Suspected hijacking trainer threatens to sue U.S.

Thursday, August 15, 2002

LONDON -- An Algerian pilot held in Britain for five months on suspicion of training some of the hijackers in the Sept. 11 attacks said Wednesday he was considering legal action against British and U.S. authorities.

Lotfi Raissi said he would go to court if he did not receive public apologies from the FBI, Scotland Yard and the Crown Prosecution Service, whom he accused of racial and religious discrimination.

Raissi was detained near London on Sept. 21 following his indictment by a federal grand jury in Arizona. The United States sought his extradition. However, he was freed on bail in February and the extradition case was dismissed in April after the United States said it couldn't link him to terrorism.

"I believe the law states that a man is innocent until proven guilty. I was guilty until proven innocent," Raissi said on British Broadcasting Corp. radio.

"They started the investigation because I was Muslim, Algerian, Arabic and a pilot. It just gave them license to discriminate."

Prosecutors had said Raissi remained a suspect, and opposed his release.

Though not making a case on terrorism, the United States had sought to extradite Raissi on charges of falsifying applications for a pilot's license -- he allegedly failed to disclose a knee operation -- and other documents.

Raissi said Wednesday that he was threatened by both inmates and guards at London's Belmarsh Prison after his picture was published on the front page of a newspaper under the caption "the terror instructor."

"One guard said to me 'We will feed you to the dogs,"' he said.

Raissi said he and other members of his family had received counseling because of his arrest.

"I am a victim of the Sept. 11 atrocity," he said. "My family became victims of the Sept. 11 atrocity. They discriminated against my nationality. They destroyed my career."

Menzies Campbell, foreign affairs spokesman for Britain's opposition Liberal Democrats, said there should be an investigation into why Raissi was held so long.

"It does seem here that what one would have regarded as the normal standards with regard to the availability of evidence and the way in which he was treated certainly haven't been met," Campbell said.

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