Similar to the 9/11 hijackers, a recently arrested possible Saudi terrorist told his flight instructor that he wanted to be a commercial pilot.
Naif Abdulaziz Alfallaj was arrested in Oklahoma on Tuesday on a charge of visa fraud, according to the Washington Examiner.
Alfallaj used this visa to take private flying lessons in 2016 and attain a Federal Aviation Administration private pilot’s license.
FBI officials matched Alfallaj’s fingerprints on his FAA license application to a five-page application for the Al Farouq training camp in Afghanistan where four of the Sept. 11 hijackers were also trained.
Alfallaj had reportedly filled out the application in 2000 when he was about 17, The New York Times reported.
Camp attendees usually went on to fight for Al Qaeda or the Taliban in Afghanistan, and Osama bin Laden was among its frequent visitors.
After he entered the U.S. in 2011 on a visa, Alfallaj was trained at the Chickasha Wings flight school in Oklahoma, according to the Washington Examiner.
The owner of the flight school, Mitch Williams, told the Washington Examiner that Alfallaj wanted to be a professional pilot.
The FAA revoked Alfallaj’s license after the visa fraud was discovered.
“I’d say there was a number of breakdowns going back to where the original intelligence was maintained and stored,” James McJunkin, the former head of counterterrorism at the FBI, told The Times. “He should have been on a watch list.”
The hijackers behind the Sept. 11, 2001 attack were also trained at U.S. flight schools before they used commercial airliners to hit the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon.
According to a 2012 article by ABC News, foreign flight students are not subject to terror database screenings until after they finish their pilot training.
“Thus, foreign nationals obtaining flight training with the intent to do harm, such as three of the pilots and leaders of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, could have already obtained the training needed to operate an aircraft before they received any type of vetting,” a report by the Government Accountability Office said at the time.
Since the attacks, the Transportation Security Administration established the Alien Flight Student Program “to ensure that Non-U.S. Citizen candidates seeking training at flight schools regulated by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) do not pose a threat to aviation or national security.”
According to the program’s website, foreign students must first submit certain types of information to the TSA before they can receive flight training, however, there are still concerns about flight schools training non-U.S. citizens, such as Alfallaj.
“Some of the very same conditions that allowed the 9-11 tragedy to happen in the first place are still very much in existence today,” a regional security official wrote in 2008, according to ABC News. “Thousands of aliens, some of whom may very well pose a threat to this country, are taking flight lessons, being granted FAA certifications and are flying planes.”
Though, as one Arizona flight instructor pointed out to The Western Journal, “any student can learn the book knowledge on their own.”
A flight instructor at Chandler Air Service told The Western Journal, “All students have to prove their U.S. citizenship with a passport or birth certificate. All international students have to be cleared by the TSA which is quite a long process. Usually they get temporarily cleared if nothing major comes up while they do a very extensive check before they’re officially allowed to continue training.”
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