WINTER PARK - Tour operator Ahmed "Ed" Badawi bought 10 airplane tickets earlier this year for a Texas company that provided transportation in the United States for an airline crew from Saudi Arabia.
One crew member had a similar name to that of a suspect in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. That tenuous connection led three FBI agents to Badawi's home four days after the attacks and thrust the 43-year-old Orlando man into a nightmare of jail and interrogations.
He thinks some news reports sullied his reputation, including one that linked him to Saudi exile Osama bin Laden, the prime suspect in the suicide hijackings.
"I've never had any connection with bin Laden or any kind of organizations," Badawi said Wednesday at a news conference. "Anyone who would do such acts is a terrible person."
Afraid of becoming a victim of a hate crime by someone who recognizes him, the Egyptian native answered questions from behind a mahogany room divider covered with a tablecloth.
Badawi's encounter with the FBI turned his life upside down. Business at his 45-employee company has disappeared since he was arrested, and he lost an important contract with a car rental company. He and his family are staying at a hotel because reporters have been visiting his home.
Badawi, who became a U.S. citizen in 1988, said he isn't upset with the agents, saying they were only doing their job.
The agents never told him the name of the suspect but merely showed him a list of names and photos. He said he didn't recognize them.
Badawi bought the airline tickets on his own credit card, which might have alerted investigators. The tickets were for travel early in the summer. Because of the ongoing investigation, Badawi and his lawyer said they could not disclose the name of the Texas company or the airline for which the crew worked.
Agents came to Badawi's Orlando home Sept. 15 while he was in the shower and questioned him for two hours. He then took them to his office where he turned over records and three computers.
He was placed in federal custody as a material witness and stayed in jail in solitary confinement for three days. He said he was allowed no showers and no reading materials and was kept under lights 24 hours a day.
Badawi was released after a hearing before a federal magistrate Sept. 19 and agreed to fly to New York to talk to investigators. The next week, he flew back to New York a second time to testify for 15 minutes in front of a grand jury.
"He has never been charged with any crime. He isn't charged as being associated with Osama bin Laden or any terrorist group," said Michael Presutti, Badawi's attorney.
Federal public defender Fletcher Peacock said earlier this week that Badawi was not a suspect.
Badawi wasn't the only Central Florida lead that apparently led nowhere for the FBI.
The day after the attacks, agents interviewed John Kap, manager of the Pink Pony and Red Eyed Jack's Sports Bar in Daytona Beach. He said three men spewed anti-American sentiments in his bar and talked of impending bloodshed the night before the terrorist attacks.
Kap said he told FBI agents that one man left a business card and a copy of the Quran - the sacred book of Islam - at the bar.
That story was false, said an attorney for one of the men.
Orlando attorney Mark NeJame said his client, a U.S. citizen born in Kuwait, went to the adult nightclub with two friends the night of Sept. 10.
At the bar, the three men engaged in a conversation with another patron on Christianity and the Book of Revelations, which describes catastrophes, wars and violence. During the discussion, the other patron got a book on Christianity, which apparently was left behind.