KHARTOUM, Sudan – The father of a Sudanese pilot-turned-cabbie being investigated in the United States for terrorist ties said his son would never have plotted against America, a Sudanese newspaper reported Monday.
Hamed Mekki Hamed told Al-Watan daily newspaper that Sudanese officials had visited to inform the family about his 30-year-old son, Mekki Hamed Mekki, who had trained as a pilot but was working in Greensboro, N.C., as a cab driver. The father said his wife fainted on hearing the news.
"This news was a shock to us in the family," he was quoted as saying. "My son Mekki, the son that I know very well, cannot strike at a bird -- he could not hit a bird. He is not the kind to throw a stone at a pigeon let alone a White -- or a black -- House."
The FBI arrested Hamed's son on Sept. 13 and accused him of making false statements while applying for a U.S. visa. He was being detained on immigration charges while investigators try to determine if he is an Al Qaeda operative. Usama bin Laden was based in Sudan in the early 1990s, but was expelled in 1996 and moved to Afghanistan.
Adil Sidhamed Khalifa, editor in chief of Al-Watan, said he tracked down the family after 13 hours of driving around the outskirts of Khartoum, finding Hamed's home in a poor neighborhood of Jimaiab.
Hamed told Al-Watan he believed his son was arrested because he failed to specify in his visa application that he had worked as a pilot and had studied aviation in Peshawar, Pakistan.
Hamed said his son was a calm, smart child who excelled in secondary school. He said his son studied geology at the University of Khartoum, but had longed since childhood to become a pilot.
Mekki was among a group of students on government scholarships who traveled to Peshawar in 1993 and spent two years there, Hamed said. On returning, he took a job with a private aviation company that later was merged into the Sudanese armed forces.
A colleague of Mekki's in North Carolina, Jamal Omer, said that Mekki had been a co-pilot for the Sudanese air force, but gave up on his hopes of becoming a pilot in the United States after Sept. 11, 2001.