A man US officials say lived and trained with one of the Sept 11 hijackers in the lead-up to the attacks deceived New Zealand authorities by using an alias to enter the country, Prime Minister Helen Clark said on Monday.
Rayed Mohammed Abdullah Ali, a Yemeni, was deported from New Zealand to Saudi Arabia on May 30 after authorities learned of his real identity and found him taking flying lessons at a private flight school.
Rayed Abdullah is named in US Government reports as a friend and roommate of Saudi Arabian Hani Hanjour, one of the terrorists aboard the airliner that was flown into the Pentagon on Sept 11, 2001.
The two men knew each other in Florida and Arizona in the late 1990s, where they both received flight training, the US congressional investigation into the attacks said. Rayed Abdullah was extensively interviewed by the FBI after the attacks, but was never charged.
Rayed Abdullah entered New Zealand in February on a student visa after telling authorities he wanted to study English. But the name he used in his application did not show up as a security risk in New Zealand's immigration warning system. "He turned up in New Zealand as Ali but he wasn't known as that overseas," Clark told the NewstalkZB radio network. "Clearly the man set out to deceive."
"When a Ali presents and he's not in your system as Ali of course he slips in," she said.
Rayed Abdullah was deported one day after being arrested in Palmerston North, 540 kilometers (335 miles) south of Auckland, where he was undertaking pilot training at the Manawatu Districts Aero Club.
Immigration Minister David Cunliffe said on Monday that Rayed Abdullah was expelled because of his "direct association with people involved in the 9/11 bombing, the nature of his ... activities in the United States (and) the general nature of his activities in New Zealand."
But he said there was no evidence Rayed Abdullah was involved in terrorist activities in New Zealand. The Government has declined to give details of his activities in New Zealand.
Clark defended the decision to classify him as a security risk. ""hen you have someone who clearly has been a close associate of a terrorist who took a plane into the Pentagon, it's clearly not useful to be providing them with pilot training in New Zealand," she said.
She dismissed as 'sheer speculation' reports that Rayed Abdullah had been allowed to enter the country deliberately so security services could monitor his activities.
The Sept 11 report says Rayed Abdullah entered the United States in late 1997 and obtained his private pilot's license in December 1998 after training in Arizona.
Citing FBI documents and interviews, the report said Rayed Abdullah 'lived and trained' with Hanjour in Arizona, and gave extremist speeches at a mosque there.
Manawatu Aero club chief instructor Ravindra Singh told TV3 that Rayed Abdullah had expressed anger that the Sept 11 attacks had disrupted his dream of becoming a commercial pilot. Paul Buchanan, a former terrorism analyst in the United States who is now a senior politics lecturer at Auckland University, said New Zealand authorities should have detained and interrogated Rayed Abdullah before deporting him.
"My hunch is that he was here for bad reasons," Buchanan said. "But there is always the distinct possibility that he was just trying to resume a dream of his to be a commercial pilot and unfortunately he got caught up in politically charged times where Muslim men taking flight lessons are considered terrorist suspects."
If Rayed Abdullah was connected to terrorist activity, it was possible he came to New Zealand "to do his training off the radar scope and then go back ... (to) carry out those type of missions," Buchanan said.
Cunliffe said the Government had 'very good grounds' to doubt Rayed Abdullah came to New Zealand to study English, without elaborating.
"The Government was acting on advice that it was absolutely the right thing to do to apprehend and export this individual," he said.