(NEW YORK) — The man who ran the flight school that unwittingly trained two of the 9/11 hijackers now sits behind bars, accused of drug smuggling and offering his illicit services to an undercover federal officer.
Rudi Dekkers, a Danish national who used to run the Florida flight school Huffman Aviation, came to the attention of federal authorities in October when he was introduced to an undercover federal officer as an associate of suspected drug smuggling kingpin Arturo Astorquiza, according to Texas court documents.
Though Astorquiza was the target of the federal operation, Dekkers allegedly told the undercover officer in their first meeting that he “was involved in narcotics transportation via private aircraft and that he [had] flown narcotics and U.S. currency previously without any problems.”
After Astorquiza was arrested, the documents say Dekkers reached out to the undercover officer and offered his services directly. Federal investigators then began tailing Dekkers and eventually arrested him in early December when it appeared he was about to make a drug run for another customer.
The arrest comes more than a decade after Dekkers found himself in the national spotlight in the days after terrorists hijacked four commercial airplanes and used them to kill nearly 3,000 people on Sept. 11, 2011.
Federal investigators quickly identified Dekkers’ school, Huffman Aviation, as the location where two of the hijackers, Mohamed Atta and Marwan al-Shehhi, earned their instrument certificates from the Federal Aviation Administration. Atta and al-Shehhi were the men at the controls of the planes that flew into New York’s World Trade Center buildings.
In an interview with ABC News in 2001, Dekkers said the men were unfriendly, but he didn’t think there was anything suspicious about them.
Because of his fleeting connection to the 9/11 hijackers, the years after the attack proved difficult for Dekkers as he described in his memoir Guilt by Association. He reportedly said in the book he received death threats and that people suspected he was somehow complicit in the attack.
In a recent interview with a local Fox News affiliate, Dekkers was asked if he thought he would ever outlive the shadow of 9/11.
“Yeah,” he said. “When I die.”
Dekkers has been charged with intent to distribute five kilos or more of cocaine and 100 grams or more of heroin. A Texas judge ordered he be held without bond, as the court said there was a “serious risk that the defendant will flee.”
Dekkers’ public defender did not immediately respond to a request for comment on this report.
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio
Steve Almasy, CNN