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Hijackers' roommates obtained illegal visas

From Andrea Koppel and Kelli Arena
CNN Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Three people who roomed with two of the September 11 hijackers obtained fraudulent visas at the U.S. Embassy in Qatar, State Department officials said Wednesday.

The three men have been detained in the United States and one of the three, Rasmi Al Shannaq, a Jordanian, was arraigned in Baltimore Wednesday on visa fraud and immigration violations.

Federal investigators said he lived for two months last summer in a Virginia apartment with two of the September 11 hijackers. But they said officials have no indication he had any part in the attacks.

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Sources said two other men have been arrested for illegally buying visas and are in custody. One was identified as Ahmed Ahmad; the name of the other man has not been released.

The men all lived with hijackers Nawaf Al Hazmi and Hani Hanjour in the Washington suburbs, officials said. So far, no terrorism connection has been made between the roommates and the hijackers, investigators said.

"This could be a case of wrong place at wrong time with wrong roommate," one official said. But investigators are interested in what the men's intent was in obtaining the visas and have not completely closed the door on any possibility.

The men were identified in an investigation by the State Department's Diplomatic Security Service into visas officials said were being sold for as much as $10,000 apiece in Doha, Qatar, between July 2000 and May 2001.

The investigation, dubbed Operation Eagle Strike, revealed that at least 70 foreign nationals obtained visas fraudulently through the scheme, department officials said.

Thirty-one suspects have been detained and another 29 were still being sought. Ten others were dependents and six of them have since left the country, officials said.

Investigators said they were tipped off to the possibility of visa fraud in Doha last November. Officials said there were several red flags raised in all cases, including:

  • Applications were missing.
  • No payment for visas was received.
  • Names didn't show up on the visitors log.
  • Officials said they have no suspects and are still investigating. But they said they are looking into the possibility either foreign nationals who work at the U.S. Embassy or U.S. consular officials may have been involved.

    No one has been removed from his post.

    One Jordanian national resigned in June 2001, officials said. The resignation was "nothing out of the ordinary," said one senior State Department official, who added the woman is back in Amman and is a cooperating witness.

    Officials said some of the 31 people in custody are also providing information to authorities about the whereabouts of the others authorities are seeking.




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