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Newsnight Friday, 15 February, 2002, 14:18 GMT
Lotfi Raissi transcript
This transcript is produced from the teletext subtitles that are generated live for Newsnight. It has been checked against the programme as broadcast, however Newsnight can accept no responsibility for any factual inaccuracies. We will be happy to correct serious errors.

Where is the evidence? 11/2/02

...His name is Lotfi Raissi, a 27-year-old commercial jet pilot from Algeria...

...The FBI claim he's a key player in organising the terrorist plot on the US...

..An instructor for four of the hijackers.

In the confusion after September 11th, the FBI clung to one certainty. Of the hundreds rounded up for questioning, their biggest catch was Lotfi Raissi, arrested and held in London, awaiting extradition to America. He was their breakthrough, the key figure who trained the hijackers and they had a growing mass of evidence to prove it, or did they?

Lotfi has nothing to do with this, he's innocent.

Lotfi Raissi was in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Within days of the attacks on New York and Washington, the FBI sent police forces in Europe a confidential list of suspects. Lotfi Raissi was on that list so British police raided his home.

Three o'clock in the morning, someone knocked on the door. Lotfi went to open, asked who it was - the police, come to arrest us for September 11th. We've got nothing to do with this. We were both shocked. They took us to Paddington Station and they keep me for five days. They kept his brother for two days.

To investigators, even the location of the Raissi's home, close to Heathrow Airport, will have seemed suspicious. His wife, who is French, subsequently lost her ground staff job with an airline. His brother also lost his job at Heathrow, all on the back of Raissi's arrest, for he was the FBI's prime suspect. Lotfi Raissi fitted the bill for three fundamental reasons: nationality, religion and career. As an Algerian Muslim, he comes from a land which has been blighted by Islamist terrorism. He had also, crucially, been working training pilots in the US. Those simple facts meant he matched the broad profile of post-September 11th suspects. From there, everything else fell into place. Lotfi Raissi is hardly your 'doer' fundamentalist. For one thing, he's married to a Catholic who says he was horrified by the attacks on America, yet they've landed him in a prison where he is fighting extradition. From the first, the prosecutor for the Americans said it was likely they'd charge him with conspiracy to murder.

"He was a lead instructor of four of the pilots who were responsible for the hijackings...We have evidence of active conspiracy...correspondence and well as video footage of them together."

According to an FBI affidavit seen by Newsnight, the story starts in Las Vegas where they believe the hijackers planned the September attacks. Last summer, the Raissis were also in Las Vegas for a week. To the investigators, that is suspicious; to Sonia Raissi, it was their honeymoon.

We visited America because Lotfi wanted to show me Vegas. One week in Las Vegas, then in Venice for one week as well. Lotfi, at the same time, because it is cheaper in America, went to do some simulator training.

Lotfi Raissi had been in Arizona flying schools on and off for some four years. His lawyer says he was following his dream to become a commercial pilot and the schools were cheap.

One of the best ways to log up hours in the US is to instruct - that counts towards your CV. This is what he was doing. He was earning money as a freelance instructor taking people for flight lessons in Arizona. It's what a lot of people do.

The FBI found that among the hundreds who'd spent time training in Phoenix was Hani Hanjour. Hanjour was to use the skills he learned to fly a 757 into the Pentagon. The FBI seized on the fact that on five days when Hanjour trained on an AST simulator like this, Raissi too recorded use of the machine. While the Americans felt this was significant, Raissi's lawyer says there's less to it than meets the eye.

If you take a printout of the times he was there, and cross-reference it with the times Hanjour was there, there may be times when they were both there at the same time, on the same day, as I understand it, not necessarily at the same time.

Even the FBI, at first convinced the simulator sessions were a conspiracy between Raissi and Hanjour, are having second thoughts. In their recent affidavit, they say they are now trying to ascertain whether they did train together or was it all coincidence. There's another apparent connection between Hanjour and Raissi - again the FBI suspected the worst. Hanjour is known to have trained in a Piper light aircraft on March 8th 1999. His instructor, an American called Hassan, confirms it. But Lotfi Raissi's flight log book suggests he too flew in that Piper on that same date. The link seems obvious - not so, says the lawyer.

