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Suspect in Sept. 11 attacks held by Mexico

CABO SAN LUCAS, Mexico -- A Lebanese-born man detained this week on Mexico's Baja California peninsula is believed linked to extremist organizations with ties to the Sept. 11 terror attacks, Mexican prosecutors said.

Amer Haykel told acquaintances he was a pilot who was wandering the world on a tight budget. He seemed like ''a straightforward person," said Gabriel Garcia of the Cabo San Lucas fire station, where Haykel had sought shelter for several days.

Mexico's federal attorney general's office said late Tuesday that US authorities linked the Lebanese-born British citizen ''to extremist groups believed to be involved with the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, in New York."

It did not say if Haykel faced any charges or if he was believed to be personally involved in any terrorist actions.

The office said yesterday that officials were trying to determine Haykel's legal status. He was being held in Mexico City by immigration authorities.

In Washington, White House spokesman Scott McClellan referred questions to the Mexican government. Britain's Foreign Office and London's Metropolitan Police said they had no details on Haykel.

Haykel was arrested on Monday at the volunteer fire station of Todos Santos, a small town on the Pacific coast about 35 miles northwest of Cabo San Lucas that is known as a haven for US expatriates.

Garcia said Haykel ''went off all day and returned at 7 in the night to sleep" at the station. Haykel told the firefighters he was a pilot and ''found himself traveling around the world, but he was doing it without money, seeking rides," Garcia said.

Officials have long expressed concerns that terrorists might use Mexico or Central America to stage an attack on the United States.

Since the Sept. 11 attacks, there have been a series of arrests and reports -- from Panama to the Mexico-US border -- indicating that terrorists might be in the region. But so far, there has been little hard evidence that anyone was linked to Al Qaeda or other terrorist groups.

Last week, Pakistani Arif Ali Durrani, 55, was arrested in the beach resort of Rosarito, across the border from San Diego.

A former US resident, Durrani was handed over to US officials, who charged him with illegally exporting parts used to cool fighter jet engines.

Durrani has pleaded not guilty to the charges.

Durrani served five years in prison for selling missile parts to Iran in the 1980s.

Central American officials have also reported several alleged terrorist sightings or concerns -- including the theory that terrorists were recruiting from the region's violent gangs.

But so far, the US government has backed only one report: An alleged top Al Qaeda operative, Adnan El Shukrijumah of Saudi Arabia, spent 10 days in Panama in April 2001.

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