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Friday, 15 February, 2002, 11:57 GMT
Terror suspect describes jail 'ordeal'
Lotfi Raissi at a London press conference
Lotfi Raissi: "The world perceived me as guilty"
An Algerian pilot who has been released on bail accused of training some of the 11 September hijackers has described his time in jail as a "living nightmare".

Lotfi Raissi said he may never recover from his "ordeal", which he blamed on the United States Government and the FBI.


I am totally sympathetic to the suffering of the American people... I am not a terrorist - I abhor terrorism

Lotfi Raissi
Mr Raissi, 27, who lives in the UK at Colnbrook in Berkshire, said: "The law says that a person is innocent until proven guilty.

"In my case I feel as though the world perceived me as a guilty man and that I had to try and prove that I was innocent.

"The ordeal I have been through has changed my life, and the life of my family for ever, and nothing will ever change that."

'Naked'

Mr Raissi was granted bail at an extradition hearing this week, after spending more than five months on remand in high-security Belmarsh prison in south east London following his arrest under the Terrorism Act in September.


Those five months have destroyed me and all those dear to me, and I do not believe that I will ever recover from the experience

Lotfi Raissi
He told a press conference in London: "I was taken naked from my house at three in the morning along with my wife and brother.

"From that day... I was locked up in a cell facing the most serious allegations imaginable.

"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.

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

'Sympathetic to US'

Flanked by his wife Sonia and his solicitor Richard Egan, he added that he had never lost his faith in the British justice system.


I am a pilot, an Algerian, and a Moslem, and proud to be so, but this is not a crime

Lotfi Raissi
He said: "I am totally sympathetic to the suffering of the American people caused by the appalling tragedy that occurred on 11 September, but I would also like to add that I have become in turn a victim of that atrocity.

"I am not a terrorist - I abhor terrorism, and my family in Algeria has fought terrorism and been the victims of it for a decade.

"I understand that the FBI have to investigate that appalling criminal act to the full extent of their ability.

"I also understand that as a pilot and as an Algerian who had been in the United States that they would wish to scrutinise my background.

"What shocked me, however, was that it took five months before the United States Government informed the court that they were no longer seeking to extradite me on terrorist charges.

"Those five months have destroyed me and all those dear to me, and I do not believe that I will ever recover from the experience."

Still a suspect

The US had claimed Mr Raissi was linked to Hani Hanjour, the pilot suspected of crashing Flight 77 into the Pentagon, and investigators say he is still a suspect.

Prosecutors sought to extradite him on two counts of falsifying an application for a US pilot's licence, saying these were "holding charges" while they investigated his alleged role in terrorism.

But after five months a district judge gave Mr Raissi conditional bail as no terrorism charges had been brought, and were not likely to be brought in the near future.

Mr Raissi was released on 10,000 bail, ordered to surrender his passport and told not to apply for international travel documents.

He will have to attend London's Bow Street Magistrates Court in March.

Mr Raissi asked the US to drop the charges against him, saying: "I am a pilot, an Algerian, and a Muslim, and proud to be so, but this is not a crime."

He also thanked his friends, family, legal team and the Algerian President for standing by him during his ordeal.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Margaret Gilmore
"Raissi still faces lesser charges to the anger of his family"
Terrorism expert, Neil Livingston
"Intelligence information is often very difficult to use"
Algerian pilot Lofi Raissi
"The ordeal I have been through has changed my life"
The BBC's Bridget Kendall
"Raissi... said his ordeal had been a living nightmare"
See also:

28 Sep 01 | England
Terror suspect held on US warrant
12 Feb 02 | England
Accused pilot released on bail
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