Jordanian who roomed with hijackers indicted

Man arrested in city is charged with obtaining false U.S. visa in Qatar

July 03, 2002|By Johnathon E. Briggs | Johnathon E. Briggs,SUN STAFF

A Jordanian man arrested last week in Baltimore, who said he roomed with two of the Sept. 11 hijackers last summer in Northern Virginia, was indicted by a federal grand jury yesterday on visa fraud charges.

Rasmi Al-Shannaq, 27, who has been in the custody of the Immigration and Naturalization Service since his arrest June 24 in Southeast Baltimore on charges of overstaying his visa, illegally obtained a fake visa in October from the U.S. Embassy in Doha, Qatar, federal officials said in the one-sentence indictment.

As one of the few people to surface who seem to have spent time with any of the 19 hijackers in the United States, Al-Shannaq has been questioned by FBI agents who view his arrest as an opportunity to gather information he might have about the hijackers and whether he knows of any attacks being planned.

Federal officials have said there is no indication Al-Shannaq was involved in plotting the Sept. 11 attacks and he has been cooperative.

Al-Shannaq was arrested in an early morning raid by dozens of FBI and other federal agents on a rowhouse in the 600 block of S. Lehigh St. in Highlandtown, where he lived with his family and fiancee.

According to a search warrant, federal authorities sought four separate Jordanian passports issued in Al-Shannaq's name and any "objects relating to the ... illegal issuance of U.S. visas in Doha, Qatar."

Al-Shannaq lived for two months in a Northern Virginia apartment with two of the hijackers, Nawaf Alhazmi and Hani Hanjour, who were on board American Airlines Flight 77 when it crashed into the Pentagon, according to federal officials.

Reached at the Al-Shannaq family's home last night, a man who would describe himself only as "a friend" of Al-Shannaq said the family had not heard about the indictment.

The man did not comment further.

The case is being handled by the U.S. attorney's office in Baltimore, which announced the indictment with no fanfare. It had no comment last night.

If convicted, Al-Shannaq faces a maximum penalty that includes a 10-year prison sentence and a $250,000 fine. His initial appearance in U.S. District Court in Baltimore was scheduled for Monday.

The charges against Al-Shannaq follow charges filed against four others who had contact with the Sept. 11 hijackers.

Those four allegedly aided the hijackers in illegally obtaining identification cards. Prosecutors have said it appears they had no advance knowledge of the hijackers' plans.

In one case, a 25-year-old notary public, who helped two of the Sept. 11 hijackers illegally obtain fake Virginia identification cards, was sentenced in January to a year in jail.

Kenys A. Galicia, a permanent U.S. resident from El Salvador, pleaded guilty to a single count of document fraud. She admitted she signed residency certification forms for Abdulaziz Alomari and Ahmed Alghamdi, two of the hijackers who crashed planes into the World Trade Center towers.

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