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Sudanese pilot ordered held without bond

From Mike Phelan
CNN


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WINSTON-SALEM, North Carolina (CNN) -- A Sudanese pilot whom federal authorities said may be linked to al Qaeda was ordered held without bond Monday on suspicion of falsifying immigration documents.

Mekki Hamed, 30, was arrested September 13 after the FBI questioned him because he had received a pilot's license in Sudan. He had entered the United States two years ago from Sudan on a visitor's visa that has expired.

The FBI had issued an alert warning FBI field offices and state and local law enforcement agencies to be on the lookout for a Sudanese pilot who "may represent a possible threat," sources have told CNN. Other sources said intelligence indicated Hamed might have planned to hijack an airliner, or otherwise obtain an aircraft, to hit a target in the United States.

A number of the 19 al Qaeda members involved in the September 11 hijackings had studied at aviation schools in the United States.

Neither terrorism nor al Qaeda were mentioned, during Monday's detention hearing before U.S. Magistrate Judge Russell Eliason.

Hamed had applied for asylum in the United States in June 2001.

He was working as a cab driver in Greensboro, North Carolina, when he was arrested.

When agents asked him for identification, Hamed told them it was in his apartment. There, FBI Special Agent Michael Knapp said Monday, Hamed pulled out a bag that held as many as 20 applications for a government citizenship lottery program that had been filled out using a variety of names, addresses, dates of birth and birthplaces.

In court Monday, U.S. Attorney Patrick Auld said those applications were evidence that Hamed had made false statements to the U.S. government.

Hamed's court-appointed attorneys, Lewis Allen and Gregory Davis, said no evidence was presented that Hamed had submitted any of those applications, and asked that their client be released.

But Eliason ruled there was probable cause that Hamed had indeed made false statements to the U.S. government, and ordered he be held until the case is heard by a grand jury, which meets monthly.

Hamed, who is enrolled in North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University in Greensboro, told the FBI he wanted to get his pilot's license in the United States, and that he did not intend to return to Sudan.

He remains in federal custody in Forsyth County Jail. The charge he faces carries a maximum sentence of six months in jail.

Wearing an orange jumpsuit, Hamed kept his head down throughout Monday's hearing and said nothing.

More than 40 Sudanese were in the courtroom to offer their support. Greensboro has about 3,000 residents from Sudan.



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