Foreign college student acquitted in Sept. 11 perjury case

Saturday, November 18, 2006

NEW YORK -- A Muslim man accused of lying about an acquaintance who was one of the Sept. 11, 2001, hijackers was acquitted of all counts in his perjury case Friday, ending a legal battle that began days after the attacks.

Osama Awadallah, 26, turned to look at his crying father as the verdict was read.

"I knew that justice would prevail," he said to reporters. "My goal will be to continue to be a very good citizen in this country."

Investigators concluded that Awadallah had known two of the hijackers in San Diego, where he attended college, but only as acquaintances.

Prosecutors alleged that in grand jury testimony Oct. 10, 2001, Awadallah intentionally tried to minimize the relationships. But his attorneys argued that their client, exhausted, confused and frightened after being detained for weeks in solitary confinement, simply had a memory lapse.

Awadallah acknowledged knowing Nawaf al-Hazmi, who helped seize the plane that crashed into the Pentagon. The two perjury counts stem from two statements he made during grand jury testimony regarding another hijacker, Khalid al-Mihdhar.

Awadallah said he couldn't remember the name of a man he frequently saw with al-Hazmi. When confronted with a school examination booklet in which he appeared to have written about meeting men named Nawaf and Khalid, Awadallah initially claimed it wasn't his handwriting.

Later, he returned to the grand jury and said he had been mistaken on both accounts. He did recall meeting someone named Khalid, and he had written that name in his school booklet.

Awadallah had lived in the same San Diego community as Nawaf al-Hazmi, who helped seize the plane that crashed into the Pentagon. They attended the same mosque and saw each other dozens of times in 2000 before al-Hazmi moved to Virginia. FBI agents became curious about Awadallah when they found his phone number in al-Hazmi's car.

Awadallah is a Venezuela-born Jordanian citizen who has lived in the United States since 1999. The judge said before the trial that if Awadallah were convicted he could face deportation but little or no prison time.

The perjury charges were initially thrown out by a judge who concluded that Awadallah had been illegally detained, but the case was later reinstated by an appeals court.

A first trial last spring ended with a hung jury. Jurors in the latest trial began deliberating Thursday.

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