GW ties to Al-Zaabi grow; Hamed released

GW officials said the man arrested outside the Pentagon last week and currently being held by the Immigration and Naturalization Service could be the same individual who attended GW for three semesters in 1998.

The man, listed as Sultan Rasheed Al-Zaabi, 23, on a Virginia driver’s license police obtained and his passport, also carried identification of at least one other former GW student.

Al-Zaabi and a Jordanian man were arrested Feb. 11 on an off-limits road near the Pentagon. Virginia police pulled the men over when they ignored signs banning trucks from the road. Virginia police officers found five forms of identification on Al-Zaabi, the passenger, with three different names, according to a court affidavit.

INS is holding Al-Zaabi on student visa violations for overstaying his visa, The Washington Post reported. INS spokesman Bill Shaw said the government is still trying to determine the individual’s identity and gave no time frame for possible charges or deportation.

The driver of the truck, 26-year-old Imad Hamed, is charged with one count of identification fraud because of a second Virginia driver’s license also found on him. Hamed was released on $5,000 bond at a hearing Friday after being held for three days, according to an FBI spokeswoman who declined to give her name.

According to the affidavit, Hamed told authorities he met the passenger at Northern Virginia Community College and that the passenger currently attends GW – something GW has no record of.

University officials confirmed that Sultan R. Al-Zaabi was enrolled as a non-degree student for the spring, summer and fall semesters of 1998 in the English as a Foreign Language program. But they are not certain it is the same man who was arrested last week, because no picture is available.

NVCC officials confirmed that a Sultan R. Al-Zaabi was enrolled at the school in spring 1999 and attended classes through last fall. They also confirmed that Hamed attended classes at the college from 1994 through fall 2001.

GW EFL Deputy Chair Patrice Connerton said Al-Zaabi could have transferred to NVCC because of failing grades, although she is not permitted under the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act to release student records.

Connerton said many students from the UAE and Saudi Arabia enrolled at GW in the last decade and left because of academic trouble. Some students transfer to colleges like NVCC because they have easier admissions policies and allow EFL students to take academic courses, she said.

Connerton also cited social issues as a possible reason for transferring, noting that the Saudi and United Arab Emirates students often traveled and transferred “in groups.”

She said some of the students came to GW with little training in Arabic, their native language, and saw their grades quickly drop with poor study skills and a lack of commitment.

International students in the EFL program must pass language requirements and begin taking other academic courses within a year, Connerton said.

GW saw the largest surge of UAE students in a six-year period in 1998, as 36 enrolled for the spring semester, Al-Zaabi’s first semester. This was an increase of 19 students from the previous semester, according to the EFL program. When Al-Zaabi transferred, enrollment of UAE students in the EFL program dropped to 21 students, which could be explained by students matriculating into academic programs.

According to the affidavit, Al-Zaabi also carried a British Airways Executive Club card listed under Mahammed S. Al-Murar and a Virginia ID card for Mohammed Saleh Al-Murcir. GW officials confirmed that a Mohammed S. Al-Murar was registered as a non-degree EFL student in the spring, summer and fall of 1999.

American University officials confirmed that a Mohammed S. Al-Murar was enrolled at the school in 2000.

Connerton said foreign students are able to transfer schools with little
notice from INS, and GW is not required to notify the INS if a student drops out of school.

Congress passed a law after Sept. 11 requiring schools to keep the INS updated on students grades as of 2003, because at least one of the hijackers entered the U.S. on a student visa and never fulfilled requirements.

Connerton said students can register at a new school without officially transferring. This would not require INS approval.

UAE embassy officials said the country sponsors 400 to 600 students every year, but no official was available to comment on the specific case.

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