Three months ago, Selim Esiktas, a student at a Minneapolis flight school, shared his flight simulator with another student--a wealthy London businessman named Zac.
"He seemed to be a regular guy," says Esiktas, a 26-year-old German airline pilot who once lived in Portland. "I gave him my business card."
Authorities say, however, that Zac was in fact Zacarias Moussaoui--suspected by the Federal Bureau of Investigation of being the so-called "20th hijacker."
And that chance encounter has landed Esiktas on an FBI watch list of 370 "persons of interest" related to the Sept. 11 attacks, accidentally released last week by Finnish banking authorities.
The roster includes four men with Portland addresses. The others are Abdallah Al-Towayan, 31, a Saudi Arabian student who lived near the University of Portland; Tareq Al-Jehini, 28, who lived in an apartment in Hillsboro; and one other man whose Portland residence could not be confirmed.
Beth Anne Steele, spokesperson for the Portland division of the FBI, declined to explain why the names appeared in the document. "This list is meant for law enforcement," she told WW. "The people on the list are people we are interested in talking to. I would not characterize them as suspected terrorists per se." She added that no arrests have been made in Oregon, nor any warrants issued, in connection with the attack.
Describing himself as a pacifist who cannot stand the sight of blood, Esiktas said he had nothing to do with the attacks. "These terrorists are barbarians," he told WW Monday in a phone interview from his Daytona Beach apartment.
An experienced pilot who flew Boeing 737s for three years in Germany, Esiktas, a non-practicing Muslim of Turkish descent, married a Portland woman and lived in the Mount Scott neighborhood off and on for several years with his now-ex-wife.
Days after the attack, Esiktas' ex-wife, who asked to not to be named, informed him that he was wanted by the FBI. He immediately contacted the bureau in Daytona Beach, where he was questioned for more than two hours.
During the past few weeks, FBI agents from various offices questioned Esiktas on four additional occasions--each apparently unaware of his previous contacts with the bureau.
"I've been cleared by the FBI five times," Esiktas says. "Every time, they didn't have a clue that somebody had already interrogated me."
Last week, 15 officers of the Kriminalpolizei-- apparently unaware that Esiktas had already been contacted--stormed his family's apartment in Esslingen, Germany, near Stuttgart, holding his terrified mother and brother at gunpoint while they searched the premises. Outraged, Esiktas returned to the FBI's Daytona Beach office and threatened to remain in the lobby until the bureau issued a statement to clear his name. "I was furious," Esiktas says. He relented after a supervisor promised that the FBI would no longer harass him or his family.
FBI agents in Daytona Beach and Tallahassee, Fla., did not return calls seeking comment.
Meanwhile, Esiktas now worries that he won't be able to get a pilot's job. "Say you're a recruiting officer for an airline.... You see my name, Selim, and you've got 20 other guys to choose from. Why should you bother with me?"
"It is a nightmare," he continues. "I had a life like a king. I was a superstar. But now--I'm begging for a job with the Waffle House."
Less information is available about the other men with local addresses; WW was unable to locate anyone who recalled Al-Jehini in Hillsboro.
John Furey, spokesman for the University of Portland, did confirm that Al-Towayan was a student at the American Language Academy, a private school that teaches English to international students, for two months, starting in October 2000. (Although the Academy leases space on the UP campus, the two organizations are not otherwise connected.)
During his studies, Al-Towayan rented a room from a North Portland family. "Seemed like a very nice guy," said his former landlord, who requested anonymity. "Never seemed anything but normal."
Al-Towayan ate dinner with the family and helped their son with his homework. Watching news reports of the bombing of the USS Cole in Yemen, Al-Towayan expressed his disapproval, the landlord says. In November, he left the Academy and headed south, but his destination is not known. Besides his Portland address, the FBI watch list also included a San Diego address that, according to The Oregonian, was shared by two of the prime suspects in the Sept. 11 attacks.
--WW contributor David Shafer and intern Brett Weinstein contributed to this report.