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Former 9/11 detainee files $20 million civil rights suit

'Put in solitary, confinement ,shackled, strip searched'

From Phil Hirschkorn

Egyptian student Abdallah Higazy
Egyptian student Abdallah Higazy

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NEW YORK (CNN) -- An Egyptian exchange student once accused of lying to federal investigators and held as a September 11 detainee has filed a civil rights lawsuit seeking $20 million in damages.

The action by Abdallah Higazy, 31, comes less than three weeks after prosecutors completed a court-ordered investigation that exonerated FBI agents involved in his case.

Higazy is suing FBI agent Michael Templeton, who administered a disputed lie detector test that was central to the aborted prosecution. He is one of the five named defendants in Higazy's complaint filed in Manhattan federal court.

Templeton "extracted a false confession ... through coercion, threats, and intimidation," Higazy alleges.

The other defendants are Ronald Ferry, the former hotel security guard who framed Higazy by claiming to find a pilot's radio in the safe in his room; the Millennium hotel, across the street from the World Trade Center, where Higazy stayed on the 51st floor; the hotel's chief of security, Stuart Yule; and the Hilton Hotels Corporation, which manages the Millennium.

Higazy's problems started when Ferry, a former Newark, New Jersey police officer, told investigators he found the radio in Higazy's room. The hand-held radio, known as a transceiver, can be used by pilots for air-to-air or air-to-ground communication.

Higazy, who began a computer engineering graduate program at Polytechnic University in Brooklyn just one week before the September 11 hijackings, had been assigned by the school to live in the hotel until he found housing. He evacuated the hotel with other guests after the second hijacked plane slammed into the World Trade Center.

FBI agents detained Higazy as a material witness December 17, 2001, when he returned to the hotel to retrieve his personal belongings, including his passport and a Koran.

"I was taken arrested put in solitary, confinement ,shackled, strip searched," Higazy recalled Thursday.

During the lie detector test 10 days later, Higazy falsely admitted the radio was his, the basis of the prosecution.

Higazy claims Templeton threatened him during the course of their session, that he mentioned his brother, living in upstate New York, and said, "we'll make sure Egyptian security gives your family hell."

According to the government's report, Templeton interpreted Higazy's denials that he had participated in the September 11 attacks as lies.

Prosecutors charged Higazy with one count of lying to federal agents and kept him in custody for a month.

Three days after the charges against Higazy were made public, an American private pilot who was staying in a room one floor below Higazy's claimed the radio. Prosecutors dropped the charges two days later, and Higazy was released from custody in mid-January.

Higazy's suit accuses the Millennium Hilton of negligence in its hiring and training of Ferry and Yule, who passed Ferry's information to the FBI.

Ferry was convicted in March for lying to federal agents and sentenced to six months worth of weekends in prison.

Higazy is seeking $10 million in compensatory damages and $10 million in punitive damages.

"There's really no way to calculate the harm that's been done to Mr. Higazy's reputation internationally," said attorney Robert Dunn. "People still believe he has something to do with 9/11 and but for some technicality of some kind or another, he would be in jail. So his character has been besmirched internationally, his family and he have suffered extreme emotional distress, so there is really no way you can go to a calculator and punch up a number."

The attorney added that a Higazy suit against the government, including the FBI, is "under consideration." There is a two-year statute of limitations for him to file that.

Over the past year, Higazy has gotten married and resumed his studies at Brooklyn Polytechnic, commuting from southern New Jersey. But he said he would like to see a psychiatrist about the experience of being wrongly accused.

"I have had nightmares. A lot of time I wake up dreaming that the FBI wants to arrest me," Higazy said.

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