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FBI tells stunned BWIA pilot
'We've got you!'

By Horace Monsegue In New York
December 28, 2003 Newsday TT


BWIA pilot Rawle Joseph was surrounded by five armed FBI agents at JFK International Airport, New York, last week, one of whom shouted, "We've got you!"

Joseph, 50, a father of three, of Pinto Road, Arima, a national scholarship winner, who joined BWIA in June 1980, was stunned when the agents pulled him aside and began two and a half hours of questioning, claiming that he was a terrorist, whose name and age, matched someone on a 'no-fly list' issued by the Transport Security Agency. Joseph denied being a terrorist and showed the agents that he always carried a bible in his flight bag. The agents then proceeded to go through the bible page by page.

Joseph who was detained at JFK, was last night at the Holiday Inn, Manhattan, where he has been ordered to stay "and not leave the US." He told colleagues that his situation has him frustrated because he does not know how long he will have to stay in the United States while FBI agents continue their investigations. BWIA, Sunday Newsday understands, is also conducting its own investigation. Joseph along with fellow Trinidadian pilot Captain Anthony Wight, who was detained in Miami the same week, was yesterday still in the dark about their future, although they had been receiving calls from family, friends, and Trinidad government officials. Minister of National Security Martin Joseph has already briefed Prime Minister Patrick Manning on the episode and Trinidad embassy officials have been in touch with Joseph. The USA is on heightened alert risk status, following re-newed terrorist threats. Joseph and Wight feel they have been caught in a sinister web spun by persons who stole their identity. Talking to colleagues yesterday, Joseph, who is First Officer on the BWIA plane to New York said that what has happened to him has left him distressed and when he is allowed to leave he will not be at the controls of the BWIA aircraft. "I want to be a passenger like everyone else," he told colleagues.

Joseph's nightmare began on Tuesday night last when he and other crew members were about to disembark the aircraft. On reaching a departure gate, they were accosted by the FBI who demanded their passports, but singled out Joseph. They put his passport in an orange bag and then searched his flight bag thoroughly, including his other travel bag. One of the agents then shouted "We've got him!" "They then went through my bible page by page," Joseph told colleagues. Joseph told crew members, "One fellow said they were looking for a wanted terrorist, but they didn't really think it was me." He was grilled for two and a half hours, before he was allowed to leave.

On Christmas Day when Joseph was about to board the 7 am flight back to Trinidad, he was again confronted by FBI agents and told that he would not be given clearance to leave the US. Joseph was again interrogated, and the mild-mannered pilot, according to sources kept his cool, even though he was being repeatedly asked the same questions, like how he spelt his name, if he ever changed his name, etc. "I am a virtual prisoner at the hotel," said Joseph, who was yesterday short on money. His colleagues have rallied around him, telephoned him, and invited him out for meals. Still, Joseph's situation is far from comfortable. He believes that every step he makes, he is being monitored. He feels that his room at the Holiday Inn is bugged, and the FBI is not telling him anything about how long he will have to stay in the US. The FBI agents have given Joseph back his passport, but he dares not leave the "Big Apple."

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