CANBERRA, Australia: U.S. authorities have raised an alarm over a plan by a German citizen — linked to the Sept. 11 terror attacks — to build a flying school in a remote South Pacific island nation, a news report said Wednesday.
Wolfgang Bohringer has been linked to Mohamed Atta, the lead hijacker in the attacks on New York and Washington in 2001. The German arrived by yacht in Kiribati a year ago with plans to build a flying school, but has since left the far-flung archipelago, Australian Broadcasting Corp. radio reported.
The island where the school was planned was among the country’s closest to the U.S. island state of Hawaii, the report said.
Kiribati’s President Anote Tong said the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation had warned him that it was suspicious of Bohringer, the ABC said.
Tong said the FBI also warned him that small countries like Kiribati, whose 94,000 people live on 33 atolls scattered 4,000 kilometers (1,400 miles) along the equator, could be vulnerable to terrorists, the ABC reported.
“I think it demonstrates how vulnerable small countries can be,” Tong told the ABC.
“We confess we don’t have the resources to be able to monitor everything and everybody that goes through our system, but it’s made us a lot more alert, I think,” he said.
“So we do look to neighboring countries like New Zealand, Australia,” he said. “We do have relations with the Australian Federal Police.”
Tong could not immediately available to comment on the broadcast report.
He told the ABC he had discussed with Bohringer his plans to build a resort and flying school on Fanning Island — an atoll without telecommunications or a functioning airstrip, but among the closest to Hawaii, 2,000 kilometers (1,200 miles) to the north.
Tong said he was skeptical.
“You’ve got to be quite wary of very, very good proposals,” Tong said.
New Zealand police have said Bohringer’s whereabouts are unknown.
Bill Paupe, who runs his own aviation business in Honolulu and is Kiribati’s consul in the United States, said the flight school plan made no sense.
“It would be very expensive. You would have to (transport) all the people there ... and all your instructors and your staff would have to be housed and fed and everything,” Paupe told the ABC. “It just didn’t make any sense at all.”
The office of Australian Attorney-General Philip Ruddock, who is responsible for the nation’s main security agency, could not immediately say whether the government had been aware of the flying school plan.
“We would consider any request for assistance,” said Ruddock’s spokesman, Michael Pelly.
Australia’s High Commissioner to the Kiribati could not be reached for comment Wednesday. Kiribati’s consul to Australia, William Franken, said he was unaware of the plan.
New Zealand’s High Commission in the Kiribati capital, Tarawa, “has had no approach yet” from Kiribati authorities for further help with security, said Deputy High Commissioner Dennis Porteous.
“We are aware of the report, and will just wait to see what developments happen,” Porteous said.
New Zealand police counterterrorism head, Assistant Commissioner Jon White, said if Kiribati makes a request for security assistance, “we’ll take it seriously.”
The two nations are members of a South Pacific police chiefs’ group, aimed at assisting smaller states with security and other issues.