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Instructors seek recognition in Moussaoui case

  • Story Highlights
  • Tim Nelson and Hugh Sims each called the FBI Minneapolis office in August 2001
  • Neither was offered any reward for their efforts; "It is kind of disturbing," Sims says
  • Clancy Prevost received a $5 million reward from the government this week
  • Sen. Norm Coleman, R-Minnesota, criticizes the exclusion of Sims and Nelson
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From Kevin Bohn
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Two flight instructors who alerted the FBI about Zacarias Moussaoui are asking why they weren't recognized along with a fellow instructor, who collected a $5 million reward from the government this week.


Zacarias Moussaoui was convicted in 2006 of conspiring to kill Americans on September 11, 2001.

"I was just totally dumbfounded," Tim Nelson told CNN.

Neither Nelson nor Hugh Sims, each of whom called the FBI Minneapolis office separately in August 2001, were offered any reward for their efforts.

"It is kind of disturbing," Sims told CNN.

In interviews with CNN, both men emphasized they acted not because they were looking for a reward but because they wanted to do the right thing.

"But to hear that a reward was made and the level of the reward being so significant," Nelson said.

"It is just kind of stunning that Hugh or I were not mentioned or included in any sort of thing like that, just as an equity thing, for being the ones who did contact the FBI and get the ball rolling as far as their investigation is concerned."

Clancy Prevost received the reward in a private ceremony Thursday as part of the State Department's Rewards for Justice program, which pays for tips regarding terrorism suspects, two government officials told CNN.

Prevost was an instructor at the Pan Am International Flight Academy in Eagan, Minnesota, when Moussaoui -- the only person charged and convicted in connection with the September 11, 2001, attacks on New York and Washington -- sought lessons there in mid-August 2001.

After the FBI was alerted, Moussaoui was arrested on an immigration violation. Authorities then discovered he had trained at an al Qaeda camp in Afghanistan and received money transfers from a key financial operative.

During the penalty phase of Moussaoui's terrorism trial, Prevost testified that by the second day of his instruction of Moussaoui -- after hearing the student paid the bulk of his $8,300 tuition for a flight simulator course in hundred-dollar bills -- he thought someone needed to call the FBI.

Prevost told the court he approached his managers, and recalled telling them, "We don't know anything about this guy, and we're teaching him how to throw the switches on a 747."

But he said his managers at first told him Moussaoui had paid his money and they didn't care. He testified that he replied, "We'll care when there's a hijacking and the lawsuits come in."

In a statement Friday, Sen. Norm Coleman, R-Minnesota, criticized the exclusion of Sims and Nelson and said any honor bestowed regarding Moussaoui's arrest should also include them.

"I have contacted the State Department to determine why these heroic men were not recognized for their roles, and see what can be done to ensure they receive the credit they are due," Coleman said.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minnesota, issued a release saying she, too, wanted an explanation, and had written a letter to the secretary of state in which she noted that the "program managers, Tim Nelson and Hugh Sims, were the ones who actually alerted the FBI in 2001 about Moussaoui's suspicious behavior."

A U.S. official said the FBI nominated Prevost to the program officials, who then decided whether to grant the award.

The FBI "considered the relevant information about the two others before making the nomination for the award and determined that the one individual was the one deserving of it," the official told CNN.

The FBI and State Department had no comment on the criteria used to choose Prevost and not the others.

Sims said "either nobody or all of us" should have gotten part of a reward if one was going to be offered.

Prevost could not be reached for comment on the award and the controversy surrounding it. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

CNN justice correspondent Kelli Arena and producers Elise Labott and Carol Cratty contributed to this report.

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