San Diego Union-Tribune

Oct 13, 2001

Man denied ties to hijacker, indictment says

By JOE CANTLUPE
COPLEY NEWS SERVICE

WASHINGTON -- An Arizona man has been indicted by a federal grand jury on charges of lying about his relationship with Hani Hanjour, a onetime San Diego resident and hijacker in the Sept. 11 attacks, Attorney General John
Ashcroft said yesterday.

Faisal Michael Al Salmi of Tempe, Ariz., tried to mislead FBI investigators during an interview seven days after the terrorist attacks by denying any association with Hanjour, according to federal charges.

Investigators later determined that Al Salmi knew Hanjour and had spoken with him on several occasions. The two men also discussed their "mutual interest in aviation," authorities said.

Hanjour has been identified as one of five men who hijacked American Airlines Flight 77 and crashed it into the Pentagon. FBI officials suspect Hanjour was a pilot.

Ashcroft told reporters yesterday that Al Salmi, 34, was in federal custody in New York but was scheduled to return to Phoenix, where the two-count federal indictment charging Al Salmi with making false statements was unsealed.

During the nationwide investigation stemming from the terrorist attacks, nearly 700 people have been arrested or detained. There have been a few indictments, officials said.

The Arizona indictment was a "reminder that the Justice Department will bring the full weight of the law upon those who attempt to impede or hinder this investigation," Ashcroft said.

"Lying or attempting to conceal information from federal investigators will not be tolerated," he said.

The false statement charges carry a maximum sentence of five years in prison, a $250,000 fine, or both.

Through much of the 1990s, Hanjour, who was from Saudi Arabia, spent time in California and Arizona, where he reportedly attended several flight training schools.

Hanjour also was believed to have enrolled in an English course while in Arizona, and he moved to San Diego within the past two years, officials said. Hanjour, Khalid al-Midhar and Nawaf Alhazmi were identified as three hijackers who resided for a time in San Diego.

Hanjour had been in the United States legally at various times after obtaining student visas. Immigration officials said they were unable to determine whether he was in the country lawfully the day of the attacks.

Al Salmi apparently met Hanjour while they both lived in the Phoenix area, law enforcement sources said. Investigators did not indicate when Al Salmi and Hanjour discussed flying.

During Al Salmi's interview with FBI agents Sept. 18, he said "he had no knowledge or association" with Hanjour, according to the indictment.

Al Salmi also lied about speaking to another Arizona man, Rayed Mohammed Abdullah, who was questioned previously by the FBI about Hanjour, the indictment states.

Abdullah described his "limited association with Hanjour," officials said.

The names of Al Salmi and Abdullah were included on an FBI list of people sought for questioning that was given to banks and published by a Finnish banking agency.