Saudi bombing suspect passed undetected through U.S. customs
May 16, 1997
Web posted at: 10:38 p.m. EDT (0238 GMT)
In this story:
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Like thousands of other international air
travelers whose passports are checked daily by U.S.
officials, Hani al-Sayegh successfully passed through customs
last August on his way to Canada from the Middle East.
But al-Sayegh was not just another traveler.
He is suspected of driving a lookout car for those who bombed
the Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia in June 1996, killing 19
U.S. servicemen and injuring hundreds of others.
Al-Sayegh went through customs that day and continued his
trip to Ottawa.
It was there, months later, that authorities learned of his
presence and had him arrested. He is being held there until
it is determined whether he will be deported, and to which
Earlier this week, FBI Director Louis Freeh told a Senate
committee that al-Sayegh did not pass through customs during
his brief stop at Logan International Airport in Boston.
But CNN has learned that al-Sayegh's passport does, indeed,
have the red stamp of the U.S. Immigration Service dated
August 16, 1996. The passport, which is now in the hands of
his lawyer in Canada, also bears the word "Admitted."
A stamp is not issued until after there is a routine
interview by an immigration officer and the passport is
checked in computers, which are used to help identify
U.S. intelligence officers say it is unclear what information
came up on al-Sayegh and if it related to Khobar Towers. If
he had been identified as a suspect in the bombing, U.S.
authorities could have arrested him immediately.
It is also unclear whether Saudi Arabia already suspected
al-Sayegh and if that information was passed on to the FBI.
The United States has complained in the past to the Saudis
about the lack of cooperation in the bombing investigation.
Customs officials and the FBI say they are trying to
determine how al-Sayegh slipped through their system. Sen.
Arlen Specter, R-Pennsylvania, has already asked the same
question, and apparently has received an answer from the FBI.
But Specter refused to comment on the response, which the FBI
says is classified.
Meanwhile, the stamp on al-Sayegh's passport adds a curious
twist to the deportation issue.
Because the passport indicates that al-Sayegh was admitted to
the United States, his attorney says al-Sayegh could make a
case for being deported to the United States to face charges.
That would be much better, his lawyer says, than being sent
back to Saudi Arabia, where he would face almost certain death.
Correspondent Ralph Begleiter contributed to this report.
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