Federal agents seek foreign students’ records after attacks

By Don Thompson Associated Press Writer
Friday September 28, 2001

SACRAMENTO — Federal investigators are reviewing foreign students’ records at California college campuses as they probe the Sept. 11 East Coast terrorist attacks, officials said Thursday. 

Agents have likely sought records from virtually every California campus, education officials said. Schools throughout the nation have also been asked for records. 

College officials are turning over records under the direction of a U.S. Department of Education legal opinion that says student privacy protections can be violated for reasons of health and safety. 

Investigators have “specific names of students who had some sort of connection to the terrorist attacks,” said Colleen Bentley-Adler, spokeswoman for the 23-campus California State University system. “We’re cooperating with the FBI and turning over the records.” 

Already, Middle Eastern students at California schools have been held as material witnesses. In San Diego, three men, all local students, were detained because investigators think they have ties to three hijackers who lived in San Diego before helping fly an airliner into the Pentagon. 

The FBI also picked up another student in Irvine, Calif., because of his suspected connections to the hijackers. 

A former CSU Sacramento student, Raed Hijazi, is on trial in Jordan on charges he intended to attack American tourists on the eve of the millennium. Hijazi took business classes at the school in 1989, and federal authorities said he has connections with two alleged hijackers and Osama bin Laden, the “prime suspect” behind the attacks. 

In Los Angeles, FBI agents were given records Friday on one student who is believed to have been on one of the hijacked flights, CSU-Dominguez Hills spokeswoman Pamela Hammond said. She said she couldn’t reveal the student’s name. 

Charles McFadden, spokesman for the 174,000-student University of California system, said officials there believe all nine campuses have been approached by FBI or Immigration and Naturalization Service agents. 

“They are asking for specific students records for the most part,” McFadden said. Neither he nor CSU spokeswoman Bentley-Adler knew of any blanket requests. 

That may have helped mute protests over release of the records, McFadden said. 

In Sacramento, however, the Los Rios Community College District gave agents a list of students enrolled in one academic program, spokeswoman Susie Williams told the Sacramento Bee. 

District officials first asked for a subpoena but relented upon the advice of federal education officials, Williams said. The district includes American River, Consumnes River and Sacramento City colleges. 

FBI agents reviewed records at CSU-Hayward last week, said spokesman Kim Huggett. 

“I think it’s probably unusual for college campuses in California not to be visited by the FBI,” given their ethnic diversity, Huggett said. “I would be surprised if they haven’t been to every college in the Bay Area,” which has a large Middle Eastern population. 

The 370,000-student CSU system enrolled 54,500 foreign students last year from dozens of countries, including 350 from Afghanistan. 

An FBI spokeswoman in Washington, D.C., said the agency wouldn’t comment on any part of its investigation, including student record searches. Bureau spokesmen in Sacramento and San Francisco did not immediately return telephone messages left by The Associated Press.