Saudi college student arrested on gun charge in New Mexico

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Updated 8:29 pm PST, Friday, December 13, 2019

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — A Saudi Arabian student at the University of New Mexico was arrested Friday by federal authorities on accusations of illegal possession of a firearm as a student visa holder after a search of his Albuquerque residence turned up a handgun, according to federal court documents.

Hassan Alqahtani, an engineering student, appeared before a federal judge Friday and remained in federal custody afterward. The FBI says it received a tip in August at its National Threat Operations Center that Alqahtani had a firearm and was creating a list of people he wanted to kill that included professors at his university.

According to the complaint, a confidential source said Alqahtani approached him in November with an interest in purchasing an AK-47 rifle and that Alqahtani later said he was interested instead in acquiring a smaller gun for protection. The affidavit says a girlfriend of Alqahtani claimed ownership of the seized gun and is possibly conspiring to conceal his possession of the firearm.

Joel Meyers, a defense attorney for Alqahtani, said he plans to dispute accusations that the seized firearm belonged to Alqahtani, and expressed disappointment at the timing of the arrest on the day before Alqahtani’s graduation ceremony.

“If he was such a concern,” Meyers said, “why the delay until right before his graduation?”

Meyers said Alqahtani is in the U.S. legally on a student visa and that he lives with his wife — described as his girlfriend in the criminal complaint — who is not prohibited from possessing a firearm.

Detention and evidentiary hearings are scheduled next week.

In a news release, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Albuquerque says the firearms charge can carry a penalty up to 10 years in prison.