AFTER THE ATTACKS: MISSED CUES; Saudi May Have Been Suspected in Error, Officials Say

The New York Times | September 16, 2001
By Kevin Sack

The authorities said today that it appeared a case of mistaken identity had led the Federal Bureau of Investigation to search the former home and to interview the friends of a Saudi Arabian pilot whose name is similar to one used by one of the hijackers of American Airlines Flight 11, the first plane to crash into the World Trade Center.

The search here on Wednesday was widely reported in the news media, including The New York Times, with several accounts reporting that the pilot was a suspected hijacker.

A lawyer with knowledge of the investigation said today that the man, Abdul Rahman Alomari, had returned to Saudi Arabia this month, and that both American and Saudi officials appear to be reasonably convinced that he is not the Abdulaziz al-Omari who was listed by the F.B.I. on Friday as one of the 19 hijackers.

The lawyer, as well as American and Saudi officials, all of whom spoke on the condition that they not be named, said Abdul Rahman Alomari had been interviewed by Saudi and United States authorities in Saudi Arabia in the last two days.

Federal law enforcement officials had little to say today. ''I just can't talk about the investigation,'' said Judy Orihuela, a spokeswoman for the bureau's Miami office.

But another law enforcement official said investigators had concluded that the Alomari who had lived here -- an employee of Saudi Arabian Airlines who was attending flight school in Vero Beach -- was not the Alomari listed on the manifest of Flight 11.

If that is the case, Abdul Rahman Alomari fell victim to a remarkable set of circumstances. Apart from the similarity in names, the interest of investigators was clearly aroused by the fact that he had studied at a Florida flight school, as had several of the suspected hijackers. Both investigators and reporters became further intrigued when Mr. Alomari's landlord and neighbors told them he had sent his wife and four children back to Saudi Arabia less than two weeks before the attack.

A Saudi official said that the authorities in Saudi Arabia believed Mr. Alomari was who said he was. But the official said he could not definitively clear up the question of Mr. Alomari's identity and that Saudi authorities were investigating whether identity theft might have been involved.

At 5:30 a.m. on Wednesday, some 60 F.B.I agents and local law enforcement officers swept into Mr. Alomari's former neighborhood here. They then searched the house for hours, as well as a neighboring house that had been rented by Adnan Bukhari, another pilot trainee from Saudi Arabia and a friend of Mr. Alomari's.

Mr. Bukhari agreed to be flown to Miami for an interview at the F.B.I.'s office there, his lawyer said. Mr. Bukhari was allowed to return home Thursday night, the lawyer said.

During the interview, Mr. Bukhari's cellphone rang, said the lawyer, who was present. Mr. Bukhari found Mr. Alomari on the line, calling from Saudi Arabia after hearing news reports that the two of them were considered suspects, the lawyer said. He asked the F.B.I. agent whether he wished to speak to Mr. Alomari and handed him the phone.

Shared Names for Hijackers

(By The New York Times), WASHINGTON, Sept. 15 -- Three of the men identified as the hijackers in the attacks on Tuesday have the same names as alumni of American military schools, the authorities said today. The men were identified as Mohamed Atta, Abdulaziz al-Omari and Saeed al-Ghamdi.

The Defense Department said Mr. Atta had gone to the International Officers School at Maxwell Air Force Base in Alabama; Mr. al-Omari to the Aerospace Medical School at Brooks Air Force Base in Texas; and Mr. al-Ghamdi to the Defense Language Institute at the Presidio in Monterey, Calif.