SAN DIEGO -- A former college student who befriended two Sept. 11 hijackers says what they did was wrong, but he understood how their hatred for American culture would give them "the courage to do what they did."
Mohdar Abdullah has been detained since September 2001 as a material witness. He has been seeking his release on bond while he awaits deportation to Yemen, but a judge on Friday ruled he should stay at an immigration detention facility because he is a danger to the community.
Judge Zsa Zsa DePaolo said the decision was based on his actions, not his contact with terrorists. In July, the former San Diego State University student pleaded guilty to lying about his background on an application for political asylum.
Abdullah, 24, has consistently denied he had prior knowledge of the attacks. But in interviews with two newspapers at an immigration detention facility in Otay Mesa, Abdullah said he recognized the motivation for them.
"I understand why they did it even though it was wrong," Abdullah told the Los Angeles Times. "I understand why they had such hatred. And I would understand why they would have the courage to do what they did."
The recent interview with the Times and a November interview with the San Diego Union-Tribune were Abdullah's first since his detention. They were granted on the condition that they appear only after Friday's bond hearing, and were published Saturday.
Abdullah spoke candidly about his friendship with Saudi Arabian citizens Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almidhar, among the five who hijacked and crashed an American Airlines plane into the Pentagon.
He said that Almidhar was contemptuous of American culture and "didn't like the lifestyle. He was critical, said there was too much temptation, too much tests for faith, too many women not covered. Life here was very materialistic."
"I knew Alhazmi had ties to fundamentalists," he told the Times. "Some of his ideas were radical, and he believed in violence. His opinion of Osama bin Laden was that we need a person like him to fight the Israelis and stand up against all Westerners trying to conquer our lands."
Abdullah said he prayed and dined with the two men, shuttled them to the airport and made calls to flight schools for them because they spoke little English. He has previously said he helped the two men obtain driver's licenses and Social Security cards.
"I understand a lot of people look at me now as being a bad person just for knowing those guys and for trying to help them out," Abdullah told the Union-Tribune. "I never intended to do any harm to anyone, and I never knew the true intentions of those people."
Abdullah says he last saw the hijackers in late 2000, though Kathleen Zapata, an Immigration and Naturalization Service attorney, said Abdullah received a phone call from Alhazmi weeks before the attacks.
Abdullah's attorney, Randy Hamud, denied the phone contact following the hearing. "The government presented a case of misinformation, disinformation and mendacity in court today," Hamud said. "In short, they lied."