The case against an Indonesian man who the FBI thinks is linked to the September 11 terrorists was delayed because his court-appointed attorney recused himself when an FBI agent testified about the man’s reputed links to the terrorists.
On the surface, the document-fraud case against Agus Budiman, 31, has nothing to do with the terrorist attacks. But prosecutors think Mr. Budiman is a close associate of Mohamed Atta, a ringleader in the September 11 hijackings.
In addition, authorities suspect that the man Mr. Budiman is accused of helping to obtain a fake Virginia ID card, Mohammad Bin Nasser Belfas, is a contact for Osama bin Laden.
At a detention hearing yesterday in U.S. District Court in Alexandria, FBI Special Agent Jesus Gomez began to detail Mr. Budiman’s reputed contacts with Atta; another hijacker, Marwan al-Shehhi; and Ramsi Binalshibh, a Muslim cleric identified by FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III as “the 20th hijacker.”
At that point, defense attorney Gregory English asked U.S. Magistrate Theresa Carroll Buchanan to be recused.
Mr. English, a retired Army officer who was appointed to the case Friday, said he had friends who died September 11 when hijackers crashed an American Airlines jet into the Pentagon.
“On the surface of the papers, it appeared to be a run-of-the-mill immigration-fraud case,” Mr. English said after the hearing. “I particularly couldn’t represent anyone for anything regarding the September 11 attacks.”
Magistrate Buchanan removed Mr. English from the case and rescheduled the preliminary hearing for Thursday.
Before the hearing was interrupted, Agent Gomez testified about discussions Mr. Budiman had with Atta and with Mr. Binalshibh, also known as Ramsi Omar.
Mr. Mueller has said that Mr. Binalshibh, a Yemeni citizen who had been living in Hamburg, Germany, was likely supposed to have been the fifth hijacker on United Airlines Flight 93, which crashed in a western Pennsylvania field while on a flight path to Washington. Mr. Binalshibh is now the subject of a worldwide manhunt.
Agent Gomez said that Mr. Binalshibh twice tried unsuccessfully to use his association with Mr. Budiman as a means to enter the United States.
He also said that Mr. Binalshibh told Mr. Budiman of his desire to fight an Islamic holy war in Bosnia.
Both Mr. Budiman and Mr. Belfas were named on a list of 370 persons sought by the FBI for questioning in the September 11 attacks. The list was made public by Finnish authorities more than a month ago. Mr. Budiman was subsequently picked up.
Mr. Budiman is identified on the list as a U.S. contact for Atta. Mr. Belfas is identified as a contact for bin Laden. No charges against Mr. Belfas have been made public, and his whereabouts are not clear.
Ivan Yacub, Mr. Budiman’s immigration attorney, said Mr. Budiman only knew Atta casually, because they attended the same mosque in Hamburg several years ago.
Mr. Budiman, who knew Atta by the alias Mohammed Al-Amir, had not seen Atta since he came to the United States in October 2000, Mr. Yacub said.
Four persons have been charged in federal court in Alexandria with helping some of the hijackers obtain fake Virginia ID cards. One has pleaded guilty, while another pleaded guilty to related charges.
At one point, investigators were suspicious that one of the four, Luis A. Martinez-Flores, was closely tied to the hijackers. But investigators no longer think that any of the four charged prior to Mr. Budiman had any knowledge of the hijackers’ intentions.