- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 6, 2002

AUCKLAND, New Zealand (AP) Saddam Hussein's stepson, being held in Florida for immigration violations, has said he made an error in his application for an entry visa to the United States, officials in New Zealand said yesterday.
The Iraqi leader's stepson, Mohammed Nour al-Din Saffi, a citizen of New Zealand, accepts that he will be deported from the United States after not receiving a student visa to cover his flight-training program, said New Zealand Foreign Ministry spokesman Brad Tattersfield.
Mr. Saffi, a 36-year-old engineer with the national airline, Air New Zealand, was enrolled for a pilot recertification course but entered the United States on a tourist visa. He was planning to study at a flight school believed by the FBI to have been used by one of the September 11 hijackers.
Mr. Saffi was arrested by immigration and FBI officials in Florida on Wednesday.
Jimmy Brooks, director of air-freight company Tiger Lines Cargo Ltd., said yesterday that he sent Mr. Saffi to a Miami flying school to get his Boeing 727 pilot's license re-certified.
Mr. Brooks said Mr. Saffi planned to work part-time for his Auckland-based company as a flight engineer. The company has yet to begin operations.
Mr. Brooks said Mr. Saffi was supposed to practice in a simulator with two U.S.-based pilots.
"We didn't know he needed a student visa," Mr. Brooks said.
A spokesman for Prime Minister Helen Clark said the government had "no evidence that he is connected to terrorist activity or to terrorist organizations."
Mr. Tattersfield said Mr. Saffi had contacted New Zealand Embassy officials in Washington, "who are convinced Mr. Saffi entered the United States for the purpose of study."
"Saffi accepts he has made a mistake. He's going to be deported, within a matter of days," Mr. Tattersfield said.
New Zealand police said they cooperated with U.S. authorities in Mr. Saffi's arrest.
Detective Superintendent Bill Bishop, the national crime-investigations manager, said Mr. Saffi was "one of several" people being monitored by police but declined to say whether Mr. Saffi posed any security threat.
He said police were not concerned about the prospect of Mr. Saffi being deported to New Zealand.
Mr. Saffi is the eldest son of Samira al-Shahbandar, Saddam's second wife. His father is Nour al-Din Saffi, an aviation engineer and former head of Iraqi Airways.
Mohammed Saffi is believed to have left Iraq after the 1991 Gulf War first to neighboring Jordan and then to New Zealand, where he has been for six years after an argument with his mother.
The reason for the argument was not clear, but according to rumors in Baghdad, he and his father were afraid of Saddam's wrath. The father is believed to be living in exile in Jordan since Saddam fired him from his airline post.
In his hometown of Auckland, neighbors described Mr. Saffi, his wife, and teenage son and daughter as a quiet, "nice" family who mixed mainly with friends in the Middle Eastern community.
"They're just an ordinary family trying to make a life for themselves here," said Dawn Levert, who lives just across from the Saffi home on suburban their street.
Mr. Saffi's wife had been "distraught and angry" when their identity was first revealed by local media last year.


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