After months in custody, 2 former terror suspects are heading home

The Associated Press
Monday May 06, 2002

SANTA ANA — Two friends from Pakistan, who hoped for opportunity in the United States but instead found themselves jailed in a post-Sept. 11 roundup, are heading home after spending more than six months in custody. 

Ahmed Atta and Salman Hyder, both 19, were detained Oct. 6, as federal investigators checked out an anonymous tip that Atta had a link to the al-Qaida terrorist network. Atta recently was sent back to Pakistan, while Hyder remains in custody pending his return. 

In separate interviews with the Orange County Register, Atta and Hyder, described how they were detained, interrogated for weeks and taken to court appearances in chains. 

“I was scared as hell,” Atta said. 

Hyder said he, too, was terrified as agents repeatedly asked the same questions about possible links to terrorists. 

“I was shivering when those agents were questioning me,” Hyder said. “During those first two months, we were terrified because we knew our case was not a normal case.” 

Both men did not have an attorney during the interviews. 

Although no links to terrorists were ever found, Atta and Hyder were convicted of minor visa violations involving working without proper papers or permission. Both were sentenced to time served and ordered to either leave the county voluntarily or be deported. 

Atta said he regretted the lost opportunity to make his fortune in America. 

“I came to spend the rest of my life here,” said Atta. “I know (the INS) won’t want to hear this. But that’s the truth. I would love to live here. It is the land of opportunity.” 

Hyder was eager to return to his family. 

“I like the U.S., but I’m dying to go back to Pakistan,” he said. “I know it will be hard, but my home is better than jail.” 

Hyder and Atta lived in a Fountain Valley condominium and attended Irvine Valley College. Both came to the United States believing there was more opportunity to prosper her than in the Middle East. 

Hyder arrived in January 2000 on a student visa, but dropped out of school after only one semester in violation of federal rules. He had to work, Hyder said, because his father was unemployed and could no longer afford to support him. 

Atta applied for a job at Fry’s Electronics in Fountain Valley last year. Atta said he had to work to support himself for what he called “an opportunity of a lifetime.” 

Hyder was born in Saudi Arabia to Pakistani parents. Atta was born in Pakistan but, like Hyder, grew up in Riyadh, the Saudi Arabian capital. 

Atta’s attorney, Ronald O. Kaye, said the prosecution of the roommates was unprecedented. “He (Atta) was arrested for immigration offenses that I had never seen prosecuted before as a criminal matter,” Kaye said.