FBI inquired about flight student before attacks

Tuesday, September 18th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

NORMAN, Okla. (AP) _ About two weeks before the terrorist attacks on the East Coast, FBI agents quizzed officials at a local flight school about a man who is now in custody in New York in the investigation.

The FBI asked only cursory questions about Zacarias Moussaoui, who took flight lessons at Airman Flight School from February to May, said Brenda Keene, the school's admissions director. At the time the agents visited, Moussaoui was being held in Minnesota.

Moussaoui was detained Aug. 17 on immigration concerns after he aroused suspicions by seeking to buy time on a flight simulator for jetliners at a Minnesota flight school, federal officials said.

Keene said officials at the Norman school did not realize Moussaoui had dropped out until the FBI visit, which she said was about 2 1/2 weeks before the attacks.

``We were like, 'Wow, we haven't seen Moussaoui,''' she said Tuesday. ``That's when we thought, 'Yep, he's not around anymore.'''

The agents showed school officials a picture of Moussaoui and asked them if they could identify him. They inquired about his mannerisms and about what he did at the school.

``It was very generic stuff,'' she said.

Gary Johnson, spokesman for the FBI office in Oklahoma City, refused comment on anything related to the attacks.

Keene said Moussaoui was polite, often calling her Miss Brenda when he saw her at the school. But he also was an impatient, sometimes demanding student who struggled as a pilot.

Nothing about him aroused suspicion, Keene said.

``There was nothing out of the ordinary,'' she said.

Moussaoui took 57 hours of flying lessons at the school, yet was not allowed to fly solo and didn't get his private pilot's license. Most students are allowed to fly alone after 12 to 20 hours, Keene said.

``Moussaoui's instructors just wouldn't sign him off,'' she said. ``They said, 'He's just not getting it.'''

Moussaoui contacted the school via e-mail in September of last year to inquire about lessons. He never signed his e-mails, Keene said, and used the pseudonym ``Zuluman Tango Tango.''

She learned his name early this year when she sent him a student visa form that required he provide his name, date of birth, country of birth, country of citizenship, etc. He said he was born May 30, 1968, in France, and listed a London address. He appeared to have a valid French passport, Keene said.

He arrived at the school in late February and signed up for lessons to become a private pilot. He paid half of the $5,000 cost in cash, which Keene said was not unusual.

What was unusual was the headache Moussaoui gave Keene as she enrolled him. A process that usually takes 10 or 20 minutes, she said, lasted about 2 1/2 hours because he asked so many questions.

``Now explain this to me. What does this mean exactly?'' she recalled him saying ``over and over again.''

Keene said she grew so irritated that at one point, she went around her desk and jokingly grabbed him by the throat.

``I actually went over to him and put my hands around his neck and shook his head and said, 'You're driving me crazy, Moussaoui,''' she said. ``He said, 'I know I'm driving you crazy. I'll bug you all day long now, then I won't bug you anymore.' ''

When Keene sent another flight student to help Moussaoui open a checking account that day, the student came back complaining the process took about two hours.

``He questioned the bank the same way,'' Keene said.

Moussaoui opted not to live in housing arranged by the flight school, which Keene said was unusual for someone enrolled in the private pilot course since it only lasts two or three months. The address he listed was the address of the flight school. Several other students also listed it.

The FBI notified the Norman Police Department of the investigation and asked officers to check for arrests or incidents filed with the name of Moussaoui or Zacarias, said police Lt. Glenn Dobry.

``The records were checked and nothing was found,'' he said Tuesday.