A British Court of Appeal, on February 13, 2008, completely exonerated Lotfi Raissi, a British pilot of Algerian origin, from the charges that he trained some of the hijackers in the 2001 terrorist attacks on World Trade Center and Pentagon.
His episode is the latest example of how British and U.S. intelligence agencies try to frame terrorist charges against innocent people.
Raissi was seized in the early hours of September 21, when armed police raided his flat in Colnbrook, Berkshire. A gun was put to his head, an arrest warrant thrust into his face and he was led naked to a police car. Raissi's wife, Sonia, a French national, was also arrested, as was his brother Mohammed, who lived in Hounslow, west London. Raissi's wife and brother were released without charge four days later.
For seven days Raissi was questioned by the British police while an FBI agent observed from a remote location via a television link.
In court appearances in 2001, a British prosecutor representing the American government said that Raissi (who was qualified in the US to fly a Boeing 737) had trained at least four hijackers at a flight school in Arizona, and that his main responsibility had been training Hani Hanjour, who is believed to have been the pilot of the plane that struck the Pentagon. Raissi was part of an “active conspiracy,” and correspondence, telecommunications records and videos proved it, the prosecutor told the court. A video that the FBI claimed showed Raissi with Hani Hanjour was revealed in court as footage of him with his cousin.
Interestingly, the British prosecution also concocted its own story. It asserted that six pages were missing from Raissi’s flight log, which had been seized from his home. The implication was that he had removed the pages to cover up the times he had flown with Hanjour. It turned out that the pages had been removed by the British police, and then stapled back in the wrong order, the court noted.
When the seven-day holding period was up, and Raissi was to be released, the United States sought to extradite him after hastily filing what the court described as “trivial” charges: failure to note on his pilot license application that he had had knee surgery, and that, at the age of 19, he had been arrested for stealing a briefcase at Heathrow and given a false name at the time.
The extradition proceedings were a device to secure Raissi’s presence in the U.S. for the purpose of investigating 9/11 rather than for the purpose of putting him on trial for nondisclosure offenses. "Viewed objectively, it appears to us to be likely that the extradition proceedings were used for an ulterior purpose, namely to secure the appellant's detention in custody in order to allow time for the US authorities to provide evidence of a terrorist offence," the judges said.
Luckily Raissi was arrested before the new extradition arrangements under the Extradition Act 2003 came into force. If he were arrested now he would have been whisked off to the US without the possibility of a British court considering the strength of the charges against him.
After five months as a Category A prisoner in Belmarsh high security prison, in south-east London, he was released when a judge ruled there was no evidence whatsoever to link him with terrorism.
Lotfi Raissi’s case indicates how easily the intelligence agencies can persuade themselves of a need to detain someone for terrorism on the basis of the flimsiest of suspicion and then concoct evidence to prove their misplaced suspision.The court has now allowed Raissi (who was 27 year old when he was arrested in 2001) to seek compensation from the British government for wrongful arrest and detention. The question is that will any compensation make up for his ruined life because of “terrorism” accusation and wipe out the bitter memories of his five months ordeal in prison and the the sufferings of his wife and brother for no fault other than the presumed guilt by association?