- The Washington Times - Monday, September 17, 2001

FBI investigators combed through an apartment complex in Laurel, Md. questioning residents about their neighbor Moataz al-Hallak, a former Islamic leader suspected of giving shelter and help to one of the hijackers on board the first airliner to crash into the World Trade Center last week.
Speaking through the locked door of his third-floor apartment on Muirkirk Road yesterday, Mr. al-Hallak, who refused to speak with FBI agents on Thursday about his relationship with terrorist Mohammed Atta, 33, also refused to talk at length to reporters yesterday.
"I'm not answering any questions. Go through my lawyer," he said.
Stanley L. Cohen, Mr. al-Hallak's New York-based attorney, said the FBI is investigating his client because "they claim they were told that, subsequent to the attacks, somebody — they won't say who — told them that Moataz said there was going to be a bombing."
In 1997 and 1998, Mr. al-Hallak was called to testify twice before a federal grand jury in New York about the bombing of U.S. embassies in Nairobi, Kenya, and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. On May 29, operatives of suspected terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden were convicted of murder and faced the death penalty.
Mr. al-Hallak was not charged in the crimes or named as an unindicted co-conspirator. However, one of those convicted in the bombings lived in Arlington, Texas, as did Mr. al-Hallak, who was a leader in the local mosque.
Mr. Cohen told The Times yesterday that the FBI was wrong to accuse Mr. al-Hallak of prior knowledge of the attacks or of assisting Atta before the suicide-attacks in New York and at the Pentagon.
Two of the 19 suspected hijackers named so far by the FBI — Waleed M. Alshehri and Ahmed Alghamdi — lived for a short time in Vienna, Va., said the FBI and a local landlord.
"I suspect they're hoping he makes a run for it so they can take him in on a material witness order," Mr. Cohen said.
Last week, the Dallas Morning News reported FBI officials in Texas announced they wanted to question Mr. al-Hallak as a potential suspect.
FBI investigators did not return phone calls seeking comment yesterday.
Federal law enforcement authorities, however, told The Times yesterday that Atta was the leader of a terrorist cell and traveled often between the United States and several countries abroad, including Germany and Spain. He made at least two trips from Miami to Spain in past months, they said.
Authorities said he traveled on an Egyptian passport, and his family lived in Cairo. A native of the United Arab Emirates, he was registered as a student at the Technical University in Hamburg, Germany.
They said his job for the cell was to pay the rent on several houses in which he and others lived in the United States, including Maryland. It was his credit cards, authorities believe, that were used to lease cars for himself and at least one other hijacker.
Atta obtained a visa to enter this country at the U.S. Consulate in Berlin on May 18, 2000, and came to Newark, N.J., on June 3, on a flight from Prague. He was admitted under a temporary visitor's visa good for six months. On immigration documents, he listed his address as the Lexington Hotel in New York City. Hotel officials said they have no evidence Atta was a guest.
It was unclear yesterday when Atta lived in Maryland. He more recently lived in Florida, where he was believed to have started flight school in January 2000.
The Crestleigh Apartments where Mr. al-Hallak lives is located in an upscale part of Laurel. Dave Robinson, 53, who lives in the same complex as Mr. al-Hallak, said FBI agents were at his apartment on Thursday, showing him five different pictures of men who looked Arabic. "I recognized the picture of one guy," he said, "but it was because I had seen him on television, not because I had seen him around here."
Mr. Robinson said the pictures looked like they were taken from a bank machine or an airport security camera. "The only reason the cops were out here is that there's a Middle Eastern family," Mr. Robinson said. "I think it's justified. I'm from England — if the English did this, I'd expect the FBI to be over here checking me out."
Khaled Ali, 31, an immigrant from Saudi Arabia who also lives in the apartment complex, said the FBI visited his house on Thursday as well, but he thought they came "for protection purposes and to make sure things are fine."
"This neighborhood is fine and happy and friendly," Mr. Ali said, adding he was not scared but was definitely "limiting" his movements outside the house.
Mr. Cohen said Mr. al-Hallak moved to Maryland about a year ago because of disagreements with others in the Muslim community in Arlington, Texas.
"He's been in the country for 25 years — he's been a citizen for 10 years — and he doesn't have a political bone in his body," Mr. Cohen said.
"This is an absolute circus. The FBI is running around all over the country looking in closets, and everybody is scared of their shadow," Mr. Cohen said.
Jerry Seper contributed to this report.

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