- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 1, 2002

PATERSON, N.J. (AP) A man suspected of selling fake IDs to two of the September 11 hijackers fled the country for Egypt just before authorities came to arrest him in a raid on his home and businesses yesterday, investigators said.
Interpol was notified to be on the lookout for Egyptian immigrant Mohamad El Atriss.
Mr. Atriss sold a fake ID card to Khalid Almihdhar, who was on the airliner that crashed into the Pentagon, and one to Abdul Aziz Alomari, who was aboard one of the planes that destroyed the World Trade Center, Passaic county sheriff Jerry Speziale said.
Sheriff Speziale and FBI spokeswoman Sandra Carroll said they did not know whether Mr. Atriss knew of the hijackers' plans.
Mr. Atriss operated businesses in Paterson and Elizabeth, N.J., where he sold the identification cards, Sheriff Speziale said. Authorities raided his home and businesses yesterday afternoon and were told Mr. Atriss had taken a flight from Newark, N. J., to Egypt, the sheriff said.
Five minutes before the raid, Mr. Atriss called a New Jersey phone number from somewhere outside the country, Sheriff Speziale said.
"Obviously, its very disappointing," the sheriff said.
Authorities were unsure whether the flight he took left yesterday or on Tuesday. Mr. Atriss was last seen by authorities in New Jersey on Monday, investigators said.
Egyptian government officials refused to comment.
Yesterday's raid was the result of a four-month investigation by sheriffs in northern New Jersey, the Paterson police and the FBI, Sheriff Speziale said. Mr. Atriss had not been under round-the-clock surveillance, sheriff's Lt. Robert Weston said.
Sheriff Speziale would not say why authorities believed Mr. Atriss was the one who sold IDs to the hijackers.
Three employees at his stores Clara Ortubia, 28, Yanelis Fabian, 32, and an unidentified person were arrested during the raid and charged with manufacturing and distributing fraudulent documents and conspiracy.
Inside the Paterson office, investigators found large rolls of plastic laminating sheets and backings used to make driver's licenses in New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts and several other states. A sign outside the building identified it as a provider of international drivers licenses and ID cards, notary public, fax and passport services and a money-transfer station.
Authorities said investigators had gathered 75 fake IDs that Mr. Atriss generated and sold for as much as $800 each, and believed he made many more.
The investigation, dubbed Operation Paper Trail, began after police in northern New Jersey started finding similar fake IDs, Sheriff Speziale said.
Authorities were tipped to Mr. Atriss by a St. Paul, Minn., company that he had contacted about paying cash for a high-speed copier capable of embossing seals.

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