25 September 2009
An Egyptian man has received a $250,000 payout from the FBI because of the way he was treated following the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks.
Abdallah Higazy, 38, sued the bureau, saying he had been unjustly criminally charged and imprisoned for 34 days. He had been accused of lying to investigators about an aviation radio found in his hotel room in New York. Mr Higazy said he told conflicting stories about the radio because he had been intimidated by an FBI agent. He asserted that the agent shouted at him, lied to him and threatened to endanger his family.
A judge approved the settlement payment in July 2009.
Mr Higazy was studying at the Polytechnic University in Brooklyn on a US government-funded scholarship and staying at the Millennium Hilton Hotel near the Twin Towers. He was detained in December 2001 when he returned to reclaim his belongings from the hotel which he had left when the hotel was evacuated during the attacks.
Mr Higazy had acknowledged in court that he had served in the Egyptian Air Corps and had expertise in communications. The aviation radio found at the hotel could be used to communicate with planes and monitor pilot conversations. He was freed in January 2002 after another hotel guest, a pilot, told hotel officials the radio belonged to him.
Mr Higazy's lawsuit against the FBI agent that questioned him was initially thrown out by a lower court judge but was reinstated in 2007 by the Court of Appeals in Manhattan. When he was released he married an American and returned to Egypt, where he lives in Cairo and works at a school, according to his lawyer Jonathan Abady.
"He was entirely innocent and was coerced to the point where he confessed to participation in the crime of the century. Had the pilot not returned to retrieve the radio, he [Higazy] might still be in prison," Mr Abady said.
He said that Mr Higazy was pleased to put the ordeal behind him but that the ordeal was a "traumatic memory that will never leave him completely".
An admission of liability or fault was not part of the FBI agreement.
US government lawyers on the case have declined to comment.