Immigration suspect seen at airport in spring

Queries raised suspicions

charged with lying to INS

July 27, 2002|By Greg Garland | Greg Garland,SUN STAFF

An Iranian national who was indicted in Baltimore this month on federal immigration charges roamed around Martin State Airport in Middle River in late May asking questions that aroused the suspicion of airport workers and Baltimore County police, records show.

Shahriar Noormohammadi, 46, asked about the types of airplanes kept at the airport, procedures for obtaining fuel at night and about a padlocked locker at a hangar where keys to airplanes are stored, according to a Baltimore County police report about the incident.

An airport worker who encountered Noormohammadi inside a hangar said he was wearing a winter hat with earmuffs, despite the warm weather, and was "very evasive" about his reasons for being there. He said Noormohammadi "asked for a tour of the place," according to the police report.

The incident occurred in the early evening of May 22, the report said. Airport managers, who told the man to leave the airport grounds, notified county police, who in turn alerted the FBI.

Martin State Airport is owned by the Maryland Aviation Administration and serves as base for the Maryland Air National Guard's fighter jets and cargo planes.

Noormohammadi, who holds a pilot's license and resides in Beaverton, Ore., has been in federal custody since June 3 - a day before he was scheduled to take a commercial flight from Baltimore-Washington International Airport back to Oregon.

He was charged last week with falsely telling police and U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service agents in interviews June 3 that he was a U.S. citizen.

Noormohammadi has been in the United States illegally since 1986, records show, after he failed to appear at a deportation hearing.

He had come to the country on a student visa and later sought asylum, which was refused.

The U.S. Attorney's Office and the FBI would not comment yesterday on their investigation of Noormohammadi.

However, Assistant U.S. Attorney Harvey Eisenberg, who heads a federal government anti-terrorism task force in Maryland, suggested at a detention hearing this week that Noormohammadi could pose a threat if released.

Eisenberg said Noormohammadi lied to get on the grounds of Martin State Airport, according to a tape of Tuesday's hearing before U.S. District Magistrate Judge Paul W. Grimm.

"He told the security guard that he was there for a job interview, which was a lie," Eisenberg said. "When on the grounds, he began to ask questions ... about refueling procedures, times of operation, et cetera. I don't know what his purpose really was, but hopefully that will be fleshed out at some point."

Eisenberg said Noormohammadi also gave several reasons for being in the Baltimore area that appeared to make little sense.

"He stated he was here to somehow assist his parents or relatives to gain entry to the United States," the assistant U.S. attorney said. "He also said that he was here to get a watch repaired in Pennsylvania. Also that he wanted to visit the Holocaust Museum and to get a job. It didn't exactly fit."

Jeff Risberg, Noormohammadi's court-appointed defense lawyer, said his client was in the area on vacation and to look for work.

As for the visit to Martin State Airport, Risberg said: "He was a licensed pilot. He loves airplanes. Wherever he goes, he is interested."

Risberg noted that Noormohammadi bought a round-trip ticket from Beaverton to BWI almost three weeks before he left Oregon and used a credit card in his name.

"Does that sound like a man who was trying to hide what he was doing?" he said.

At the detention hearing, Risberg said that Noormohammadi would be released on his own recognizance "but for his nationality and his pilot's license."

But Eisenberg said that sufficient reasons existed for concern.

"The fact that he is a pilot; the fact that he was in the Iranian military; the fact that he has a degree in physics and all this other behavior made me all the more concerned as a public official," he said. "It wasn't just the fact that this individual was illegal and was an Iranian."

Grimm agreed that Noormohammadi should remain in federal custody - calling him as a potential flight risk.

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