NEW YORK – An Egyptian man was convicted Thursday of repeatedly lying to agents investigating the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks about his plans to attend aviation school.
A Brooklyn jury deliberated two days before finding Wael Abdel Rahman Kishk guilty of federal charges of making false statements. It acquitted him on a second charge of trying to impersonate a pilot by carrying a forged document.
The defendant faces up to five years in prison. No sentencing date was immediately set.
Kishk, 21, was detained at John F. Kennedy International Airport on Sept. 19 after arriving on a flight from Barcelona, Spain, that had originated in Cairo. During a routine search of his luggage, immigration agents discovered a fake Federal Aviation Administration document purportedly giving him medical clearance to fly.
Prosecutors alleged Kishk wanted to use the fake document to pass himself off as a pilot. They also accused him of lying about why he was in the country: to attend aviation classes at Big Bend Community College in Moses Lake, Wash. He instead claimed he was bound for business school, said prosecutor Dwight Holton.
The FBI, fearing a second wave of terror attacks, asked Kishk "over and over again, 'Do you intend to take flight lessons?"' Holton said in closing arguments. "Over and over again, he denied it."
Defense attorney Michael Schneider told the jury his client was guilty of nothing more than "poor judgment. ... But you don't convict people of crimes because they don't do the smartest things."
The FAA document was a crude forgery, full of misspellings, which Kishk crafted himself to try to convince a girlfriend he had achieved his dream of being a pilot, Schneider said.
"If he intended to pass it off as genuine, wouldn't he have proofread it?" Schneider said.
The government has conceded it has no evidence Kishk, who had a valid U.S. visa, was party to the terrorist plot. But prosecutors argued the fact that he appeared to fit the profile of the men who turned jetliners into weapons of mass destruction made his crimes more serious.
At the time of Kishk's arrest, investigators said they also found a homemade pilot's uniform. But U.S. District Judge Charles Sifton ruled those items could not be used as evidence against the defendant, reasoning it was not needed to prove the case.