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Last Updated: Thursday, 14 February 2008, 16:27 GMT
Profile: Lotfi Raissi
Lotfi Raissi with his mother and wife on his release from Belmarsh prison
Lotfi Raissi in 2002 with his mother Rabea (l), and wife Sonya (r)
The Court of Appeal has ruled that a pilot detained in prison after being wrongly accused of training the 9/11 hijackers is entitled to claim damages.

As Lotfi Raissi emerged from the Appeal Court, he said he was "completely exonerated", and that the ordeal had ruined his life and career as a pilot.

The 33-year-old was the first person to be formally accused in connection with the 11 September attacks in the US.

He was detained on 21 September 2001 in a 3am raid on his flat in Colnbrook, Berkshire - near Heathrow airport - by police acting on an extradition request from the FBI.

The US authorities initially alleged he had attended flight training with one of the 11 September hijackers, Hani Hanjour.

By the time of the formal extradition request, the charge had been changed to one of supplying false information to the Federal Aviation Administration concerning his medical records and a conviction for theft.

He spent four-and-a-half months at the high security Belmarsh prison in south-east London before being freed on bail by a district judge who ruled there was "no evidence" to suggest he was linked to terrorism.

The US extradition request was formally dropped in April 2002.

Mr Raissi's wife, Sonia, a French national who worked as a customer service representative at Heathrow, was also arrested at the same time but released without charge four days later.

I was separated from my family and had to face this ordeal alone
Lotfi Raissi, speaking in 2002

Lotfi Raissi was born in Algeria, where he completed basic pilot's training, before moving to the US in 1996 to continue his studies at flight schools in Arizona for several years.

This was the period that later aroused the suspicion of the FBI. But while he may have attended the same flight school as 9/11 hijacker Hani Hanjour, there is no evidence of any connection or contact between the two men.

When his US visa expired in 2000, he returned to Algeria and then moved to the UK, where he hoped to convert his US pilot's qualification into a European licence.

After being formally cleared, Mr Raissi demanded an apology from Scotland Yard, the FBI and the Crown Prosecution Service "for discrimination and an abuse of his human rights", threatening legal action.

Speaking in 2002 he said: "You cannot begin to consider what it is like to have the world's media along with the government of the United States believing that you are responsible for the most dreadful act of terrorism the world has ever seen.

He considers that, unless he receives a public acknowledgement that he is not a terrorist, he will be unable to get his life back together again
Lord Justice Hooper

"I was separated from my family and had to face this ordeal alone."

He applied for compensation in March 2004 under a Home Office scheme for people deprived of their liberty because of a miscarriage of justice, but was turned down.

In February 2006, Mr Raissi was granted the right to a judicial review of the decision.

The hearing took place in October that year. But Mr Raissi faced another setback in February 2007, when two High Court judges ruled against the challenge.

Mr Raissi has argued the refusal to grant him bail after his arrest on the extradition warrant amounted to wrongful detention.

Mr Raissi is currently not working and says he is blacklisted from working for any airline.

The latest decision on the case by the Court of Appeal indicates that judges believe that Mr Raissi is entitled to compensation.

The court has ordered the Ministry of Justice to look again at his claim in the light of their judgment, which was critical of the Crown Prosecution Service and the police.

Speaking outside court Mr Raissi said: "I wept with relief when I heard the judgment.

"I have always said that I believed in British justice and I finally got it today.

"Since the day that I was in Belmarsh prison I never thought I would see this day".


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