Student acquitted in 9/11 perjury case

A second jury found a San Diego college student linked to two of the Sept. 11 hijackers not guilty on all counts of perjury Friday, ending a legal battle that began just 10 days after the attacks.

Asecond jury has found a San Diego college student linked to two of the Sept. 11 hijackers not guilty on all counts of perjury, ending a legal battle that began just 10 days after the attacks.

Osama Awadallah, 26, broke out in a broad smile as the verdict was read Friday in Manhattan federal court, then turned and beamed at his father crying in the audience. Jurorshad begundeliberating Thursday.

"I knew that justice would prevail," he said to reporters. "My goal will be to continue to be a very good citizen in this country."

Awadallah would have been convicted last spring had a lone juror not held out for acquittal, forcing a mistrial.

The 21-year-old college student showed up on investigators' radar just days after the 9/11 attacks. His first name and a phone number were found on a scrap of paper in a car parked at Dulles Airport near Washington, a car that had been driven there by Nawaf al Hazmi, one of the 19 hijackers.

The phone number was traced to Awadallah's residence in San Diego, a city in which al Hazmi and fellow hijacker Khalid al Mihdhar lived for several months beginning in early 2000.

Pair helped hijack jet

Al Hazmi and al Mihdhar helped hijack American Airlines 77, which crashed into the Pentagon.

Awadallah, a Venezuela-born Jordanian citizen, has lived in the U.S. since 1999. His father is a U.S. citizen.

Hetold investigators he worked at the same gas station and prayed at the same mosque as Hazmi, but repeatedly denied knowing al Mihdhar, even when shown photos of him.

Awadallah was detained as a material witness on Sept. 21.

At a grand jury hearing that October, he was confronted with a school examination booklet in which he appeared to have written about meeting men named Nawaf and Khalid. Awadallah initially claimed it was not his handwriting, but later changed his testimony.

While prosecutors concluded Awadallah was just an acquaintance with no knowledge of the attack, they said the contradictory statements about al Mihdhar had hampered the grand jury investigation, leading to charges of perjury.

His attorneys argued that their client, exhausted, confused and frightened after being detained for weeks in solitary confinement, simply had a memory lapse.

Perjury indictment tossed

In early 2002, a federal judge threw out a perjury indictment against him, citing errors made when investigators applied for an arrest warrant.

The judge also ruled that Awadallah had been the victim of coercion by investigators and threw out evidence seized after he was taken into custody,including videotapes and a picture of Osama bin Laden.

The case was later reinstated by an appeals court.

Some of the jurors said Friday after the verdict they were appalled at the way Awadallah had been treated by the government, and believed the statements he made during his grand jury session were prompted by fear and confusion.

"The treatment he received as a witness, a material witness, was really unconscionable, and it had to affect his testimony," said juror Nancy Sosnow, 64, of the Bronx.

Federal prosecutors declined to comment.

Intense scrutiny

The movements of al Hazmi and al Mihdhar in the two years leading up 9/11 have been the subject of intense scrutiny and examination of the lack of information sharing within the U.S. intelligence community.

The two Saudis rented a room in the San Diego home of a longtime FBI informant, and also befriendedOmar al-Bayoumi, a Saudi who had drawn FBI scrutiny in the past.

The FBI were not made aware by the CIA that al Hazmi and al Mihdhar were in the U.S. until mid-2001, but a report later found the investigation of al Mihdhar had been ''given to a single, inexperienced agent.''

Awadallah said after the verdict Friday that he had no plans to leave San Diego and the U.S.

"There's no better place to be," he said, smiling.

With files from the Associated Press