Saudi sought by FBI reportedly in custody

Man, 21, turns himself in, denies link to hijackers

August 25, 2002|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

A 21-year-old Saudi man sought by the FBI last week for possible links to the Sept. 11 hijackers has turned himself in to authorities in his homeland and has denied any involvement with the terrorist conspiracy, according to news reports yesterday in Saudi Arabia.

The man's father, Abdulaziz al-Rasheed, told Saudi newspapers that his son, Saud A.S. al-Rasheed, had no ties to al-Qaida and had returned home to Saudi Arabia several months before the Sept. 11 attacks after spending a year in Afghanistan working on Muslim charity projects.

He said his son, who was trained as a computer technician, could not explain why his photograph had turned up among others of the hijackers.

The photograph, the father said, appeared to be the one that his son had given to Pakistani authorities on a visa application as he passed through Pakistan en route to Afghanistan two years ago.

American law enforcement officials said the FBI issued its worldwide alert for the younger Rasheed last week after agents reviewed a compact disc seized by Pakistani authorities that contained the image of his passport and photographs of some of the 19 hijackers. Fifteen of the 19 hijackers in the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon were Saudi citizens.

An FBI spokeswoman in Washington said the bureau had no immediate comment on reports of Rasheed's surrender.

If they are granted access to Rasheed, American investigators will doubtless want to ask him if he had contact with al-Qaida in Afghanistan. Al-Qaida often sought recruits from among the young Saudis and other Muslims who traveled to Afghanistan to take part in relief projects while it was ruled by the Taliban.

The senior Rasheed, an employee of the Saudi Red Crescent Society, was quoted in Saudi newspapers as saying that his son was on vacation in Egypt last week when the family learned of the FBI alert.

The elder Rasheed said he urged his son, who owns a candy store, to return home from Egypt. He did, surrendering to the Saudi Interior Ministry on Thursday in the capital city of Riyadh, where the family lives.

"Everyone knows that Saud is innocent and that the information published is baseless," the father was quoted as telling the Saudi newspaper Al Yaum. "I asked him to come back from Egypt, fearing that he might be arrested."

He said his son had spent a year in Afghanistan "to take part in charity activities" before returning to Saudi Arabia about four months before the Sept. 11 attacks. He said he had encouraged his son to make the Afghanistan trip to become "an independent man," adding that his son had never traveled to the United States or Europe.

In a separate telephone interview with the Associated Press, Rasheed said his son had "confirmed to me that he had no relations with any terror group" in Afghanistan - "specifically al-Qaida or the Taliban regime."

U.S. officials have said they do not know who prepared the compact disc that contained the photograph of Rasheed. American officials had said that the FBI and CIA had thoroughly searched their databases for any other information on Rasheed and had found nothing.

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