NEW YORK – An Egyptian student accused of lying to the FBI about an aviation radio is off the hook after another person came forward to claim the communication device.
Authorities on Wednesday dropped charges against Abdallah Higazy, 30, after a private pilot who had also been staying at the Millennium Hilton Hotel at the World Trade Center on Sept. 11 told officials on Monday that the radio belonged to him.
Higazy was accused of interfering in the investigation of the Sept. 11 attacks in New York after the radio was found in his hotel room near the Twin Towers. He had been in custody for a month.
The son of an Egyptian diplomat, Higazy had insisted he knew nothing of the hand-held radio. The radio, called a transceiver, is marketed for use by pilots, enabling them to communicate air-to-air and air-to-ground with other pilots or to monitor other pilot conversations.
The FBI had initially said a hotel employee found the device in a safe in Higazy's room along with his Egyptian passport, a copy of the Quran and a gold medallion.
But according to the document filed Wednesday by prosecutors, the employee later said he found the radio on a table in Higazy's room on the 51st floor.
Prosecutors said it was unclear how the radio may have gotten to Higazy's room from the 50th floor, where the pilot was staying, but a number of people had been in the room between Sept. 11 and when the radio was found. There had been no contact between the two hotel guests, prosecutors said.
"The FBI has verified that the aviation radio found in Mr. Higazy's room belongs to this other man," read a two-page document filed late Wednesday by prosecutors.
Marvin Smilon, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office, said prosecutors asked that the charges against Higazy be dismissed after the pilot went to claim his belongings Monday, three days after Higazy was charged.
A judge approved the dismissal Wednesday, and Higazy was released Wednesday night, Herbert Hadad, another spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office, said Thursday morning.
The charges were dismissed without prejudice and can be filed again later, Smilon said.
The hotel was evacuated Sept. 11. Higazy was arrested Dec. 17 after he returned to the still-closed hotel to retrieve his possessions. He denied ever seeing the radio.
Higazy's lawyer, Robert S. Dunn, was unavailable for comment Thursday morning, but he was expected to hold an early afternoon news conference with his client to discuss the case.
Dunn has said his client was a victim of circumstance in a case based on circumstantial evidence and that Higazy begged for a lie detector test to prove his innocence.
"We're quite suspicious right now of anyone of Arab descent and anyone who can be remotely linked to 9/11," Dunn said after his client was charged Friday.
Higazy was enrolled at Polytechnic University in Brooklyn last September as a graduate student in computer engineering, the school said.
Authorities said a student aid group in Washington directed Higazy to stay at the hotel until he could find more permanent housing. He checked into the hotel on Aug. 27 and was scheduled to check out Sept. 25.
Higazy's name had not surfaced publicly in the investigation before he was charged. The criminal complaint against him drew no direct connection between him and the hijackers, who included some Egyptians.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.