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FBI Links Virginia Resident To September WTC Attacks

By Patricia Davis and Brooke A. Masters
THE WASHINGTON POST -- WASHINGTON

The FBI Monday outlined a series of connections between an Alexandria, Va., man and al Qaida terrorists linked to the Sept. 11 attacks, including assertions that hijacker Mohamed Atta confided his hatred of the United States to him and that he helped Atta move into a Hamburg apartment.

In testimony in U.S. District Court in Alexandria, an FBI agent also said that a reputed 20th hijacker -- who is still at large -- twice used his association with the Virginia man, Agus Budiman, to try to enter the country, both times unsuccessfully.

But Special Agent Jesus Gomez had barely begun his testimony at Budiman’s detention hearing when the proceeding was suddenly halted. Budiman was in court for what his attorney thought was a routine fraud case unrelated to the terrorist attacks. Buchanan immediately postponed the hearing until Thursday, after Budiman can get a new attorney. But before the testimony was halted, new details emerged tying Budiman, 31, to some of the hijackers and a terrorist cell in Germany that authorities say spawned the attacks. Budiman, an Indonesian citizen, lived and studied in Hamburg before coming to the United States in October 2000.

Gomez’s testimony revealed the strongest link yet between any Washington area resident and the terrorists.

Associates of Budiman’s acknowledge that he knew Atta and others blamed for the attacks but that Budiman said he hadn’t spoken to them since moving to the United States and had nothing to do with the plot.

Gomez testified that Budiman knew Atta and Marwan Al-Shehhi, who flew planes into the World Trade Center, and Ramsi Binalshibh, a Muslim cleric living in Hamburg. FBI Director Robert Mueller identified Binalshibh as the 20th hijacker who was supposed to be aboard the plane that crashed into a Pennsylvania field.

Atta, the leader of the plot, and Binalshibh were roommates, and Budiman helped them move from one apartment into another, Gomez said. Gomez also testified that Binalshibh twice used Budiman’s Washington area address to try to enter the United States, presumably to take part in the plot. Binalshibh also told Budiman that he wanted to take part in the jihad, or holy war, in Bosnia.

Budiman is charged with helping a friend from Germany exploit a now-closed legal loophole to obtain a Virginia identification card on Nov. 4, 2000. The friend, Mohammed Belfas, who also is an Indonesian citizen, is listed on some federal documents as a contact for Osama bin Laden.

Budiman has told members of Solidarity USA, an organization helping Muslims detained after the attacks, that the FBI questioned and gave him a polygraph test about his associations with Atta and Belfas.

Solidarity USA spokeswoman Adisra Jittipur said that Budiman has told the group that he and Atta “were acquaintances -- they were students in Germany -- (and that) he had no affiliation with the terrorist attacks.”

English, a court-appointed attorney who had met with his client only just before Monday’s hearing, later said he was astounded to hear about links between Budiman and the terrorists.

“The charge said nothing about any of this,” English said.