By HUSSEIN DAKROUB
The Associated Press
BEIRUT, Lebanon - The Lebanese suspect arrested in the alleged New York City terror plot is a university professor of economics who is not an al-Qaida militant, his family said Friday. Lebanese officials have said that the detainee, Assem Hammoud, who was arrested in April, had confessed to plotting to attack New York City tunnels on orders from al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden.
But Hammoud's mother disputed the accusations, telling The Associated Press her son drinks alcohol, has girlfriends, has traveled abroad and enjoys social life.
"Do we look like al-Qaida people?" asked Nabila Qotob at the family's luxury home in Beirut's upscale Clemenceau neighborhood.
Since her son's arrest, she has visited him every three days at a police station where he is being held. "His morale is high because he is confident he is innocent," she said of her son, who turned 31 on Thursday.
"Don't make up accusations. My son is innocent. What al-Qaida? He never left his father's side. He loves life and fun."
"I am fully confident that my son has nothing to do with al-Qaida, " she said of her son.
Leafing through photo albums, she pointed out his picture with women she identified as girlfriends in Canada, Germany and Belgium.
He did not pray regularly at home, but occasionally went to a mosque for prayers with his father, who passed away last year. Hammoud has two brothers, one is studying in Canada and another works in the United Arab Emirates.
Hammoud, who is single, studied finance and economics in Canada in the late 1990s. He speaks English, French and German besides his native Arabic and taught economics at the Lebanese International University.
He had planned to compete in a car rally in Lebanon this summer before he was arrested April 27 near the university, his mother said.
A doorman in a neighboring building described Hammoud as a very amusing man.
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U.S. law enforcement officials in Washington said Friday they had disrupted a plan by foreign terrorists to attack New York City tunnels. FBI agents discovered the plot, which was in the early stages, by monitoring Internet chat rooms used by Islamist extremists.