Federal agents searching a Falls Church address in connection with a student testing and visa scam found a flight manual, flight school brochures, a hand-drawn diagram of a plane hitting the World Trade Center and a datebook that contained only one entry -- on Sept. 11, according to government sources and court documents unsealed this week.
But the sources said there is no hard evidence linking anyone who lived at the Falls Church address with terrorists or the Sept. 11 hijackings, which killed more than 3,000 people. Authorities think that at least some of the documents and information, including the datebook entry reading "trackd the World Traed Cente or the Pentagon trackd for the Plaen," may have been created after the attacks.
Authorities focused on the address, which was searched Dec. 7, as part of a nationwide investigation that began in January 2001 into widespread fraud on the Test of English as a Foreign Language. Dozens of foreign students have been charged with mail fraud for paying other people to take their exams, which often are required of international students by universities and colleges.
One of the students, Fahad Alhajri of Chesapeake, Va., used the Falls Church address at some point, sources said. But they cautioned that they have not linked the material to Alhajri personally.
"We have found no direct evidence of any terrorist links in this case," said one law enforcement official. But several sources said authorities remain concerned and are investigating any possible terrorist connections.
One federal source compared the find to a puzzling discovery made shortly after the attacks: A Washington area map with the first name and phone number of Mohamed Abdi was found in a car left at Dulles International Airport by hijacker Nawaf Alhazmi. Although Abdi, an Alexandria security guard, could not explain why his name was there, authorities were unable to find any connection to terrorism.
In the eight months since Sept. 11, authorities seeking ties to terrorism frequently have come across suspicious information, but potential cases have evaporated because investigators have been unable to prove more than the most trivial connections between their targets and groups such as Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda.
Sixty-two people, including five in the Hampton Roads area and seven in Northern Virginia, have been arrested in connection with the English test scheme, officials said. Yesterday, a federal grand jury in Trenton, N.J., handed up indictments against 58 of the suspects. The case is being prosecuted by the U.S. attorney's office in New Jersey because the test's administrator, the Educational Testing Service, is based in Princeton.
A federal magistrate judge ordered two of the Northern Virginia residents released on $5,000 bond yesterday. Attorneys for Fares Albakeri, an American University master's degree student, and Faisal Almahmoud, who attends George Mason University, said their clients have no connection to terrorism. Detention hearings will be held today for five more Northern Virginia suspects -- including Begad Abdel-Megeed, 21, of Alexandria, who is charged with taking the tests for more than 50 people.
More than 130 foreign students turned to Abdel-Megeed and Mahmoud Firas, of Riverside, Calif., because they needed good test scores to enroll or stay enrolled at universities and colleges, according to arrest warrants and search warrant affidavits filed in Alexandria and Norfolk. Foreign students lose their U.S. visas if they stop attending school.
For a $1,000 to $5,000 fee, one of the ringleaders or one of five other people allegedly would take the test under the customer's name.
Alhajri and the Falls Church address became a target of the investigation last fall after U.S. Postal Service inspectors and other investigators found evidence that Firas had taken a test for him, according to documents in U.S. District Court in Norfolk. The search in Falls Church turned up a business card saying "International TOEFL GRE, GMAT, Michigan test, GED, DMV" with two phone numbers registered to Firas, along with the flight manual, the datebook, flight school catalogues, a diagram of a plane striking the World Trade Center, a postcard with an aerial picture of the Pentagon, photos of people inside the Trade Center and a Rolodex of various oil refineries. Despite the find, Alhajri was not arrested until the general sweep in the testing case this week.
So far, investigators "do not believe [Alhajri] was tied to 9-11. . . . This is strictly an economic crime," one federal source said.
Staff writer Dan Eggen and special correspondent Jim Morrison in Norfolk contributed to this report.