Alert issued for pilot with Gwinnett ties

From staff reports

LAWRENCEVILLE - A British national who drew attention from an anti-terrorism task force while taking flight lessons at Gwinnett County Airport's Briscoe Field has been found in the United Kingdom.

The Atlanta Joint Terrorism Task Force - a special unit composed of federal and local law enforcement agencies - issued an alert for Zayead Christopher Hajaig after it was reported he tried to get a flight rating he was not qualified for.

"He has been located in the U.K., and he remains a person of interest," said special agent Steve Emmet, a spokesman for the FBI Atlanta field office.

Hajaig, 35, was in the United States illegally, had no income, used calling cards to communicate with associates and possibly fled the country after being alerted to the task force's interest in him, according to the special bulletin sent to law enforcement agencies and aviation facilities statewide.

An FAA-licensed pilot, Hajaig was reported to authorities after he allegedly tried to have his instructor upgrade his flight rating when he was not yet qualified. He also became aggressive and attempted to have the flight school accelerate his training, Emmet said.

"In the aftermath of 9/11, we've asked all airports and flight schools to basically be on the alert, and we've tried to establish a working relationship with the aviation community," Emmet said. "If anything is observed that is suspicious in nature, we ask that they contact law enforcement, and that is what appears to have happened."

Emmett could not comment on when Hajaig's last visit to the Lawrenceville airport was, where he lived, which flight school he took lessons at, or whether he had been taken into custody. He also could not comment on whether other "persons of interest" have been identified as a result of the search for Hajaig.

Atlanta television station WXIA reported that Hajaig had taken flight lessons off and on since 2002 with Astron Enterprises - a flight school based at Briscoe Field.

According to WXIA-TV, managers at Astron Enterprises said Hajaig was trying to get his rating for multiple engine planes, commercial grade and an instrument rating for multi-engine planes.

Hajaig, who listed Jonesboro as his home address, used a Social Security card and a pilot's license issued by the FAA when he signed up at the flight school, WXIA-TV reported.

Personnel at Astron Enterprises declined to comment on the reports.

"We didn't know we we're going to be so famous today," said a woman who answered the phone there Friday afternoon. She referred questions to the company owner, who she said was out of town. A message left at the home of the company's chief executive was not returned.

The task force bulletin, which includes Hajaig's picture, also said that "he should not be allowed to rent aircraft, fly from or take lessons at any airport in the United States. The FAA has been alerted."

Hajaig, who was born in Nigeria, has been placed on a no-fly list, meaning he cannot return to the United States, Emmett said.

Two of the hijackers involved in the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks that destroyed the World Trade Center towers briefly trained at Briscoe Field, located beside Ga. Highway 316.

The two, Mohamed Atta and Marwan al-Shehhi, flew twice there half a year before the attacks - once with an instructor and once without. Atta is thought to have been the leader and organizer of the hijacking plot.