Pilot’s demand for 9/11 apology halts terror deal
BY SEAN O’NEILL, http://www.timesonline.co.uk/printFriendly/0,,1-2-1788277-2,00.html, September 20, 2005
BRITAIN’S refusal to apologise to a pilot wrongfully accused of involvement in the September 11 atrocities is hampering efforts to strike a deal with Algeria over the deportation of terrorist suspects.
The Times understands that the case of Lotfi Raissi, who was jailed for five months over unfounded allegations that he trained the 9/11 hijackers, is a stumbling block in negotiations with Algiers.
Britain is seeking a “memorandum of understanding” with Algeria for the return of terror suspects, including seven men detained last week.
But Algeria wants the resolution of Mr Raissi’s case, including a public apology, to form part of what sources describe as a “package” deal.
Abdelaziz Belkhadem, a senior Algerian minister, was in London at the weekend and met Mr Raissi. The case rankles with Algeria and has continued to receive widespread attention in the media there.
Mr Raissi, 32, told The Times yesterday: “I have been very patient for four years, I have not criticised the British Government or the police but now I need to know why my case has not been resolved.
“Britain expects to solve discrimination, to educate and integrate Muslims but that is impossible while cases like mine are not settled. You cannot destroy someone’s life and not fix it. Algerian people look at my case and see there has been no justice.”
The pilot, who was trained to fly in the US, was arrested in a 3am armed raid on his West London home on September 21, 2001. His French Roman Catholic wife was also arrested.
He was held in Belmarsh high-security prison for almost five months on the basis of an extradition warrant from the US which alleged that he had given flying lessons to Hani Hanjour, one of the terrorists, and had associations with other al-Qaeda operatives.
The US case collapsed and Mr Raissi was released on February 12, 2002, after a judge ruled that the accusations made against him by the FBI “can no longer be substantiated”.
Since his release, Mr Raissi has been seeking an apology from the US and Britain for a mistake which, he says, has blighted his life. He has begun legal action claiming compensation for wrongful arrest and imprisonment but after four years of procedural delays a date has still to be set for the case to be heard in court.
Mr Raissi said: “Before I was arrested my life was great, now I have no life. I am living in a council flat with no job and no prospect of a job. My life has been ruined by a mistake for which no one is prepared to accept responsibility.
“After all the time and money spent investigating my case, they know that there is no truth in the allegations against me, they know that they made a mistake.
“But because I am Algerian, because I am Arabic, because I am a Muslim, I must be suspicious. Algerians are not supposed to be educated and to hold good jobs, we are supposed to be seen as terrorists and that is the bottom line. I can return to Algeria any time to live. But I am staying here to fight my case and because I want to go back to my career in the aviation industry.
“I want to be an ambassador for my country, to show that being Arabic and being a Muslim does not mean you are a terrorist.”
Mr Raissi’s lawyers are seeking a judicial review of a refusal by Charles Clarke, the Home Secretary, to grant him compensation.
Government lawyers have argued that the police and Crown Prosecution Service lawyers acted properly in handling the Raissi case but contend that the mistakes originated in the US.