Mumbai calling

The Pan Am International Flight Academy in Eagan, Minnesota called the local Minneapolis FBI office regarding its new student — Zacarias Moussaoui — in August 2001. Until the spring of 2005, the employees involved in making the call remained silent. In the spring of 2005 local Twin Cities media identified the employees as Tim Nelson and Hugh Sims as well as flight trainer Clancy Prevost.

The suspicions of Nelson, Sims and Prevost were raised on the first or second day of Moussaoui’s training. In one of the local articles, Prevost was quoted asking Moussaoui if he is a Muslim. Moussaoui was reported to have tensed up and answered, “I am nothing.” Greg Gordon’s Star Tribune story reported that on the day after Moussaoui started his training, Nelson asked two pilots training for a Syrian airline how Moussaoui’s Arabic was. (Moussaoui had described himself as coming from the south of France.) When told that Moussaoui was a native speaker of Arabic, Nelson thought to himself, “Oh great, one more strike.”

The second day after Moussaoui began his flight training at the Eagan facility, both Nelson and Sims called the Minneapolis office of the FBI and shared their concerns. Agents promptly followed up and responded by arresting Moussaoui, detaining him on an immigration charge. Although the Minneapolis office sought permission to search Moussaoui’s laptop computer, permission was not granted to seek a warrant before 9/11. (For the rest of that story, see “Who is Coleen Rowley?”)

Tim Nelson was a passenger on yesterday’s Northwest Airlines flight from Amsterdam to Mumbai that was turned back to the airport shortly after takeoff. Twelve passengers were arrested as the result of security concerns arising from weird behavior. The Star Tribune’s Greg Gordon tracked down Nelson by phone in Amsterdam and got his eyewitness account of the goings-on.

Nelson speaks highly of the several several federal flight marshalls who materialized in front of the cabin to keep order. Nelson said he watched Dutch police come aboard and escort a dozen men, 10 of them appearing to be of Pakistani or Middle Eastern descent. Nelson harks back to the sixties for a description of one of the two others: “One guy was a white guy, with a tie-dyed shirt, a beard and dreadlocks. He looked like a hippie.”

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