- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 26, 2002

A Saudi Arabian man who attended Marymount University in Arlington, Va., on a student visa was accused yesterday of fraudulently taking at least 50 English-language proficiency tests to allow other foreign student-visa holders to remain in the country illegally.
Saleh Ali Almari, 25, who was already in custody on unrelated charges, was named in a five-page affidavit filed in U.S. District Court in Alexandria that said authorities found in a search of his Falls Church house a "number of items possibly related to planned acts of terrorism."
The affidavit accuses Mr. Almari, who also briefly enrolled as a student pilot at a Massachusetts flight school, of conspiracy, wire fraud and mail fraud in what authorities suspect was a scheme involving more than a hundred fraudulent tests from Virginia to California.
According to the affidavit, investigators found in his home in the 2200 block of Pimmit Drive a Federal Aviation Administration student flight manual, along with several flight school catalogs and numerous flying magazines.
The affidavit also says authorities found a picture of Mr. Almari and other "Middle Eastern males" posing inside and outside the World Trade Center, a book identifying commercial airliners and a postcard showing an aerial view of the Pentagon.
Investigators also found a hand-drawn sketch of an airplane hitting the World Trade Center, the names and addresses of 12 oil refineries across the country, a book titled "The Strategic Implications of Biological and Chemical Weapons on Gulf Security," photocopies of numerous passports and "airline tickets showing travel to Boston, New York, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles and London."
Also located was a day planner containing a single entry, dated September 11, "Trachd The World Trade Cente or the Pentagon Trachd for the Plaen," and a videotape titled "Incredible Air Disasters."
Mr. Almari, who pleaded guilty in May to separate grand larceny charges involving the theft of eight videotapes from the Boston Public Library, currently has been deemed "out of status" by the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service and is being held for a deportation hearing.
The affidavit says he enrolled at Marymount University in the fall of 2000, but did not attend classes.
Mr. Almari left this country for Saudi Arabia on Sept. 22 11 days after the suicide strikes on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon that killed more than 3,000 people but returned in January and was arrested at Baltimore-Washington International Airport on the grand larceny warrant.
The affidavit, written by Fairfax County Police Detective Douglas H. Comfort, who has temporarily been assigned as a deputy U.S. marshal, is part of a nationwide sweep by the FBI, the U.S. Attorney's Office in Alexandria, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, the INS and Fairfax County police into a suspected gang of conspirators who have fraudulently taken the required Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL).
Students from foreign countries who want to enter the United States to pursue a course of study are allowed to remain on an F-1 student visa, which requires the English-proficiency or TOEFL tests that are coordinated through the Educational Testing Services in Princeton, N.J.
More than 50 arrests have already been made in 13 states.
According to the affidavit, the scheme was "devised and executed" by Mahmoud Firas, Begad Abdel-Megeed and others and involved at least 130 fraudulent tests.
Mr. Firas, 36, of Riverside, Calif., and Mr. Abdel-Megeed, 21, of Alexandria, were charged in May in U.S. District Court in New Jersey with conspiracy, mail fraud and wire fraud.
The affidavit said Mr. Firas told the FBI during an interview Thursday that Mr. Almari and Mr. Abdel-Megeed "had participated with him in the fraudulent TOEFL scheme" and that after a meeting at the Prince Cafe in Falls Church, Mr. Almari agreed to "refer individuals" to him for the tests.
Authorities said the fraudulent test takers appeared at test sites with documents in the name of the students who had to pass the exams. The test takers, after being photographed, would ask that the results be mailed to a post office box in Moreno Valley, Calif., which was controlled by Mr. Firas.
Once the results arrived at the post office box, authorities said, Mr. Firas or an accomplice would replace the photo with a picture of the real student.
The test results were then mailed in phony envelopes purporting to come from the Educational Testing Service to those schools that had sought the test scores.
"This scheme has thus far facilitated the fraudulent immigration status of more than 130 foreign nationals," Detective Comfort wrote in the affidavit.
In a separate investigation, federal authorities have detained a Jordanian who roomed with at least two of the September 11 hijackers, a U.S. official said yesterday.
Rasmi Al-Shannaq was taken into custody on visa violations and was being questioned about his knowledge of his former roommates, said the official, speaking on the condition of anonymity.
The official would not say where Mr. Al-Shannaq was being held.
The men he lived with Hani Hanjour and Nawaq Al-Hazmi helped crash American Airlines Flight 77 into the Pentagon.


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