The Judge: Agus Budiman is A Risk of Flight and A Danger to Community.
Prosecutors Link Va. Man To Third Sept. 11 Hijacker
Terrorist Used His Arlington Address on Visa Application
By Brooke A. Masters
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, November 30, 2001; Page A14
Federal officials publicly linked an Alexandria man to a third Sept. 11 hijacker yesterday as they outlined a series of his "very extensive, suspicious and very troubling" ties to terrorists.
Agus Budiman, 31, is charged with identification document fraud, but at a hearing in U.S. District Court in Alexandria, FBI agent Jesus Gomez testified that Ziad Samir Jarrah, who piloted the hijacked plane that crashed in Pennsylvania, listed Budiman's address as his possible host site on a U.S. visa application.
Gomez already had testified that Budiman, an Indonesian citizen who lived in Germany before coming to the United States about a year ago, knew Mohamed Atta well enough to help him move into a Hamburg apartment. Gomez said that Budiman also had contact with Atta's roommate, Marwan Al-Shehhi. Atta, the purported leader of the Sept. 11 plot, and Al-Shehhi flew separate hijacked planes into the World Trade Center.
The FBI agent's testimony yesterday, and at a hearing that was halted Monday when Budiman's first attorney quit, raises the question of whether Budiman was involved or had forewarning of the events of Sept. 11, when four planes were hijacked and crashed, killing more than 3,800 people. But federal officials said frankly that they still do not know whether or how closely Budiman is linked to the al Qaeda terrorist network.
Another of Atta's Hamburg roommates, Ramzi Binalshibh, also used Budiman's U.S. address on two visa applications, Gomez said. FBI officials have said they believe Binalshibh, a Yemeni wanted by German authorities, planned to be the 20th hijacker on the crashed planes but was unable to get a visa.
"These ties to terrorists are very extensive, suspicious and very troubling," Assistant U.S. Attorney Steven Mellin told U.S. Magistrate Judge Theresa C. Buchanan. "We just don't know the extent of his involvement with them."
But Budiman's new court-appointed attorney, Mark Thrash, called the case against his client "smoke and mirrors." He said Budiman had never spoken to Binalshibh or Al-Shehhi, had never met Jarrah and was only acquainted with Atta through a Hamburg mosque. Budiman only helped Atta move because Atta let him use his car to move his own belongings, Thrash said.
"My client loves the United States," Thrash said. He said Budiman had no contact with Atta in the United States and had no idea why his address was used on the visa applications. "If you were going to be around after September 11, would you want your address on those applications?" Thrash asked.
New details emerged at the hearing about Budiman and Mohammad Belfas, the Indonesian man he is accused of helping to obtain an illegal Virginia driver's license in November 2000. Federal officials will not say where Belfas is, but an FBI document released by Finnish banking authorities describes him as a contact for terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden.
Budiman grew up as one of four children in a well-off Jakarta family. In addition to studying in Hamburg at the same university as Atta, Budiman also studied in Bremen, Germany, during the 1990s and first came to the United States in 1993 to study, Thrash said. Budiman returned to the United States several times in 1999 and each time worked as a driver for the Takeout Taxi food delivery business.
The FBI became interested in Budiman very early in the Sept. 11 investigation. He was first questioned Sept. 19 and again Oct. 1, Gomez testified. Budiman came in voluntarily for both sessions. He was arrested by the Immigration and Naturalization Service on Oct. 30 on charges of overstaying his visa and working when he was supposed to be a tourist.
Gomez testified that Atta told Budiman that the United States was to blame for most wars in the world and that Binalshibh told him that he wanted to participate in a jihad, or holy war, in Bosnia. But Thrash said his client denies ever having either of those conversations.
Budiman got to know Belfas, described as being in his fifties, through the Hamburg mosque, and transferred the lease on his apartment to Belfas when he moved to Bremen, Thrash said. The two men traveled together to the United States in October 2000 and stayed in Silver Spring with Budiman's younger brother, a student who has taken classes at George Washington University. Belfas often accompanied Budiman on his delivery rounds, according to court documents.
Gomez testified yesterday that Belfas worked with Atta and Binalshibh at Hays Computing, and Thrash suggested that Belfas, who returned to Germany, could be the real terrorist connection. "Mr. Belfas obviously knew Mr. Budiman's address. He could have given it to Atta," Thrash said.
Budiman, a slight man with longish dark hair and glasses, said nothing during the hearing. Under heavy guard in the Alexandria jail, "he's despondent," Thrash said.
The judge concluded after hearing the evidence that Budiman's fraud case should be sent to the grand jury, and she ordered him held without bond until trial.
"The defendant has close ties with the terrorists. . . . I find he is a risk of flight and a danger to the community," Buchanan said.
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