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Uncle calls hijack suspect 'innocent passenger'

Ziad Jarrah
Ziad Jarrah  

By Brent Sadler
CNN Beirut Bureau Chief

BEKAA VALLEY, Lebanon (CNN) -- Relatives of suspected hijacker Ziad Jarrah said Sunday that he was an "innocent passenger" on an airplane that was taken over by terrorists before it crashed in rural Pennsylvania.

Family members in Lebanon provided documentation to CNN that indicated the 26-year-old Jarrah went to a different German technical university than the one attended by two other suspected hijackers, contrary to reports from German authorities.

But Jarrah did take classes at another technical school in the same city as the other two suspects.

U.S. authorities think Jarrah helped hijack United Flight 93 and was at the controls of the plane when it went down Tuesday.

His family showed CNN original documentation, certified by the Lebanese Embassy in Berlin, that indicates Jarrah completed a four-year course in aircraft engineering at the University of Applied Science in Hamburg.

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In an interview with CNN, certain details of Jarrah's studies at the school were confirmed by Hans-Gerhardt Husung, president of the University of Applied Sciences.

"We [Saturday] afternoon checked on our list of students and had to detect this very unpleasant and disturbing news that Mr. Jarrah has been a student of ours," Husung said Sunday.

Husung said Jarrah studied aeronautical engineering at the school, and the school official pledged to help police with their investigation.

"He came to our university in 1997, started his course, but so far after eight semesters we can say he hasn't passed the mid-examinations, which usually have to pass between three and four semesters. So it appears he managed to pass examinations for both courses in [math] and physics, but he didn't come close to any information or knowledge about constructing airplanes or even how to fly airplanes," Husung said.

German authorities said Saturday that Jarrah attended Hamburg's Harburg Technical University, as did two other suspected hijackers. Marwan al-Shehhi is thought to have piloted United Air Lines Flight 175 into the World Trade Center's south tower. Mohamed Atta is thought to have helped hijack American Airlines Flight 11, which crashed into the World Trade Center's north tower.

Ziad Jarrah's family said he had spent some time in Afghanistan 18 months ago, but they are hoping the documentation released to CNN may help clear his name.

"We have been told by authorities Ziad was on the plane and naturally his family is in grief. We are horrified at the terror inflicted on America and we are ready to cooperate with inquiries if asked," said Jamal Jarrah, Ziad's uncle.

Members of Jarrah's family live near Lebanon's border with Syria and appear to be affluent and well educated. Several family members worked or were educated in the United States.

Jarrah lived in Germany until June 2000, when he went to the Miami area and took flight instruction at two schools in southern Florida.

Jarrah had recently been reported as missing by his girlfriend, who lives in the western German city of Bochum, after she had not spoken to him for some time.

German authorities said Jarrah lived in Hamburg and Bochum, and searched two apartments in the two cities. At the Bochum apartment, investigators found a suitcase with documents relating to airlines and airplanes. They would not elaborate further.

--CNN's Berlin Bureau Chief Bettina Luscher contributed to this report.

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