Egyptian man near WTC on Sept. 11 charged
NEW YORK (CNN) -- Authorities charged an Egyptian man Friday with lying to the FBI about his knowledge of aviation radios, one of which he allegedly had while staying near the top of a hotel facing the World Trade Center on September 11.
Abdallah Higazy was taken into custody December 17 after returning to the Millenium Hilton Hotel to claim possessions he left in Room 5101 the day hijacked airliners slammed into the Twin Towers, killing nearly 2,900 people.
The belongings included a hand-held radio used by pilots to communicate with other planes and people on the ground, authorities said.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Dan Himmelfarb said Higazy and the radio are "a potentially quite significant part" of the investigation into the September 11 attacks.
Higazy's attorney insisted the radio did not belong to his client and said his client "is adamant about his innocence."
A senior law enforcement official said investigators have yet to find clear ties between Higazy and terrorist activities, adding that the aviation radio found in his room is "not uncommon."
Higazy, 30, was charged only with making false statements to the FBI, a felony. U.S. Magistrate Frank Maas ordered Higazy held without bond Friday. He scheduled a preliminary hearing for January 28 to determine whether there is probable cause for Higazy to stand trial.
Federal agents said when they initially questioned Higazy at the hotel, he told them he did not own and he had never seen an aviation radio.
One such transceiver was found in Higazy's digital combination lock safe, along with his passport and a copy of the Koran, the Islamic holy book, the agents said.
During initial interviews, according to an FBI affidavit, Higazy said he served in the Egyptian Air Force and had "some" expertise in communications and related devices.
When further questioned at FBI offices, "Higazy stated that one of his duties in the Egyptian Air Force was to repair radios used to pilots to communicate with people on the ground."
In the affidavit, FBI agent Christopher Bruno said he had seen the aviation radio in question and had investigated the capability and purpose of the equipment.
"The transceiver found in the safe in Room 5101 is a hand-held radio marketed for use by pilots," Bruno said.
"It can be used for air-to-air and air-to-ground communication with a person in possession of a similar radio, including a pilot in a commercial plane. It can also be used to monitor air-to-air and air-to-ground communications between and among others."
Hand-held aviation radios, which cost as much as $300 and have a limited range, are standard equipment for most private pilots, aviation experts said.
The devices often serve as a backup in case the electrical systems and radio in the aircraft are inoperable.
Authorities said Higazy, who attended elementary and high school in Washington public schools, entered the United States on August 27 on an Egyptian passport with a student visa. He then checked into a room on the 51st floor of the 58-story, 561-room lower Manhattan hotel.
Higazy's room did not have a view of the World Trade Center, but many rooms nearby did, sources told CNN.
The Millenium Hotel suffered structural damage and had 500 windows blown out when the Twin Towers collapsed. Higazy and other guests were evacuated from the hotel, which has remained closed.
In court Friday, Higazy said he lived in Washington during his father's past service in the Egyptian diplomatic corps. His parents and two of his three siblings now live in Cairo. The defendant's military service was compulsory under Egyptian law.
On September 11, Higazy said he was studying computer engineering at Brooklyn Polytechnic University, which put him up at the Millenium Hilton until longer-term housing could be found.
Higazy was in his hotel room at the time of the attack, according to his lawyer.
-- CNN's Phil Hirschkorn, Rose Arce and Kevin Bohn contributed to this report.
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