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Suspect instructed attack pilots, court hears

LONDON, England (CNN) -- An Algerian pilot arrested in London instructed four of the hijackers involved in the attacks on New York and Washington, prosecutors said at an extradition hearing on Friday.

Lotfi Raissi, 27, was detained last week following the attacks in New York and Washington. He was re-arrested on Friday on an international arrest warrant originated in the United States.

Prosecutor Arvinda Sambir told Bow Street Magistrates Court: "He was a lead instructor of four of the pilots that were responsible for the hijackings. The one that we are concerned about is the one that went into the Pentagon."

She said Raissi visited the U.S. on a number of occasions between June 10 and July 11 this year. On June 23 he visited Las Vegas with his wife and then flew to Arizona and then ended up at the Nevada Aviation School.

Prosecutors said he visited the school to make sure the four pilots were trained for the attacks.

Police raids around Europe are exposing a suspected terrorist network with links to Osama bin Laden. CNN's Diana Muriel reports (September 28)

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Sambir added, a videotape exists of Raissi and suspected hijacker Hani Hassan Hanjour flying to Phoenix, Arizona.

Hanjour is the man believed to have been piloting American Airlines Flight 77 that crashed into the Pentagon. Sambir said Raissi was the lead instructor of the pilots.

"We say he was there to ensure that pilots were capable and trained for this purpose," Sambir said.

She added that Raissi was also wanted in the U.S. on charges of giving false information in connection with his application for a pilot's licence such as failure to declare he had a previous conviction for theft and that he had surgery on his knee.

Further charges are expected, she said.

Prosecutors said he qualified in the U.S. as a pilot in 1997, attending the same flight school as four of the hijackers involved in the attacks which left more than 6,000 dead.

The prosecution further claimed that Raissi had helped make arrangements for the hijackers, but gave no details.

Sambir said further charges were expected, adding: "It is no secret that conspiracy to murder is being looked at."

Sambir said when Raissi was arrested by British police log books from March 2000 to June 2001 were found in his house with crucial dates missing.

She said there was sufficient evidence to show his relationship with the hijackers went further than association.

Judge Nicholas Evans ordered that Raissi should remain in custody and appear before the court again on October 5.

Richard Egan, Raissi's defence lawyer, said his client rejected the allegations.

"He adamantly denies any involvement in the recent appalling tragedies," Egan said outside the court.

Relatives of Raissi have said he had flown jets in the U.S. for several years and was undergoing further training at Heathrow.

Raissi was one of four people who were arrested in Britain on September 21.

He was living in Colnbrook, Berkshire, close to Heathrow airport, was re-arrested on an international warrant after initially being held under the Terrorism Act 2000. He is no longer being held under the Terrorism Act

Police spent two days searching his ground floor flat and took a number of items away for further examination, including flying manuals.

Anti-terrorist officers also arrested Raissi's French-born wife Sonia, 25, last week but she was released without charge on Tuesday.

His 29-year-old brother, Mohamed Raissi, of Hounslow, west London, was also detained but was later released without charge.

At a court hearing earlier this week Raissi and Abu Imard, 44, were named by a magistrate who granted police an extension to hold them for an extra 48 hours.

Student Abu Imard, 44, who was detained in Birmingham by anti-terrorist police on September 21, remains in custody.

The UK's Terrorism Act, passed last year, allows police to hold suspects for up to seven days without being charged.

Imard remains in police custody under anti-terrorism legislation, although his time limit was due to expire later on Friday.

In a separate operation on Wednesday, UK police arrested three people in Leicester under the anti-terrorism legislation.

Leicestershire police said the men were linked to previous arrests in France and Belgium, but gave few details.

One of the men is a French national who was allegedly involved in a plot to attack U.S. interests in Europe.

In Europe, there have been raids and arrests in several countries.

Spanish police have arrested six Algerians who are believed to have links to suspected terrorist Osama bin Laden and who were thought to be helping to prepare attacks on U.S. targets in Europe.

The Spanish government said the six belong to an Algerian Islamic terrorist cell called the Salafist Group for Call and Combat.

The group is on the list of 27 whose assets have been ordered frozen by the U.S. government.


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