SAN DIEGO - Grand jury holds secret proceedings re Sept 11 probe : LUSENET : Current News - Homefront Preparations : One Thread

S.D. grand jury holds secret proceedings tied to Sept. 11 probe

By Kelly Thornton STAFF WRITER

October 21, 2001

A federal grand jury in San Diego is hearing testimony related to the massive terror probe, a new local twist in the 41-day-old investigation that has been rooted in New York City.

FBI sources confirmed that the secret proceedings are under way and that among those summoned to appear was Jacquelyn Lee Fisher, 27. Fisher married a man -- arrested as a material witness in the probe -- the day after the terrorist attacks. Sources said Fisher testified Friday.

Those familiar with the local investigation said they could not discuss the San Diego grand jury's purpose, the nature of the questions or whether others have testified.

However, the marriage of Fisher to Grossmont College student Yazeed Al-Salmi is a likely topic because FBI sources said earlier that investigators were scrutinizing the marriage as a possible attempt by Al-Salmi to gain permanent residency in the United States.

Al-Salmi is a 23-year-old citizen of Saudi Arabia who briefly lived in the same boarding house as one of the San Diego-based hijackers. He came to this country on a two-year student visa that expires in July 2002.

Al-Salmi was detained as a material witness 11 days after his marriage and flown to New York. He was released from jail, where he was held for more than two weeks, after testifying before the grand jury in Manhattan. He was not charged with a crime.

He has acknowledged knowing San Diego-linked hijacker Nawaf Alhazmi, but said he was unaware of Alhazmi's plan to crash a jet into the Pentagon. Al-Salmi has returned to San Diego, where he said he planned to resume his education. He could not be reached for an interview yesterday.

Fisher, who also could not be reached yesterday, said in an interview last week that she married Al-Salmi "because I love him, and I'm not divorcing him because everyone thinks he's a terrorist." Neighbors and the manager of the La Mesa apartment where she lived, however, said they had never seen Al-Salmi and that Fisher was living with a boyfriend.

Meanwhile yesterday, attorney Randall Hamud, who represented Al-Salmi when he was detained in New York, criticized the government's handling of the case of another material witness from San Diego who was charged Friday with lying twice to a grand jury.

Prosectors said 21-year-old Osama Awadallah denied knowing one of two hijackers linked to San Diego, even after he was confronted with a journal in which he mentioned both Alhazmi and Khalid al-Midhar.

Authorities first became interested in Awadallah when they found a note in the glove compartment of a hijacker's car that said: "Osama" and gave a phone number, sources said. The car, registered to Alhazmi, was abandoned at Dulles International Airport, the takeoff point for the plane that crashed into the Pentagon.

Hamud told a news conference that Awadallah, a Jordanian who also attended Grossmont College, was confused because of a language barrier when he was asked whether he knew al-Midhar.

Awadallah admitted seeing Alhazmi up to 40 times, but said he didn't know al-Midhar because he was a passing acquaintance, Hamud said.

Hamud said Awadallah was shown a grainy, photo-copied version of the journal and did not recognize it as his own. When the prosecutors brought in the original journal five days later, Awadallah was able to identify it and acknowledged knowing al-Midhar.

Hamud blasted federal prosecutors in New York for depicting Awadallah as "assisting terrorists." He said Awadallah was physically abused by guards and is being held in isolation. Awadallah's father traveled from Jordan but was not allowed to visit him, Hamud said.

"This is a fishing expedition, it's a witch hunt, and it's guilt by association," Hamud said yesterday. "To make themselves look good, the government is wasting a lot of time chasing rabbits and the bears are getting away."

Hamud's third local client, Mohdar Abdallah, is scheduled to testify before a grand jury in New York this week, sources said. After that, they said, he will likely be returned to San Diego to face charges that he lied on an application for political asylum in the United States.

Abdallah, a student at San Diego State University, received asylum as a Somali refugee in July. But sources said he is accused in federal court papers of concealing his Yemeni passport, which identifies him as Mohammed al-Midhar. He has the same surname as hijacker Khalid al-Midhar.

Sources said they have no evidence of a familial connection. Hamud said Abdallah is not related to the hijacker al-Midhar, but he acknowledged he has not asked Abdallah.

"Why would I ask him?" Hamud said. "These are common names in the Persian Gulf. There are tribal names, clan names. Mohdar Abdallah is how I know him. I'm not aware of any other names. It's my understanding there's no relationship."

-- Anonymous, October 21, 2001

Moderation questions? read the FAQ