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Ex-roommate of hijackers pleads not guilty

From Terry Frieden
CNN Washington Bureau

BALTIMORE, Maryland (CNN) -- A Jordanian citizen believed to have roomed with two of the September 11 hijackers last year pleaded not guilty in federal court here Thursday on a charge of fraudulently obtaining a visa.

The arraignment marked the third court appearance this week for Rasmi Al-Shannaq, 27, accused of illegally purchasing a visa at the U.S. Embassy in the Persian Gulf nation of Qatar.

The plea came one day after a federal prosecutor told a U.S. magistrate judge at a detention hearing that Al-Shannaq and two others had lived in Alexandria, Virginia, for more than a month last year with hijackers Hani Hanjour and Nawaf al Hazmi.

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Federal prosecutor Harvey Eisenberg said Al-Shannaq is believed to be among dozens of individuals who were able to illegally buy visas in Qatar.

Late Thursday, an attorney for Al-Shannaq said the Jordanian remained in custody of U.S. Marshals but was expected to be turned over to the Immigration and Naturalization Service, which says Al-Shannaq has overstayed his tourist visa, which expired in early 2001.

The announcement came after several of Al-Shannaq's family members who legally reside in Baltimore spent Thursday arranging the bond they hoped would allow the defendant to stay with his father in Baltimore.

Two federal judges Wednesday ruled the government could not continue to detain Al-Shannaq without bond on the fraudulent visa count because prosecutors had not produced any evidence linking him to terrorism.

U.S. Magistrate Susan Gauvey ordered him released on bond to the custody of his father.

"His father posted $10,000 today, and the family posted the titles to their six vehicles, to ensure his court appearance," said federal public defender Frank Draper. "And eight family members each signed promises of $50,000 for a total of $400,000 unsecured bond."

But the effort appeared to be in vain. The INS was expected to take custody of Al-Shannaq on the separate visa overstay charge and hold him until he appears before an immigration judge.

It was unclear if and when an immigration judge would consider Al-Shannaq's release from detention.

No proceedings are currently scheduled in either the criminal case or the immigration case.




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