We've spoken to Hassan in the US. He said he's spoken to the FBI and confirmed he does not recall Raissi flying in the plane with him and Hanjour on 8th March 1999, so there is an indication from the paperwork that there is something not quite right. That is confirmed by the instructor who was with Hanjour on that day.

The explanation - that Raissi made a mistake in filling his log book, that he had flown in the Piper not on March 8th, but March 9th, a date which tallies with flying hours that were also logged. His lawyer hopes to confirm that. Now to the third, and on the face of it, strongest link between Raissi and Hanjour. It is that video footage the prosecution promised - supposedly film of the two men together found on Raissi's home computer. This too, though, turns out to be not as advertised by the FBI.

I would say it was fairly evident to me, having seen the video at the police station, that the man on the video wasn't Hanjour, because I was shown a photograph of Hanjour. I have now checked that and have spoken to the person on that video. He is a man residing in this country and it was shot at my client's premises on his webcam. It is not Hanjour. It's interesting that the prosecution haven't really referred to that video in court hearings subsequently.

Outside Belmarsh Prison, Lotfi Raissi's family, having seen him remanded in custody, say his detention is an outrage.

It is discrimination. He's got nothing to do in prison. Because he's Algerian he's in prison. If he was American he would be out.

There is no justice in this country. What Americans say, British - they have to obey.


The mother said they don't want the Americans to admit, or the British, that they put him in prison and made a big mistake for his arrest. They don't want to admit it. The Americans, they never admit that.

The link with the hijackers may look slim but the FBI have also been trying to tie Lotfi Raissi to another inmate of Belmarsh. He's Abu Doha and he was sketched in court where he too is fighting extradition. Police in Europe and the US believe Doha - another Algerian - is a terrorist leader. A name and telephone number for one of these Phoenix apartments was found in an address book by police in London arresting Abu Doha. The name and number was that of one Redouane Dahmani, and as a result, Dahmani is in jail in the US, proclaiming his innocence.

After what happened on September 11th, if your name is Mohammed and your religion is Islam and you came from Arab origin, automatically you are one of them.

Dahmani once shared his apartment with Lotfi Raissi. The FBI connected Raissi with the terrorist suspect Doha through Dahmani's number in Doha's address book. Unfortunately for the FBI, their thesis collapses with claims from the lawyer that the book wasn't Doha's after all, which would leave Raissi and Dahmani in the clear.

We've recently been told that the man who owned the book has been interviewed by the police. He's not under arrest and has confirmed that he's known Redouane Dahmani for several years. So the importance of that book is significantly reduced.

What was a smoking gun is not a gun and it's not smoking.


The case of Lotfi Raissi raises civil and human rights issues which have been rumbling in America ever since September 11th.

Innocent people are bearing the brunt and are being denied bail and, in cases where they'd have been let out long ago, are still being held because they have the wrong last name. His case brings up the problem of what was the responsibility of England in this case. Should they have asked the US for more evidence? Should they have pressed harder for substantiation before holding him this long?

While the FBI has been trying to build its case over five months, Lotfi Raissi has been kept in Belmarsh Prison on holding charges, that on his application for an American pilot's licence, he failed to declare a knee injury and a teenage conviction for theft. The magistrates already warned the prosecution these minor offences alone will no longer be enough to keep him in custody. If the FBI still hopes to make a case that Lotfi Raissi really is a terrorist, they are leaving it late. Five months after promising damning evidence about his time at flying school, contacts and relationships, they've yet to deliver. Unless there is a new development when he appears in court tomorrow, then in the terminology of the FBI, Lotfi Raissi could walk, he could be freed.

You can say he is a lot of things but not a terrorist. He is too good. He is very human. He's so sensitive and gentle and loving. He is not a terrorist.

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