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Wednesday, 13 March, 2002, 08:45 GMT
Hijackers' visas sent to flight school
Flight 175 approaches south tower
Atta and al-Shehhi were on two hijacked planes
The US flight school where two of the 11 September hijackers trained has received letters saying their visa applications have been approved.

The letters arrived at the training centre in Florida six months after its former students Mohammed Atta and Marwan al-Shehhi crashed two passenger planes into the World Trade Center.

Mohammed Atta
Atta was believed to be the terrorists' ringleader
The US immigration department (INS) approved the men's application to stay in the country on 17 July.

The INS said the Huffman International flying school was informed about the decision last summer and the latest documents were "backup notification" which had been delayed in being sent out.

Atta, who came from Egypt, and al-Shehhi, of the United Arab Emirates, trained at the flying school in July, last year.

They had entered the United States on visitors' visas and applied for M-1 visas, given to students on technical courses.

The INS gave its approval for Atta and al-Shehhi to remain in the US until 1 October, 2001, the Associated Press news agency reported.

Backlog of paperwork

A spokesman for the INS blamed a backlog of paperwork at a processing centre in Kentucky for the delay in dispatching the letters.

Marwan al-Shehhi
Al-Shehhi: Suspected of flying the second plane into the towers

"The important thing to recognise is the decisions to change their status were made... before 11 September, and at the time there was no information made available to INS regarding these people," said Russ Bergeron.

The owner of the flight school, Rudi Dekkers, said Atta and al-Shehhi, applied for the visas on 29 August, 2000, before they began their six-month training course.

US authorities believe Atta, who was 33, was the ringleader of the terrorist group which hijacked four planes on 11 September.

He was one of four hijackers who seized American Airlines Flight 11 from Boston to Los Angeles and flew it into the north tower of the trade center.

Al-Shehhi is believed to have piloted United Airlines Flight 75, also from Boston to Los Angeles, which ploughed into the south tower 17 minutes later.

See also:

12 Mar 02 | Americas
Light gives hope to New Yorkers
09 Jan 02 | Americas
Hijacker 'pulled over by police'
02 Jan 02 | Americas
US terror suspect defies court
12 Dec 01 | Americas
US lays first 11 September charges
16 Nov 01 | Americas
Recording reveals hijack struggle
13 Sep 01 | Americas
Evidence trails lead to Florida
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