Student Accused of Lying About Alleged Hijackers Indicted
By Kristina Lane
A California college student has been accused of lying to a federal grand jury about his association with several of the men thought to be responsible for the Sept. 11 terrorist attack on the Pentagon.
According to an indictment against Osama Awadallah, a 21-year-old student at Grossmont College in El Cajon, Calif., he gave false testimony about his knowledge of Nawaf al-Hazmi and Khalid al-Mihdhar, whom authorities say were two of the five hijackers aboard the American Airlines flight that crashed into the nation’s military headquarters.
Court documents say Awadallah had been studying English as a Second Language at Grossmont since the fall of 2000.
The indictment, handed up in the Southern District of New York, also says the word “Osama” and a phone number that belonged to Awadallah was written on a slip of paper found inside a car registered to al-Hazmi that was abandoned at Dulles International Airport outside Washington, D.C.
A search of a car belonging to Awadallah turned up several videotapes titled “Martyrs of Bosnia,” “Bosnia 1993” and “The Koran v. the Bible, Which is God’s Word?” A search of his apartment uncovered computer-generated photographs of Osama bin Laden, according to the indictment.
Initially arrested as a material witness on Sept. 23, Awadallah testified before the grand jury on Oct. 10 and Oct. 15. He was charged with two counts of perjury based on that testimony.
In his testimony on Oct. 10, Awadallah said he saw al-Hazmi several times at a gas station, accompanied by a man whose name he did not know, and that he did not know an individual whose first name was Khalid.
“Maybe he mentioned his name and I didn’t catch it or something. Something like that,” Awadallah said in excerpts from his testimony included in the indictment. “But after that I didn’t catch his or take it again.”
Awadallah also said on Oct. 10 that some of the handwriting in one of his exam booklets from Grossmont did not belong to him.
The passage in question says: “I have met many people from many countries. One of the quitest (sic) people I have met is Nawaf. Another one, his name Khalid.”
Awadallah said he did not write the phrase “his name Khalid.”
“I wouldn’t write ‘Khalid’ like that,” he said.
During his second round of testimony, Awadallah said all of the words in the exam booklet were his, and that he was sure the man with al-Hazmi at the gas station was al-Mihdhar.
Al-Hazmi and al-Mihdhar entered the United States on Saudi Arabian passports in January 2000 and had lived together in Los Angeles and San Diego.
At his arraignment on Nov. 5, Awadallah pleaded innocent to both counts of perjury.
Jesse Berman, Awadallah’s New York-based attorney, says he will file papers early this month seeking to have the case thrown out. Berman says his primary motivation is that Awadallah did not lie to the grand jury, but was instead correcting himself.
“He was denied due process, he was handcuffed to a chair, locked up in solitary confinement and incommunicado for three weeks,” Berman says. “He was questioned by two prosecutors at the same time, and normally it’s just one attorney. He was beat up on since Sept. 21.”
Awadallah is one of more than 1,000 individuals who have been detained by U.S. authorities in connection with the Sept. 11 attacks. He could face a maximum prison sentence of 10 years if convicted.
Awadallah’s indictment was the second that has been made public in connection with the ongoing investigation into the terrorist attacks, according to Susan Dreiden, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Department of Justice.
The first indictment was handed down by a federal grand jury in Arizona against Faisal al-Salmi, a student at Mesa Community College in Mesa, Ariz. The indictment charged al-Salmi with lying about his affiliation with Hani Hanjour, an alleged hijacker suspected of piloting the plane that crashed into the Pentagon. Al-Salmi’s indictment charged him with denying that he spoke with another material witness, Rayed M. Abdullah.
According to court documents, al-Salmi, who has lived in Phoenix since 1997, has no significant contacts in the United States. His lack of contacts “creates a significant concern that (he) is a serious flight risk,” according to the documents.
Al-Salmi pleaded innocent to both counts of perjury and is being held until his trial Dec. 4. If he is convicted, he could serve up to 10 years in jail.
Another Grossmont student, Yazeed al-Salmi, also was held as a material witness to the Sept. 11 attacks and testified before the grand jury in New York. But Yazeed al-Salmi, who is not related to Faisal al-Salmi, was released by the FBI and returned to San Diego in mid-October.
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