Terrorist Ticketed Last April on I-40

by Nolan Clay and Randy Ellis
The Daily Oklahoman
January 20, 2002


Five months before hijacking the plane that crashed into the Pentagon, terrorist Nawaf al-Hazmi was ticketed along Interstate 40 in far western Oklahoma.

Oklahoma Highway Patrol Trooper C.L. Parkins pulled al-Hazmi over for speeding and for not wearing a seat belt.

Those tickets became clues for the FBI as agents since Sept. 11 have tried to piece together the movements of the 19 terrorists across the country.

"I wish I had known more, but that's hindsight," Parkins told The Oklahoman.

"I'm just glad I did stop him and did the paper trail on him. That way it could help the FBI or other agencies further their investigation."

Al-Hazmi's presence in the state was significant enough to be included — without detail — in the indictment against Zacarias Moussaoui, who is accused of being a conspirator in the Sept. 11 attack.

Moussaoui was enrolled in flight school in Norman at the time al-Hazmi was ticketed.

The Oklahoman learned of the traffic tickets after making an Open Records Act request to the state Department of Public Safety.

The FBI already has questioned Parkins, who knows he could be a witness in Moussaoui's trial.

Al-Hazmi was driving east along the interstate — about 50 miles after crossing into Oklahoma — when he was caught by radar going 85 mph. The speed limit was 70.

It was 6:06 p.m. April 1. Parkins would be with al-Hazmi 12 minutes.

He said the driver was short and spoke English well, but he can't recall anything that was said.

"I just barely remember even having him in my car," Parkins said. "You stop so many people that if ... you don't arrest them or anything ... you don't remember too much after a couple months.

"The best I remember, I asked him to come back to my car and he sat there, and I visited with him a little bit," Parkins said.

"I wrote him a ticket for speeding and the seat belt. We did our normal checks — check to see if the vehicle's stolen, check to see if he's wanted, if his driver's license status is valid — try and see if there's anything we need to look further into."

The driver was alone and wasn't nervous, Parkins also recalled.

Al-Hazmi wasn't under suspicion then. He had a valid California driver's license and an address in San Diego.

Parkins, a trooper of seven years who loves his job, couldn't have done anything else.

"I understand that, but it's difficult sometimes to think back and go: What if you had known something else?" he said.

"We wish something could have been done prior to this happening, but we didn't see anything to go any further with the contact ... on this man to find out any more."

Al-Hazmi mailed his tickets and $138 in money orders as payment to the Washita County court clerk later in April. Court Clerk Tena Arganbright said FBI agents picked up the tickets in October.

Grand jurors do not explain why al-Hazmi, 25, was in Oklahoma in the indictment over the terrorist attack.

"I think the inference they were trying to draw was he was in Oklahoma; Moussaoui was in Oklahoma at the same time," said Bob Ricks, commissioner of the Department of Public Safety.

Moussaoui, 33, is accused in the indictment of conspiring with Osama bin Laden and with the 19 terrorists who hijacked four commercial airliners Sept. 11.

Moussaoui is charged with undergoing the same training, receiving the same funding and pledging the same commitment to kill Americans as the hijackers, U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft said in December.

More than 3,000 people were killed when the planes were crashed into the World Trade Center in New York, the Pentagon outside Washington and the countryside of Pennsylvania.

Moussaoui, a French citizen, was at Airman Flight School in Norman from Feb. 26 to May 29, but dropped out without getting his pilots license. He was detained in August — at first on immigration violations — after raising an instructor's suspicions at a flight school in Minnesota.

His trial is set for October.

Al-Hazmi came to the United States on Jan. 15, 2000, from Bangkok, Thailand, and lived for months in San Diego. The FBI describes him as a possible Saudi citizen.

Last March, he bought videos for a Boeing 747 flight deck. Moussaoui later bought videos for a Boeing 747 flight deck.

Al-Hazmi stayed in a motel in Maryland with other hijackers and worked out at a gym in September, days before the attack. He and four others hijacked American Airlines Flight 77 after it left Dulles International Airport on Sept. 11 and crashed it into the Pentagon.

His blue Toyota was found at the airport. Al-Hazmi was apparently driving that car when the trooper stopped him in Oklahoma.

Al-Hazmi died in the attack. In a video, bin Laden praises al- Hazmi by name afterward, according to some translations.

Ricks is pleased with the troopers contribution to the investigation.

"I believe our troopers are our front line of defense," he said. "They make contacts with hundreds of thousand of people every year. ... We are the crossroads of America."

Ricks, who once was in charge of the FBI's operation in Oklahoma, said agents found the tickets because the trooper had checked a national crime information computer for any records on al-Hazmi.

"The trooper did the right thing," Ricks said. "By his making the inquiry, it establishes a permanent record.

"We're not going to solve cases, necessarily, for the FBI or others, but what we can do is be part of that equation. Putting together the movements of these people throughout the country gives you a picture," Ricks said.

"That's what Ive tried to stress with our people. We are part of that," he said. "You never can tell when that one ingredient may turn out to be so key at establishing that the person was in a particular area when his alibi — or whatever he is claiming — may be in another area. Or, there's an association that may be taking place — one person with another person. Just by having this permanent record, were able to establish these things."

Parkins, 41, lives outside Cordell. He hasn't lost any sleep over thinking how a terrorist sat right beside him but he admits, "Every now and then I'll think of it."

"I get choked up over the bombing of New York City. I was thinking about it ... (Thursday) coming back from one of my partner's mother's funeral, sitting there thinking of all the service people (in the military) that are having a hardship right now. They're not at home with their families, and its just a terrible thing.

"We fight for our freedom, and its kind of like we've lost it right now."

 

Copyright 2002

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