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Paper: Saudi bombing suspect says he was in Iran at time of attack

July 8, 1997

NEW YORK (AP) _ A suspect in an attack on an American military complex in Saudi Arabia that killed 19 servicemen last year says he was in Iran during the bombing, The New York Times reported Tuesday.

Hani Abdel Rahim Hussein Sayegh, accused of serving as a driver and lookout in the attack, said an airline manifest and his passport show he went to Iran shortly before the June 25, 1996, blast at al-Khobar Towers and flew from there to Kuwait a short time later.

``I have no information, I don’t even know the location of al-Khobar,″ Sayegh told the newspaper.

Sayegh spoke with the Times on Monday by telephone from an undisclosed location in the Washington area where he is being held by U.S. marshals. The Times said the conversation was monitored by a marshal and Michael Wildes, Sayegh’s immigration lawyer.

Sayegh recently was extradited from Canada to the United States in an arrangement under which he is expected to plead guilty to conspiracy for his part in a separate, unsuccessful plot to scout American installations in Saudi Arabia for possible attack. In a federal indictment unsealed last month, Sayegh was accused of traveling within Saudi Arabia to look for guns and explosives for that plot.

Federal officials have said Sayegh told them he could shed light on the Khobar Towers bombing. But according to the Times, Sayegh’s denials and shifting statements indicate that the legal arrangement that brought him to the United States could unravel as early as this week, when Sayegh faces a court hearing on the conspiracy indictment.

The Times said the Saudi government provided information to American and Canadian officials indicating that Sayegh was involved in the bombing, but the suspect told the paper he was being made a scapegoat. He said he was a Saudi political dissident who once lived in Iran.

``No, I am not a terrorist,″ said Sayegh. ``If anything, the Americans are terrorists when they went in and bombed children in Iraq supporting the dictatorial authority of Saudi Arabia.″

Wildes, the immigration lawyer, said he believes the Saudi government handed over his client to the United States to placate American officials unhappy over their inability to gain access to suspects detained by the Saudi government.

``They are going to use him,″ Wildes said of the Saudis, adding that his client had misled his lawyers and FBI agents about his knowledge of terrorism inside Saudi Arabia. Wildes seemed to suggest that Sayegh might have lied in the hope of being sent here, rather than to Saudi Arabia, the Times said.

Sayegh told the paper, ``I would fear I would be guillotined″ upon being returned to Saudi Arabia.

The Times said federal officials declined to comment publicly on Sayegh’s activities, but several government lawyers said they still expect Sayegh to plead guilty to the conspiracy charge and hope he can provide accurate information about terrorist activities in Saudi Arabia.

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