- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 1, 2002

From combined dispatches
STOCKHOLM A Swedish man of Tunisian origin, arrested on suspicion that he was about to hijack a plane, was planning to crash the aircraft into a U.S. embassy in Europe, Swedish intelligence and police sources said yesterday.
A top police official said the man, who was identified by his attorney as Kerim Chatty, 29, had taken flying lessons in the United States, adding to fears of copycat attacks as the first anniversary of the September 11 suicide attacks in the United States approaches.
However, intelligence sources and police were at odds over the incident, which began when a gun was found in Mr. Chatty's hand luggage as he boarded a flight to Britain from Vasteras, west of Stockholm. One police official flatly denied the embassy plan.
A highly placed intelligence source said police were hunting four more men, including an explosives expert, who were believed to have worked on the plan with Mr. Chatty.
"We know for sure that the plan was to crash the plane into a U.S. embassy in Europe," the source told Reuters.
The report was certain to unnerve Western governments who had already ordered extra security precautions ahead of the anniversary of the September 11 attacks, carried out by hijackers who had learned to fly the aircraft in courses in the United States.
But a source in Sweden's National Security Police (SAPO) said the agency had been instructed by the government to play down the incident at a politically sensitive time, two weeks before an election.
Margareta Linderoth, a SAPO official responsible for several departments, including the one handling international terrorism, denied that police believed Mr. Chatty was planning to attack an embassy or that four more men were being sought.
"I have never heard that the man has planned to do what you say he has," she said. "We are not looking for four other men."
Miss Linderoth said on Swedish radio that Mr. Chatty had taken flying lessons in the United States but had not completed his training and did not get his license. It is possible he has qualified since then, she said.
Another SAPO source said the security police were working on the theory that Mr. Chatty was part of a group that was planning to crash at least one plane into a U.S. embassy. They did not know which embassy was believed to have been targeted.
The military intelligence and SAPO sources said two officers from the CIA and two from Britain's MI5 counterespionage service had flown to Sweden from Britain, though this was also officially denied by Miss Linderoth.
In Washington, a State Department official said, "The investigation is in the hands of the Swedish authorities, and we are prepared to cooperate."
The official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, also said U.S. embassies in Europe had not been put on higher state of alert as a result of the incident.
Mr. Chatty's attorney, Nils Uggla, denied that his client was planning to hijack a flight to London or that he had anything to do with terrorism or any attacks.
"He denies that this has anything at all to do with terrorism or airplane hijacking," the Associated Press quoted Mr. Uggla as saying. "He is deeply sorry that he caused trouble for the others who were traveling."
About reports that Mr. Chatty planned to crash a plane into a U.S. embassy, Mr. Uggla said, "It sounds highly unlikely."
Mr. Uggla said Mr. Chatty, whose father is from Tunisia and whose mother is from Sweden, can explain why he carried a gun in a toilet-articles bag but would not be more specific, citing a gag order.
The tabloid newspaper Expressen said the firearm was a 6.5 mm pistol, loaded with three or four rounds.
Passengers on the plane, operated by the Irish budget airline Ryanair, included people traveling to an Islamic conference in the English city of Birmingham. A SAPO source said they had been questioned but had no connection with Mr. Chatty.
Abu Khadeejah, one of the organizers of the Islamic conference in Birmingham, said Friday that neither he nor other conference officials knew Mr. Chatty.
Swedish police do not believe Mr. Chatty or anyone he was working with is part of Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda group, blamed by Washington for the September 11 attacks. Instead, they believe a copycat attack was being planned.
"There is nothing to suggest that this is al Qaeda," one SAPO security police source said. "It's more likely that they are some kind of 'wannabes.'"
Mr. Chatty was moved to a high-security prison and was expected to be charged tomorrow with hijacking or illegal possession of a firearm. Police spokesman Ulf Palm said police had until midday tomorrow to apply to a magistrate to detain him further.
Mr. Chatty, a recent convert to Islam, had been convicted on theft and assault charges, including one from a brawl with a group of U.S. Marines at a gym in Stockholm in 1997.
A spokesman for the U.S. Embassy in Stockholm declined to comment on the report or the scuffle with the Marines, saying the investigation was "in the hands of Swedish authorities." Other Swedish military and government officials referred questions to the security police.
Expressen said Mr. Chatty had become a devout Muslim in recent years, regularly visiting a mosque in Stockholm. It quoted his friends as saying he had often spoken of fighting for Islam but was not a member of any organization.
The Swedish tabloid Aftonbladet quoted Jim Trautman, an official at the North American Institute of Aviation, as saying that Mr. Chatty had attended flight school in Conway, S.C., in 1996 and 1997.
"Unfortunately, I cannot see whether he finally received a diploma or not," Mr. Trautman said.
James Lamb, assistant flight instructor at the school, said he can neither confirm nor deny whether Mr. Chatty was a student at the school.
"In May, we had a large fire. The main computer that had all that information on it was lost," Mr. Lamb said.

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