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Pilot beats U.S. extradition bid

Raissi: Arrested on September 11
Raissi: Arrested on September 11  

LONDON, England -- Attempts by the U.S. to extradite an Algerian pilot it suspected of involvement in the September 11 attacks have failed.

Lotfi Raissi was originally held on suspicion of having trained one of the suicide pilots but those charges were dismissed at an earlier hearing when the U.S. failed to substantiate its case.

On Wednesday, the U.S. attempt to have Raissi extradited on lesser charges such as lying on a pilot's licence application form was also thrown out.

Raissi said: "From the start to finish I always maintained my innocence and this nightmare - it's been the most horrible experience."

Lotfi Raissi: Statement 

Raissi was accused of failing to declare on his Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) application form a conviction for theft as a teenager and failing to declare surgery for a knee injury.

But all eight charges before Bow Street Magistrates Court, in central London, were dismissed.

Raissi's family cheered after the ruling was announced, while his solicitor described the proceedings as "a sorry farce."

CNN's Jim Boulden said the judge ruled there was insufficient evidence to show Raissi had lied on his pilot's form and no evidence of a link to terrorism.

The U.S. had accused Raissi of training the suicide hijacker who crashed a passenger jet into the Pentagon.

But District Judge Timothy Workman said that the U.S. authorities had provided no evidence Raissi was linked to terrorism.

"He has appeared before me on several occasions where allegations of involvement with terrorism were made," Workman told the court.

"I would like to make it clear that I have received and the court has received no evidence to support such a contention."

James Lewis QC, for the U.S. government, said Raissi would "continue to be subject to ongoing investigations into those associated with the September 11 attacks."

However, Edward Fitzgerald QC, defending Raissi, said during the hearing that there was no case to answer.

He said Raissi did not have to tell the FAA about his past conviction because it was spent.

He said: "In the UK, after five years you are entitled to say `I have no previous conviction' so there was no deception because he was perfectly entitled under English law not to disclose it.

"Under the (UK's) Rehabilitation of Offenders Act it's as if he has no previous convictions."

He also told the court that Raissi's knee surgery had been disclosed in an earlier, successful application for a medical certificate so there was no point in Raissi repeating himself to the medical examiner, who had Raissi's past medical notes.

"The knee surgery was disclosed in an earlier application, the doctor who is processing this knows full well about the knee.

"The guy was conducting a physical examination and his patient had a scar on the knee. If Raissi says 'what about the knee surgery?' they would say `yes, we dealt with that last year'. It's ridiculous, you can see the discomfort of the U.S. on this."

Lewis told the court that the FAA's deputy regional flight surgeon has said that if Raissi had spoken about the offence, the FAA "might have dealt with him in a very different manner."

But Fitzgerald said: "Might have is never enough."

Outside court Raissi's solicitor, Richard Egan, flanked by Raissi and his wife, Sonia, read a statement on behalf of Raissi. (Full statement)

He said: "As the district judge said, there is no evidence that has been produced in this case to substantiate any involvement in terrorism."

It added: "So these proceedings have been brought from start to finish from trivial allegations of non-disclosure which in turn have not been substantiated."

Egan described the proceedings as "a sorry farce" and added: "At the very least one would hope for an apology."

Raissi was arrested at his London home on September 21 on a request from the FBI.

Prosecutors had linked Raissi to Hani Hanjour, the suspected pilot of American Airlines Flight 77, which flew into the Pentagon.

The U.S. repeatedly indicated it wished to eventually file a "conspiracy to murder" charge against Raissi, and it filed a request for his extradition.

At a February news conference, the Algerian said he had always maintained his faith "that British justice would determine the truth."


• Sept. 11 suspect: 'I am victim'
February 15, 2002
• UK denies bail to hijack-link pilot
December 10, 2001
• Hijack-link suspect in tears
January 11, 2002
• U.S. bids to extradite Algerian pilot
November 27, 2001
• Britons shocked by terror links
January 21, 2002



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