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Man Detained on Train

Tells Family He Has Been Denied Access to Lawyer

Jesse Pesta and Laurie P Cohen / Wall Street Journal 2nov01

One of two men detained on Sept. 12 on an Amtrak train in Fort Worth, Texas, has told his family in India that he is being held in a federal jail in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he hasn't had access to a phone and can't retain a lawyer.

The man, who goes by the name Ayub Ali Khan, explained his predicament in a letter dated October 19 that was translated for The Wall Street Journal.

"I am here for the last month and eight days," said Mr. Khan in the letter, sent to his family in Hyderabad from the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn. "I am yet to get court papers," he wrote, and "I'm even unable to make a telephone call from here."

Mr. Khan's brother, Zaheer Shah, said that now that the family has heard from him, "we can proceed to try and get a lawyer."

Mr. Khan, a Muslim, told his family that police arrested him and his friend, Mohammed Jaweed Azmath, while the two were en route to San Antonio, Texas, from New Jersey, where they had lived. "I apologize to all of you and I don't know why Allah is putting me to this test."

Lawyers for detainees being held in the Metropolitan Detention Center have said that some clients they are representing are housed in solitary confinement and are permitted only one phone call each week to a lawyer. If they are unable to reach counsel, they must wait another week to make a call, these attorneys have said.

Dan Nelson, a spokesman for the Justice Department in Washington, said that officials there couldn't comment on Mr. Khan's case pending a review.

Mr. Shah, Mr. Khan's brother, said Friday that his family has asked local government officials for assistance. "When we contacted the local authorities, they told us that [the two men] were involved in a major case ... that involves the attack on the U.S., therefore we won't be able to help them directly or indirectly," Mr. Shah said.

The family also says it has asked the Indian central government for help the two men get legal counsel on humanitarian grounds.

Mr. Khan said he and Mr. Azmath were arrested after "someone complained to the authorities that the validity of our visa expired." Indeed, the two were arrested, according to law-enforcement officials, after they were suspected of being drug smugglers. Though the pair didn't possess drugs at the time, they were arrested after a search turned up passports with multiple identities. Law-enforcement officials said they grew suspicious that the men might have been potential hijackers when they were found with box cutters and more than $5,000 in cash.

Mr. Khan had worked at a newsstand in Newark, N.J., until early September and had lived with Mr. Azmath in an apartment in Jersey City. The two men left New Jersey on Sept. 11 to fly to Texas. But after their flight was grounded in St. Louis, they took the train. Last month, six-year-old magazines bearing cover stories on biological and chemical warfare were found in the Jersey City apartment they had shared.

In the translated letter, Mr. Khan beseeched his family to retain counsel on his behalf. "I am yet to get court papers," he wrote. His appeal for an attorney indicates that he is likely detained solely on immigration charges rather than on a material-witness warrant. The government has used these warrants in a small number of cases to detain individuals who are believed to have information about the Sept. 11 attacks. Individuals arrested as material witnesses are entitled to government-appointed counsel, unlike people detained by the Immigration and Naturalization Service.

Mr. Khan, whose real name is Syed Gul Mohammed Shah, closed his letter by asking family members to contact a third roommate, Aslam Pervez, to "tell him about my arrest." But Mr. Pervez also has been detained and last month was charged with perjury for allegedly lying to Federal Bureau of Investigation agents. Mr. Khan also asked his family to write to him at the federal jail in Brooklyn where he is detained.

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