- The Washington Times - Monday, June 26, 2006

The roommate and flying-school classmate of a September 11 hijacker has been kicked out of New Zealand, where he was using a suspended U.S. private pilot certificate to obtain a commercial license.

Rayed Mohammed Abdullah is one of a dozen pilots whose licenses were suspended after the attacks on New York and the Pentagon. The Federal Aviation Administration revoked Mr. Abdullah’s license last week after a lengthy appeal process.

Mr. Abdullah used an alias to enter New Zealand in February to obtain an English-speaking commercial license. Federal officials declined to comment on their role in his deportation, but press reports say the FBI alerted New Zealand officials to his presence.

“I can tell you there are no U.S. federal charges that I am aware of on Rayed Abdullah,” said Richard Kolko, FBI special agent. “It is our standard procedure. We do not confirm or deny the existence of an investigation, nor do we confirm status on the terrorist watch list.”

“However, the prevention of terrorism is the FBI’s No. 1 priority. It is clear that in the post-9/11 world, we cannot succeed in this task without efficiently sharing information with our domestic and international law-enforcement and intelligence community partners. The FBI has excellent relations with New Zealand through our Legal Attache office in Australia, and it is routine for us to work together in matters of current interest,” Mr. Kolko said.

Dave Mackett, president of the Airline Pilots Security Alliance, says it’s “almost impossible” to get a commercial pilot job because of a “severe” vetting process.

“Any time you have a roommate of a terrorist training to be a commercial airline pilot, it’s great concern,” Mr. Mackett said. “But I don’t think we worry so much that they will become a pilot with hostile intent. A person with minimal skills, on a good day, can fly an airplane into a building.”

Another pilot said he can imagine numerous scenarios “that would scare the public and disrupt the infrastructure” if a terrorist were to obtain such a license.

“He is probably trying to get enough [flying] time to get a corporate job and then fly a larger ‘C’ jet into something of substance for another terrorist event,” the pilot said. That “can be done without drawing attention or raising security concerns.”

Ravindra Singh, a Manawatu Aero Club flight instructor who flew with Abdullah on five training flights, told the Manawatu Standard newspaper the Saudi man left the U.S. five months after the terrorist attack because “no one was allowed to fly after 9/11.”

The paper also reported that Mr. Abdullah’s family has not heard from him since his deportation from New Zealand last month.

Mr. Abdullah shared an apartment with Hani Hanjour and took flight lessons with him at an Arizona flight school. Hanjour, who also had a commercial license, is thought to have been the pilot who crashed American Airlines Flight 77 into the Pentagon.

Laura Brown, spokeswoman for the Federal Aviation Administration, said Mr. Abdullah’s license was suspended and eventually revoked at the request of Homeland Security officials out of “security concerns.” Miss Brown says the number of foreign-born pilots seeking private pilot licenses dropped after the terrorist attacks, when the application process stiffened. There are 600,000 licensed pilots in the United States.

Jennifer Marty, spokeswoman for the Transportation Security Administration, says more than 41,000 applications have been processed since October 2004, and about 100 applications have been denied.

Kathleen Vasconcelos, spokeswoman for the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, says instructors and employees of the nation’s 2,000 flight schools are trained in security awareness.

“There is more scrutiny of foreign students since September 11,” Miss Vasconcelos said. “We are hearing from flight schools that the number of foreign flight students has decreased since 9/11, most likely because of the cost and time involved in complying with new rules.”

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