reports that in the past two days, 14 Syrian men entered Texas on student visas to attend flight schools at Fort Worth?s Meacham International Airport. The State Department lists Syria as a state sponsor of terrorism. Other counties on the watch list are Iraq, Iran, Cuba, North Korea, Libya and Sudan.

The Syrians, whose visas expire in April 2002, flew in from London the day before the Federal Aviation Administration lifted its recent ban on student pilots flying private planes around major metropolitan areas.

?Seems that they knew the private plane ban was going to be lifted today,? says a Dallas Immigration and Naturalization Service inspector. INS inspectors called the FBI, and were told to photocopy the Syrians? passports. The men were not interviewed by the FBI or detained, however. The Syrians told immigration inspectors they came here to train as pilots for Syria?s national airline.

Airport records show that four of the eight schools at Meacham field are run by Middle Eastern men. Delta-Qualiflight Aeronautics, owned by Khaled Miloud, enrolls the largest share of Middle Eastern students and Arabic is the main language spoken at the school.

The FBI would not comment on the Syrian students. But a spokeswoman for the bureau?s Dallas office said agents have been ?working very closely? with INS inspectors at DFW to monitor Middle Easterners coming into the U.S. on flight-school visas. ?We?re getting thousands of leads here at the Dallas division, many of them concerning Middle Eastern individuals coming in and going to flight schools,? says Dallas FBI spokeswoman Lori Bailey.

After 911, FBI agents interviewed an Algerian man who was taking lessons at a Meacham field flight school called American Flyers and reported that ?He was very cooperative.? The American Flyers manager says that despite ?some obvious bad apples,? most of the Middle Eastern students who train there are ?all right?I get a lot of people asking me lately, ?Hey, how come you?re still letting people from the Middle East train to fly at your school?? But I tell them that before they ever get here, their applications are approved by the State Department.?

The State Department says they have no plans to stop issuing visas to flight-school applicants from the Middle East. ?The Department of State has changed no laws and no regulations from what was in effect Sept. 10,? spokesman Chris Lamora says.

?I don?t know why the feds are surprised? by the number of Middle Easterners enrolled at U.S. flight schools, says the American Flyers manager. ?The information is available in advance. They know these guys? names and where they?re enrolled long before they arrive here.?

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