Skip to main content /US /US

Saddam's stepson to be deported

Mohammad Nour al-Din Saffi is seen during his transfer to Krome Detention Center.  

From Susan Candiotti

MIAMI, Florida (CNN) -- The stepson of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, in U.S. custody Thursday on a visa violation, will be sent out of the country in the next few days, a source with the Immigration and Naturalization Service said.

Mohammad Nour al-Din Saffi, 36, a citizen of New Zealand who once worked as a flight engineer for Air New Zealand, was arrested Wednesday night in Miami because he entered the country on a tourist visa, rather than a student visa, on his way to attend flight school.

He was being held Thursday at the INS's Krome Detention Center in Miami.

Samira Shabandar, Saffi's mother and one of Hussein's two wives, refused to comment on the case when contacted by CNN.

According to Jim Goldman, lead INS investigator in Miami, Saffi told immigration officials he was going to take a four-day "refresher" course for flight engineers in Miami.

In fact, officials said, he intended to attend a four-day aviation course at Miami's Aeroservice Aviation Center -- the same flight school used by a September 11 hijacker -- to re-certify his license to fly Boeing 747s.

"He certainly didn't disclose his purpose for coming to this country when he was admitted by U.S. immigration at the Los Angeles International Airport -- it was only learned after the fact -- and that unto itself rendered him deportable from the United States," Goldman said.

"We verified his intent by going to the flight school and determining that in fact he was enrolled and was scheduled to begin these courses this week."

The United States tightened visa requirements for those attending American flight schools following the September 11 attacks. Several of the hijackers attended flight schools in Florida.

The stepson of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein was arrested on a visa violation in Miami (July 4)

Play video

Aeroservice Aviation Center was attended by Ziad Jarrah, who was among the hijackers aboard United Airlines Flight 93 that crashed in Pennsylvania, said FBI spokeswoman Judy Orihuela.

Saffi raised two other red flags upon his entry into the country, the INS source said.

The first was his relationship to Hussein. The second was that Saffi was last in the United States on September 7 -- four days before the attacks -- when he was passing through on his way to London.

"All of the circumstances involved are pretty disturbing," Goldman said.

The INS source expects Saffi to be deported within the next few days.

A U.S. government source said the aviation school checked Saffi's immigration status, in accordance with government regulations, on a Justice Department Web site and he was cleared.

Saffi also presented immigration officials with an FAA document certifying him as a flight engineer, but investigators were trying to determine the certificate's authenticity because it contained a different spelling of his name.

Saffi is no longer employed as a flight engineer for Air New Zealand in Auckland and has been trying to get a job with an air cargo company in New Zealand, the government source said.

A former U.S. government expert on the Persian Gulf told CNN that Saffi is the son of Samira Shabandar and Iraqi airline executive Nour al-Din al-Saffi, her husband at the time.

Saddam Hussein had an affair with Shabandar in the 1980s and Hussein persuaded her husband to divorce her so they could marry. Saffi was then promoted to the head of the airline, the expert said.

Hussein did not divorce his first wife when he married Shabandar, who is considered his second wife. Hussein has five children with his first wife, two boys and three girls. He has one child with Shabandar.

Some of Samira's brothers were close to Hussein in a friendship sense during the late 1980s and early 1990s, according to the expert.

Mohammed Saffi left Iraq after the Persian Gulf War, traveling first to Jordan, then to New Zealand.

It is unclear what other links Saffi might have to Hussein.

Goldman said Saffi entered the country Monday at Los Angeles International Airport. When interviewed by the FBI, he said he was on a layover before flying to Miami for the 747 re-certification class, Goldman said.

Following the interview, the FBI contacted INS officials in Miami to tell them Saffi was headed their way. Agents arrested him at a hotel near the Miami flight school.




Back to the top