Skip to main content /US /US


Man charged with lying about knowing suspects

NEW YORK (CNN) -- A college student arrested in San Diego last month was charged with two counts of lying to a grand jury about his knowledge of two suspected hijackers implicated in last month's terrorist attacks, according to a criminal complaint unsealed Friday.

The man, Osama Awadallah, 21, a Jordanian who is a permanent resident of the United States, was one of three college students picked up a month ago by the FBI and held as material witnesses in connection with the September 11 attacks. Defense attorneys maintain that Awadallah, as well as the two other men, had nothing to do with the attacks.

"He has never been in trouble in his life," said attorney Jesse Berman.

Awadallah was expected to appear before a federal magistrate Friday in New York.

Attack on America
 CNN NewsPass Video 
Agencies reportedly got hijack tips in 1998
Intelligence intercept led to Buffalo suspects
Report cites warnings before 9/11
Timeline: Who Knew What and When?
Interactive: Terror Investigation
Terror Warnings System
Most wanted terrorists
What looks suspicious?
In-Depth: America Remembers
In-Depth: Terror on Tape
In-Depth: How prepared is your city?
On the Scene: Barbara Starr: Al Qaeda hunt expands?
On the Scene: Peter Bergen: Getting al Qaeda to talk

According to the complaint, Awadallah lied twice to a grand jury about his knowledge of Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar, whom the Justice Department has identified as two of the hijackers on board American Airlines Flight 77, which slammed into the Pentagon.

"Every witness brought before a grand jury as part of the investigation of the horrific attacks on September 11 -- indeed, as part of any investigation -- has an absolute obligation to tell the truth throughout his or her testimony," U.S. Attorney Mary Jo White said in a written statement. "This prosecution demonstrates that we will not allow perjury to impede the pursuit of justice for the victims of these attacks and puts witnesses on notice that anyone who assists terrorists through lies and deception will be vigorously prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

The complaint charges that Awadallah lied to the grand jury on Oct. 10 during the first of his two appearances before it. Specifically, Awadallah had initially said he did not know anyone named Khalid, did not recognize photos of Almihdhar and did not write the names "Nawaf" and "Khalid" in one of his school exam booklets, according to the complaint.

In his second appearance on October 15, Awadallah acknowledged knowing Almihdhar, said he had written the names and identified Almihdhar as a man who had often accompanied Alhazmi. Awadallah said he had seen Alhazmi about 35 to 40 times in the San Diego area between April 2000 and January 2001.

"Under the law, he is allowed to correct his testimony before the same grand jury and that's what he did," Berman said.

The references in his exam booklet appeared to be part of an essay he wrote.

It read: "I have been in S.D. since 1998. I have always wanted to meet as much people as much as I can. I have met many people from many countries. One of the quitest (sic) people I have met is Nawaf. Another one, his name Khalid. They have stayed in S.D. for six months."

Awadallah was studying English as a second language at Grossmont Community College in San Diego County.

Could face prison sentence

If convicted, Awadallah faces a maximum sentence of five years in prison on each of the two counts of perjury.

Berman said Awadallah was friends with Alhazmi and acquainted with Almihdhar.

"These are people that he met in San Diego a year and a half ago, and he last saw them a year ago," Berman said.

"He's only accused of a crime of not telling the truth in the grand jury because the first time he said it one way and the second time he cleared it up and said it other way. But it's nothing about the hijacking at all. He hasn't seen these people in almost a year," he said.

Awadallah, Berman said, has lived in San Diego for three years, is a full-time student and has worked as a security guard for the past year and a half. He formerly worked at a gas station.

Awadallah's father and one brother are U.S. citizens and three other siblings are permanent residents, Berman added.

Yazeed al-Salmi, another of the three college students picked up by the FBI from the San Diego area, was released by authorities last week. Al-Salmi's attorney, Randall Hamud, has said the students knew the suspected hijackers only as casual acquaintances through a local mosque.

In a development overseas, German authorities Friday issued an arrest warrant for a 24-year-old Moroccan, accusing him of founding a terrorist group and of mass murder in connection with last month's terrorist attacks.

The German federal prosecutor identified the man as Zakariya Essabar. The prosecutor's office said he worked with some of hijackers involved in the September 11 attacks in founding a terrorist group.

Specifically, he is accused of founding a terrorist group with Mohamed Atta, Marwan al-Shehhi, and Ziad Jarrah, -- all named by the U.S. Justice Department as suspected hijackers -- and Ramzi Omar bin al-Shibh, who is also being sought by German authorities for mass murder and was also associated with Atta.

Authorities said Essabar's whereabouts are unknown.

-- CNN Producer Phil Hirschkorn in New York, Terry Frieden in Washington and Claudia Otto in Berlin contributed to this report.


• Germany seeks terror suspect
October 19, 2001

See related sites about US
Note: Pages will open in a new browser window
External sites are not endorsed by CNN Interactive.


Back to the top