Algerian man didn't try to hide, neighbors say

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Across the nation, many of the men allegedly involved in the Sept. 11 terrorists assault generally kept low profiles, moving constantly and blending into the background of diverse immigrant communities.

In sharp contrast, Lotfi Raissi, an Algerian arrested in London last week for allegedly training several of the hijackers, remained at the Wickertree Apartments in north Phoenix for at least three years, although he moved in and out of three units during that time.

Raissi, 27, apparently seemed unconcerned about people knowing his name.

"He drove a white Crown Victoria with LOTFI on his plates. He moved around here a lot; he went from unit to unit. He always had [lots] of boxes on his patio," said Mike Cook, 40, a resident in the white stucco complex with a Spanish-tiled roof adjacent to the Loop 101 freeway.

"I'd see him out on his balcony. And I passed him a couple times at the mailbox," Cook added. The third-floor balcony where Raissi lived overlooked a courtyard. "He always seemed to be looking at you."

Cook said he knew Raissi was a pilot. He said many pilots from around the world have lived in the complex while training at nearby flight schools.

Residents of the apartment complex are on edge over Raissi's alleged involvement in the terrorism plot.

A woman who declined to identify herself said she talked with Raissi at the complex's pool two years ago.

"He was by himself. He started talking and I noticed he had an accent. I asked him where he was from, and I think he said Algeria. I asked him if he spoke French," she added. "We started a conversation in French. He said he was an airline pilot. It was a brief conversation, maybe five minutes."

Thinking about the tragedy, she said: "It's kind of scary."

Raissi trained at Westwind Academy, which last year was purchased and taken over by Pan Am International Flight Academy. A spokesman for Pan Am said the school has been instructed by the FBI not to comment on its investigation of the school's possible link to the terrorists.

Raissi also reportedly trained at Deer Valley Airport, a regional facility only a few miles from Wickertree Apartments. It serves smaller aircraft.

Over the summer, Raissi stopped at another Phoenix-area training school to inquire about courses in flying a Boeing 737. He said he wanted to take the class in late October.

"He was a real quiet guy," said an employee of the school who asked not to be identified. "We talked to him for about a half-hour. He asked about what kind of simulator we have. He wanted to do 10 days' worth of training. We went through the cost."

Raissi, Hani Hanjour and two other men also reportedly paid $200 to use a flight simulator at Sawyer Aviation at Phoenix's major airport, Sky Harbor.

A spokeswoman for the company did not return phone messages seeking comment.

Hanjour, among the men who allegedly hijacked American Airlines Flight 77 that crashed into the Pentagon, didn't stick out in the large apartment complexes in Phoenix and Tempe where he had lived, apparently with several Middle Eastern men. Some residents at the buildings, shown Hanjour's photo, said they did not recognize him.

For three months in 1996 and two months in 1997, Hanjour took courses at CRM Airline Training Center in Scottsdale. A flight instructor said Hanjour left an impression by being unimpressive.

"He was making weak progress," said Duncan Hastie, president of CRM.

"He was not able to fly solo in a small plane, which is equivalent to getting out of a parking space [in a car] and stopping," Hastie added. "He called me repeatedly over the years [to ask about taking more courses], but I was not interested in letting him back."

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