NEW YORK (AP) – The FBI paid $250,000 this week to an Egyptian man detained when a pilot’s aviation radio was found after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks in his hotel room overlooking the World Trade Center, his lawyer said Thursday.
A judge approved the payment to Abdallah Higazy in July and the money was delivered this week, according to the lawyer, Jonathan S. Abady.
Higazy, 38, had sued the FBI, saying an FBI agent screamed at him, lied to him and threatened to endanger his family, leading him to offer several ways the radio got in his room and causing him to be unjustly criminally charged and imprisoned for 34 days.
Higazy, the son of an Egyptian diplomat, was charged with making false statements after a handheld pilot radio was found in a safe in the room where he stayed on Sept. 11. He was detained in December 2001 after he returned to reclaim his belongings from the hotel he had fled during the attacks. He was freed in January 2002 after another hotel guest, a pilot, told hotel officials the radio belonged to him. His lawsuit against the FBI agent who questioned him was thrown out by a lower court judge but was reinstated two years ago by the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan.
Janice Oh, a spokeswoman for government lawyers, declined to comment. The government did not admit liability or fault as part of the agreement.
Higazy married an American and returned to Egypt, where he lives in Cairo and works as an assistant grade school principal, Abady said.
“He was entirely innocent and was coerced to the point where he confessed to participation in the crime of the century,” the lawyer said. “Had the pilot not returned to retrieve the radio, he might still be in prison. It’s a very scary example of the potential excesses of law enforcement in the pursuit of a legitimate goal,” Abady said.
The lawyer said Higazy was pleased to put the ordeal behind him but found the resolution bittersweet. “I don’t think there’s any amount of money that could return him to the way he was before this happened,” he said.
“I think this is still a traumatic memory that will never leave him completely. He still hesitates to return to the United States,” Abady added. “I think he still has concerns about being in the FBI database and being potentially the subject of another mistake.”