WELLINGTON, New Zealand – A former roommate in the United States of one of the Sept. 11 hijackers deceived New Zealand authorities when he used an alias to enter the country, Prime Minister Helen Clark said Monday.
The government announced over the weekend that Rayed Mohammed Abdullah Ali, a Yemeni, was deported from New Zealand to Saudi Arabia on May 30, saying his presence in New Zealand posed a security threat.
Rayed Abdullah is named in U.S. 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 U.S. congressional investigation into the attacks said. Rayed Abdullah was never charged in connection with the attacks.
"He turned up in New Zealand as Mr. Ali but he wasn't known as that overseas," Clark told the NewstalkZB radio network. "Clearly the man set out to deceive."
"When a Mr. Ali presents and he's not in your system as Mr. Ali of course he slips in," she said.
Rayed Abdullah entered New Zealand in February, telling authorities he wanted to study English in Auckland. He 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 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.
Clark defended the decision to classify him as a security risk.
"When 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.
Rayed Abdullah already held a U.S. pilot's license and had 79 hours of flying time on his log book before arriving in New Zealand, the Manawatu club said.
Clark dismissed as "sheer speculation" reports that Rayed Abdullah had been allowed to enter the country deliberately so security services could monitor his activities.