A roommate of two of the Sept. 11 hijackers has been arrested and is facing intensive interrogation after he overstayed his visa, sources said.
At 6 am Monday, agents from the diplomatic security service of the State Department and the FBI raided a house in Baltimore, looking for Rasmi Al Shannaq, who they believe was a roommate of at least two of the September hijackers.
After investigators waited for seven hours, the Jordanian national was taken into custody for overstaying his visa and possible visa fraud. "They told him, 'You are arrested because your visa expired,'" said the man's father, Subhi Al Shannaq. "And that was it."
According to the elder Al Shannaq, the interrogation began as soon as his son was in custody. It soon became clear that investigators wanted to know about much more than a visa violation. They wanted to know if he had any association with the September hijackers.
"They question him, you know, where he was, where you been, with whom you live, living with before," said Subhi Al Shannaq.
Rasmi Al Shannaq was taken to an undisclosed location for interrogation.
A Lead to the Heart of Al Qaeda?
Sources said that Al Shannaq admitted he had roomed with two of the hijackers in Northern Virginia - just outside of Washington - for two months last summer.
The roommates have been identified as Hani Hanjour and Nawaq Al Hazmi. The government says both men were on American Airlines Flight 77 when it was crashed into the Pentagon. Hanjour is believed to have been the pilot.
Al Shannaq's family insists he had nothing to do with the September plot, but counterterrorism experts say that he still could be extremely valuable.
"Even if the person is not directly involved, the close association over a long period of time could lead to all sorts of information, who their associates were, how they communicated, who they were in contact with overseas," said Harry Brandon, former head of counterterrorism at the FBI. "It really could lead right into the heart of al Qaeda."
Sources say Al Shannaq may have been in a position to know a lot more about the hijackers than anyone they've talked to so far.
(China Daily June 26, 2002)