Judge orders Afghan to remain held without bond

Brother's flying lessons seen as security concern

October 19, 2002|By Jamie Stiehm | Jamie Stiehm,SUN STAFF

A federal judge ordered an Afghan native who was arrested in Northwest Baltimore last month held without bond, saying new information showing that the man's brother took flying lessons in the United States heightened national security concerns.

Even as federal authorities held Reza Zazai, their efforts to further question his brother, Ahmad Shah Khattab, were stymied.

Zazai and Khattab were arrested along with six other men of Afghan, Pakistani and African descent.

They were found in an apartment containing material that investigators called suspicious, including computers with links to flight training schools.

Several of the men, including Zazai, were detained for being in the country illegally, but Khattab was released after questioning because he was a legal visitor to the United States and a Canadian citizen.

Now, authorities have been unable to locate him for further questioning.

Department of Justice Immigration Judge Bruce M. Barrett cited "national security reasons" for granting a government request for more time for an FBI terrorist task force investigation into materials found in the Labyrinth Road apartment where Zazai, his brother and the others lived.

Evidence that Khattab had taken at least one flying lesson was the most compelling fact in the government's case to continue holding Zazai, Barrett said in his summation.

Zazai, 25, is being held in INS custody on charges of overstaying his visa, as are three other men who were arrested the same day.

"The flight training is disturbing to the court," Barrett said. "The key for me is the tie-in with the brother who has absconded."

In a teleconference with Zazai, Barrett pressed him for details about his travels and employment history in the U.S. and Canada during the past seven years.

Zazai - who entered the country on Sept. 8, 2001 - said he is a Canadian citizen and immigrated to Canada from Pakistan in 1994.

Barrett expressed skepticism after Zazai spoke of traveling around the world, including a trip to Holland and then back to Pakistan shortly before he last came to the U.S.

Changing world

"The world has certainly changed since Sept. 11, and [there are] elements that disturb the court," Barrett said.

"He entered the country three days before Sept. 11, and I don't see where the money's coming in. ... I don't see the work history and the money quite equating."

As they had in previous bond hearings, INS lawyers presented FBI findings of materials in the Baltimore apartment including computer links to flight schools and regional airports and radical Islamic "jihad" or holy war documents.

Zazai's lawyer, Muneer I. Ahmed, said his client does not read or write Arabic, and therefore a green notebook found on the premises with handwritten references to jihad and the Quran did not belong to him.

Ahmed also said that Zazai refused to take a polygraph test.

Zazai said repeatedly that he had come to Baltimore intending to become part of the Afghan business community, which meant, he said, investing $10,000 for a share of the fast-food chain New York Fried Chicken.

Most of the men arrested at the apartment said that they had some business connection with that fast-food business, and said they shared the apartment to save money on rent.

Doesn't `feel safe'

One man in INS custody is a Somali native who will be deported to Somalia soon, INS officials said yesterday. A second, Khoshal Wahid Nasery, is being held on $150,000 bond. The third, Unsir Hafeez of Pakistan, is scheduled for a bond hearing next week.

After the hearing, Ahmed said the post-Sept. 11 environment in the United States was hostile to men like Zazai trying to make a living without raising hackles of suspicion.

Zazai said as much to the judge when asked why he now wished to return to Canada. "I don't feel safe here no more," he said.

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