MY FRIEND THE 9/11 HIJACKER;EXCLUSIVE: BRIT TEACHER TELLS HOW HE SHARED A HOME WITH AL-QAEDA FANATIC
BYLINE: Sara Nuwar
SECTION: FEATURES; Pg. 40,57
PAUL Deakin studied the pictures of the 9/11 terrorists with disbelief as he realised that among them was the man who had become his friend.
For four weeks the maths teacher from the North of England and Ziad Jarrah, the man who seized controls of the fourth hijacked plane that crashed in Pennsylvania, had shared a bungalow as they learned how to fly in Florida.
They had watched Friends together on TV and gone out to local bars at weekends to play pool.
But while all Paul had wanted was a private pilot's licence Jarrah had another purpose. He was to become the leader of the team which hijacked the jet destined for the White House or Camp David until passengers stormed the cockpit.
"I couldn't believe that he was one of the hijackers," said Paul. 32. "As soon as I realised Ziad could be involved I called the police and the FBI later flew me to Washington to make a statement.
"Listening to Jarrah's voice on the last recordings from the cockpit announcing he was in charge of the plane was one of the most chilling moments of my life. I thought Ziad was just another student who wanted to learn how to fly. It sends a chill down my spine to think I was on first-name terms with one of the hijackers."
Now Paul's memories of the time he spent sharing a home with Jarrah will form a vital part of the case linking the hijacker with the only surviving 9/11 plotter, Zacarius Moussaoui, a French national
He will give evidence to the court in Virginia identifying Jarrah's voice on the flight recorder and tell how Jarrah practised crashing planes into skyscrapers on a flight simulator. He will also tell how he saw Jarrah meet a man he is convinced was Mohammed Atta, mastermind of the Twin Towers attacks.
"Ziad and I shared a house together and he would often used a flight simulator on the computer in his bedroom. You can choose to fly anywhere in the world with real-life scenery. It's a serious flight simulator and not a game so there weren't any graphics of explosions.
"He would always choose places in the United States on the simulator. Once when I saw him crash into a skyscraper in Chicago I said something like Great flying mate'. He just sniggered."
Moussaoui's trial was due to go ahead this month but has now been put back to June. "I'm very apprehensive about it all," said Paul, who is now studying computer science in London. "I just want to get it over and done with. "But if it helps in the fight against terrorism, I'm prepared to go through with it. I've been told I'm a piece in a big and complex jigsaw. "
Paul had been teaching in the Cayman Islands when he decided take a summer break two years ago and learn how to fly. And it was at the Florida Flight Training Center, in Venice, 70 miles from Tampa where he met Jarrah.
"He was initially very shy and had a strong Middle Eastern accent," said Paul. "His English was quite reasonable and he spoke fluent German. He dressed like an American and always wore his shades. He only had enough clothes for a week and would wash them every weekend."
Paul's course to get a private pilot's licence cost pounds 2,500. Jarrah who was doing the same but then going on to planes with turbine engines was paying five times as much.
"I've always loved flying and wanted to learn properly but it took me some time to get the money together," said Paul. "Jarrah didn't look like a typical rich Arab and I remember asking where he got his money to do the course. He just told me his parents were paying."
As Paul got to know Jarrah better his opinions of the quiet student changed. "He had a real arrogant streak and thought he was a very good pilot. In arguments he had to be right, he would often walk away in a huff. He didn't like to be seen backing down. He would always talk over the top of people. If someone raised their voice, he'd raise his higher.
"He was strong, both physically and verbally. I liked him but there was always something about him I didn't trust. I don't know why. He had a bubbling temper and fell out with a female instructor as he hated taking orders from a woman." But Jarrah got on well with all his housemates, particularly a German student called Marcel. "We lived with two other Dutch instructors but Ziad was always joking with Marcel in German.
"He liked to look at women. If there was a pretty girl he would say to Marcel something in German which they told me meant nice p***y'. He also liked to play pool and watch Friends on the TV.""
Often the group would visit bars together at the weekend. "Ziad never drank alcohol, just coke. He was shy with women too, although he was a good-looking guy with a chiselled jawline. Once two girls started chatting him up. He was trying to tell them he was from Lebanon but struggling a bit."
Paul said Jarrah had a Turkish girlfriend, Asle, who he met while studying aeronautical engineering in Germany and they would spend hours talking on the phone. "He said she was pretty and I got the impression he was deeply in love."
Jarrah's parents, Samir and Nafisa, who still believe their only son is innocent, said he was planning to marry her and have children. Paul said: "He didn't talk about his parents but he did talk about studying in Hamburg. I think he liked it there."
Investigators believe the September 11 attacks were masterminded by the hijackers including Jarrah and Atta in Hamburg and Moroccan Mounir el Motassadeq is currently on trial there, accused of being al-Qaeda's paymaster for the attacks.
In Florida, Paul said Jarrah worked hard to pass his flight training and spent hours reading theory books.
"The manuals were all in English. I thought he might have struggled because of the language barrier but he was intelligent. And he loved flying. We would leave the house at 7.40am and usually fly twice a day." Although Ziad was organised in his work, the bedroom he shared with Marcel was messy. "Clothes were thrown in piles around the room," said Paul.
"He was a typical lad. He was anxious to keep everything in order, apart from his bedroom. He had no pictures up, no personal stuff at all. But he wasn't secretive with his possessions.""
Paul said Jarrah did not appear to be religious. "I asked him why he didn't pray five times a day and he just shrugged and avoided the question. The only sign he was Muslim was he didn't drink. He wasn't a very strict Muslim."
Paul said Jarrah would often visit nearby Huffman aviation school where Atta and Marwam Al Shehhi trained before they flew the two planes into the World Trade Center.
"I can't be 100 per cent certain. but I'm convinced that Atta came round to see Jarrah," said Paul. "He has quite a striking look with piercing eyes. The two stood talking in hushed voices in Arabic. Ziad said he was a friend from Lebanon passing through. Jarrah seemed uncomfortable/. He joked that he didn't really like him and didn't want him to stay." The last time Paul saw Jarrah was when he flew to Tampa and Ziad flew back. "When I said goodbye he just gave me a firm hand shake."
It was more than a year later when Paul was still teaching in the Cayman Islands that he saw Jarrah's face posted on a website as one of the 9/11 hijackers.
He contacted the local police who put him in touch with the FBI. "They were amazed to hear how I saw Ziad crash a plane into a skyscraper on his computer," said Paul." Moussaoui, who faces conspiracy charges over 9/11, was held after telling flying instructors he was not interested in taking off or landing. And a phone number found on one of Jarrah's business cards among the wreckage links the hijacker to him. Paul will be able to confirm that it is Jarrah's voice on the flight recorder, as well as the Hamburg link.
Paul is still struggling to come to terms with the fact that he was on first -name terms with one of the world's most hated men. "I feel so, so sorry for those who lost loved ones.
"It is beyond me that anyone could have this much evil in them - let alone someone I knew.""