano says before walking back to the patrol car. Within 15 seconds, Jarrah flips on his left turn signal and enters traffic.

Catalano said he learned about the significance of his traffic stop Sept. 13, just after state police were notified by FBI agents that the citation had been found in the glove box of the rental car, which was parked at the Newark airport.

Catalano asked dispatchers to check on whether the car was stolen but did not ask them to check on whether Jarrah was wanted by officials on any charges.

In this case, it wouldn't have mattered if Catalano had requested such a search on national computer databases.

Jarrah was in the United States on a visa and was not on any terrorist watch lists. Nor was he wanted for questioning by federal authorities, said Michael S. Clemens, assistant special agent in charge of the Baltimore office of the FBI.

"He was not on the radar screen of any federal agency," Clemens said.

State police said they released the videotape after receiving requests from The Sun, which first reported the traffic stop last month, and other media outlets.

State police also released a copy of the traffic citation, which showed that Jarrah had a Virginia driver's license and listed his home address as 6601 Quick Silver Drive, Apt. 137, in Springfield, Va.

Mitchell said the license was legitimate.

A spokeswoman with Virginia's Department of Motor Vehicles said the state's privacy laws precluded her from releasing any information about Jarrah's license.

Jarrah, a 26-year-old Lebanese national, has been identified in court papers as one of the key organizers of an al-Qaida terrorist cell that was formed in Germany three years ago and conceived and planned the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

Jarrah had been the United States for several months, training to fly planes and improve his martial arts skills. On Aug. 27, he checked into the Pin-Del Motel in North Laurel.

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