Pakistani detainees appear in court a day after judge grants voluntary departure

By Chelsea J. Carter, The Associated Press
Saturday December 08, 2001

LOS ANGELES — Two Pakistani men picked up for questioning following the Sept. 11 attacks were charged Friday by federal prosecutors with falsely representing their legal status a day after an immigration judge granted them permission to leave the country. 

The two men — Salman Hyder and Ahmed Atta — appeared in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles to answer charges they lied about their legal status on employment forms, said attorney Carrye Washington. The charges were unsealed in court and the hearing was continued until Tuesday. 

The court appearance came a day after federal officials removed the two men from a federal detention center in Lancaster without the knowledge of their attorney. 

“They took them last night. They are facing some type of federal charges. They haven’t told us anything,” she told The Associated Press. 

A third man, Soloman Hamid Khan, appeared with the two in court. Khan, who also faces charges of lying about his legal status, was reported to be a friend of Hyder and Atta, said attorney Guillermo Suarez, who is working with Washington on the case. 

Washington and Suarez said they learned about Friday’s hearing after listening to a radio report about the case, she said. 

The actions were an “ambush,” Washington said, adding that federal officials knew they were taking her clients while they were in court negotiating an agreement for the two to leave. 

An immigration judge granted voluntary departure Thursday to the two men rather then have them face a deportation hearing. However, during the hearing, the Immigration and Naturalization Service reserved the right to appeal the ruling. 

“The government is alleging that there is more here than meets the eye,” Suarez said. 

Telephone calls to the U.S. attorney’s office in Los Angeles were not immediately returned. 

Atta and Hyder, both 19, have been questioned at least five times by the FBI since they were picked up in October at their Fountain Valley apartment. Washington said the two were only charged with minor visa violations. 

Investigators appeared to focus on Atta, a Pakistani born in Saudi Arabia, who left the United States on Sept. 6 to renew his Saudi Arabian visa and passport, Washington said. He returned Sept. 18.  

Hyder said he has only been questioned about Atta’s whereabouts. 

The FBI last questioned the two on Oct. 25. 

Hyder and Atta had been held at the Mira Loma Detention Center in Lancaster since Oct. 8 until they were moved to a Los Angeles detention center, said Washington, an attorney with the National Immigration Project. 

The two men were detained by FBI and immigration officials after authorities received an anonymous tip accusing Atta of involvement with al-Qaida, the terrorist network considered responsible for the attacks. 

The men admit violating the student visas that allowed them to study computer information systems at Irvine Valley College. People with student visas must maintain full-time enrollment and are not allowed to accept off-campus employment without written permission from the INS. 

Both believe an angry neighbor called the tip in to authorities.