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Conflicting image of detainee emerges - Bradenton Herald

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  • Zafar Khan
    Conflicting image of detainee emerges DEBORAH HASTINGS Associated Press http://www.bradenton.com/mld/bradentonherald/3658977.htm NORMAN, Okla. - His name is
    Message 1 of 1 , Jul 15, 2002
      Conflicting image of detainee emerges
      Associated Press


      NORMAN, Okla. - His name is Hussein al-Attas. He is 24
      years old. Ten months ago, he was arrested by federal
      agents at the mosque where he worshipped.

      He has been locked in solitary confinement ever since,
      his only companion a Spanish-speaking prisoner on the
      other side of the wall, to whom he speaks through the
      air-conditioning vent.

      Neither his family in Saudi Arabia, nor his Muslim
      friends in this college town will speak for him. They
      are afraid, they say, of endangering themselves. And
      of making life harder for al-Attas, held by the
      Justice Department in downtown Manhattan as a material
      witness in connection with the terrorist attacks of
      Sept. 11.

      His attorneys, silenced by a federal gag order, defend
      their client during closed hearings and in legal
      motions filed under seal.

      Al-Attas has not been charged with a crime.

      He is the university student who gave a ride to
      Zacarias Moussaoui, a Muslim extremist arrested last
      summer after spooking administrators at a Minnesota
      flight school with his badgering insistence on
      learning to fly jumbo jets.

      Moussaoui, a French citizen of Moroccan descent, is
      the only person charged with conspiring to help 19
      hijackers who plowed two passenger jets into the World
      Trade Center and a third into the Pentagon. Al-Attas,
      born in Riyadh to Yemeni parents, was his friend and,
      briefly, his roommate in this suburb, home to the
      University of Oklahoma.

      Behind the veil of silence, those who know al-Attas
      say he is a good and honest man. Perhaps too naive,
      perhaps too willing to listen when he should have
      walked away. Speaking on condition of anonymity,
      saying they fear retribution from immigration
      officials, they described his ways as quiet and kind,
      his soul as sensitive and devoted to Islam, his
      beliefs unbowed before the temptations of America.

      But confidential FBI reports reviewed by The
      Associated Press present a different young man - one
      who said he might fight, if called upon, to defend
      Islamic beliefs, and who lied to federal agents last

      FBI reports and interviews in Norman provide one of
      the most detailed profiles to date of a Sept. 11
      material witness: A young man who spoke of loneliness,
      of shaming himself by doing poorly in school, and of
      keeping company with Moussaoui, who offered to lead
      him to the pure, outer limits of Islamic faith.

      Others have also been jailed as material witnesses,
      but the government will not say how many.

      U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft says the detention
      of material witnesses "is vital to preventing,
      disrupting or delaying new attacks." They have not
      been identified, he said, because to do so could
      create a "public blacklist."

      The little-used practice is intended to hold witnesses
      without whom a criminal trial might be jeopardized. In
      the current cases, witnesses are allowed no visitors
      save their attorneys, some of whom privately say weeks
      and months passed before clients were allowed to make
      a first phone call.

      According to confidential FBI reports, Hussein Ali
      Hassan al-Attas told federal agents he entered America
      in 1995 on a student visa, determined to obtain a
      university degree in engineering so he could return to
      Saudi Arabia and continue the legacy of his four older
      brothers, all successful engineers.

      But his heart did not dwell in the land of pipe
      fittings and blueprints. After flunking several
      classes, he changed his major to mathematics, a step
      away from his family's wishes but close enough to

      In Norman, he met other young men from the Middle
      East, sent like him to study state-of-the-art oil and
      building technologies, and to bring that knowledge

      He found solace at Norman's Islamic Society and
      mosque, a white house two stoplights from campus. He
      taught the Quran to children there, a vocation he came
      to love.

      On a recent, stormy night, the mosque's scratchy
      public address system carried an invitation to tell a
      visitor about "our innocent brother Hussein al-Attas."

      A young man was among those who approached. He met
      al-Attas in 1999, at the local Target, he said.
      Al-Attas noticed him and extended his hand.

      "He said 'We are the same,' " the 23-year-old student
      recalled. He asked not to be identified, saying
      federal agents had already searched his home because
      of his friendship with al-Attas, and he feared another

      The two spent a lot of time together, he said. Both
      loved soccer. Both thought of marriage, but the
      uncovered heads and bodies of American women repelled

      "That's what made us stick to our Islam ways," said
      al-Attas' friend. "I don't see families here, I see
      everyone for himself. They use beautiful women to sell
      things with their bodies, and they say we treat women
      bad. That confuses me."

      Al-Attas' faith impressed mosque members. He had
      memorized the Quran, all 114 chapters. "We do that
      when a person really loves Islam," said his friend.

      Al-Attas didn't talk much about himself or his
      problems. But there were signs. While his friend
      progressed from sophomore to senior, al-Attas remained
      a junior, again switching majors, the last time to
      general studies.

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