FBI checks for names at flight schools
BY OMER GILLHAM
Sep 14, 2001
The FBI has asked flight training schools in Tulsa and
Norman for the names of Middle Eastern students trained on
their premises, school officials said Thursday.
Meanwhile, the Tulsa World has learned that federal
investigators once visited a Norman flight school, seeking
information about a man with alleged connections to Osama
bin Laden, the terrorist mastermind who is being
investigated in Tuesday's attacks.
Investigators arrived at Airman Flight School in Norman
about two years ago with a photograph of a Middle Eastern
man and sought information about him, said Brenda Keene of
At the time, prosecutors involved with a New York grand
jury investigating terrorism were highly interested in an
Egyptian-born man with Florida ties. The man, Ihab Mohamed
Ali, had obtained his pilot's license while at the Norman
flight school, according to records from U.S. District
Court in New York and news accounts.
Prosecutors had said they wanted to know about pilot
training Ali received in Norman, according to news accounts
of a grand jury's investigation of the 1998 bombings of two
U.S. embassies in Africa.
Ali has been charged in U.S. District Court in New York
with lying to a grand jury for saying he never met or spoke
to bin Laden. He also has been charged with criminal
contempt for refusing to complete his testimony. He was
arrested in May 1999 and has spent the last two years in
Ali received pilot training at Airman Flight School in
1993 or 1994, according to court documents and news
Investigators ``wanted to know if we could identify him
and if he had ever been a (flight) student,'' said Keene,
Airman's admissions director. ``Our records only go back to
1994, so I can't say if he was or wasn't a student here.''
The fact that Ali once worked as a taxi cab driver in
central Florida jogged Keene's memory of who the FBI was
looking for nearly two years ago.
``The investigators, when they were here, mentioned what
he did for a living, but we don't have a record of him
being here,'' Keene said.
Before Tuesday's terrorist attack on New York and
Washington, D.C., federal investigators had wanted to
question Ali about his alleged knowledge of the U.S.
Embassy bombings in 1998 in Kenya and Tanzania, court
documents state. He has not been accused of wrongdoing in
Meanwhile, Spartan School of Aeronautics in Tulsa also
has submitted a student list, said John Walker, the
school's chief financial officer and co-owner.
Walker said none of the people being sought by the FBI
was a student or had been a student at Spartan.
``We don't have any Middle Easterners as (flight)
students at this time,'' he said.
Walker said the school's Arabic students -- about 60 -- are
all from Saudi Arabia and enrolled in the school's aircraft
FBI spokesman Gary Johnson of Oklahoma City said the
request for student names is part of a nationwide probe
into terrorist strikes Tuesday on the World Trade Center
and the Pentagon.
``We're conducting an extensive, thorough and logical
investigation across the state,'' said Johnson from his
Oklahoma City office. ``We're not going to leave any stone
Tulsa FBI agent Paul Killian said his office had been
inundated with telephone calls and possible leads.
Walker said FBI agents asked for a student list Tuesday,
just hours after a band of terrorists hijacked four
commercial jets and aimed them at civilian and government
targets. The initial list went back nine months. On
Wednesday, Walker said, agents asked for a more extensive
list of international and Middle Eastern students.
``None of the names (of the suspected terrorists) were
on our lists,'' he said. ``We went back into the 1980s for
them. They weren't our students.''
Spartan offers pilot training for students seeking to
meet a variety of FAA ratings that include private pilot
with commercial rating and multi-instrument rating.
Walker said the private company offers simulator
training for twin- and single-engine propeller systems.
Spartan pilots apply for jobs at a variety of airlines and
Cockpit simulators at Spartan are not equivalent to the
cockpits of the jumbo jets used in Tuesday's attack, the
worst in U.S. history. Spartan has about 450 students
involved in flight training programs and about 1,300 air
``The people we train get a commercial license, but they
could not walk out of here with the skills that it took to
fly those planes into those buildings,'' Walker said.
``That took pinpoint handling that takes specific training
on those planes.''
Omer Gillham, World staff writer, can be reached at
581-8301 or via e-mail at email@example.com.