- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 13, 2002

A London magistrate yesterday released from custody an Algerian pilot once described as the "lead instructor" of four of the September 11 hijackers, saying accusations of terrorism against the man "could no longer be substantiated."

The Algerian, Lofti Raissi, was ordered released on $14,280 bail by Magistrate Timothy Workman after U.S. prosecutors seeking to extradite him to the United States were told to either bring formal charges of terrorism against Mr. Raissi or proceed with lesser charges of making false statements to obtain a pilot's license.

Mr. Raissi, 27, was indicted in Arizona on Sept. 21 on charges of falsifying information on a Federal Aviation Administration form in June 2000. Those accusations were used to hold him in jail for an extradition hearing pending the filing of suspected terrorism charges.

But Magistrate Workman said in court the U.S. government's argument that Mr. Raissi was linked to the attacks was no longer credible. He scheduled March 28 for an extradition hearing on the false statements charge, ordered Mr. Raissi to surrender his passport and to live at an address specified by the court pending the hearing.

U.S. authorities, who had sought Mr. Raissi's extradition, said the Algerian remains a suspect in the September 11 attacks and vigoursly opposed his release.

James Lewis, a British prosecutor who presented the U.S. extradition case, said the United States did not presently intend to seek his return on the terrorism charges. Mr. Lewis added, however, that Mr. Raissi was still a suspect and prosecutors were "concerned with an investigation into an atrocity that shocked the civilized world. "Those responsible for and concerned in the attacks must be brought to justice. Mr Raissi is a suspect in that investigation," he said.

In Washington, Justice Department spokesman Bryan Sierras said no decision had been made on whether to pursue extradition.

Mr. Raissi cried after the ruling was announced. Later, he walked from the courthouse hand in hand with his French wife, Sonia.

"We believe justice has been done," Mrs. Raissi told British reporters. "My message to the FBI is: You arrested him for terrorism. Why do you want to extradite him on these minor charges? They should drop the charges."

Mr. Raissi was arrested at his home near London's Heathrow Airport. In the weeks after the September 11 attacks, British prosecutors depicted him as one of their most important terrorist suspects. But his extradition was sought on charges of falsifying an application for a pilot's license and other documents.

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