Friday, November 24, 2017
News Roundup

FBI report says Florida family had ties to people linked to 9/11 attacks

RECOMMENDED READING


A Saudi family who left their Sarasota-area home weeks before the Sept. 11 attacks had "many connections" to "individuals associated with the terrorist attacks on 9/11/2001," according to newly released FBI records.

One partially declassified document, marked "secret," lists three of those individuals and ties them to the Venice flight school where suicide hijackers Mohamed Atta and Marwan al-Shehhi trained. Accomplice Ziad Jarrah took flying lessons at another school a block away.

Atta and al-Shehhi were at the controls of the jetliners that slammed into the twin towers of New York's World Trade Center, killing nearly 3,000 people. Jarrah was the hijacker-pilot of United Airlines Flight 93, which crashed in rural Pennsylvania.

The names, addresses and dates of birth of the three individuals tied to the flight school were blanked out before the records were released to BrowardBulldog.org amid ongoing Freedom of Information Act litigation.

The information in the documents runs counter to previous FBI statements.

National security and other reasons are cited for numerous additional deletions scattered across the 31 released pages. Four more pages were withheld.

The records cast new light on one of the remaining unresolved mysteries regarding Florida's many connections to the Sept. 11 attacks: Before the attacks, what went on at 4224 Escondito Circle in Prestancia, the home of Abdulaziz al-Hijji and his family?

The documents are the first released by the FBI about its once-secret inquiry in Sarasota. Information contained in the documents contradicts prior statements by FBI agents in Miami and Tampa who have said the investigation found no evidence connecting the family to the hijackers or the Sept. 11 plot.

Details about the family and the Sarasota investigation first came to light in a story published simultaneously by BrowardBulldog.org and the Miami Herald on Sept. 8, 2011.

The story told how concerned residents in the gated community of Prestancia tipped the FBI, shortly after the Sept. 11 attacks, to al-Hijjis' sudden departure in late August 2001. The family left behind three cars, clothes, furniture, toys and other items.

The story also reported that a counterterrorism officer and Prestancia's former administrator, Larry Berberich, both said an analysis of gatehouse security records — log books and snapshots of license tags —- had determined that vehicles either driven by or carrying several of the future hijackers had visited al-Hijji home.

Phone records revealed similar, though indirect, ties to the hijackers, said the counterterrorism officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The FBI records as released do not identify al-Hijji or anyone else by name, citing various exemptions that protect persons' names in law enforcement records. The names are apparent, however, because the documents describe unique, known events and were released in specific response to a request for information about the investigation at al-Hijji residence.

An April 16, 2002, FBI report says "repeated citizen calls" led to an inspection of the home by agents of the Southwest Florida Domestic Security Task Force.

"It was discovered that the (family name deleted) left their residence quickly and suddenly. They left behind valuable items, clothing, jewelry and food in a manner that indicated they fled unexpectedly without prior preparation or knowledge," the report says. "Further investigation of the (name deleted) family revealed many connections between the (name deleted) and individuals associated with the terrorist attacks on 9/11/2001."

The report lists three of those individuals. While their identities remain secret, the first person on the list was described as "a (name deleted) family member."

That person and a second individual were said to be flight students at Huffman Aviation — the flight school at the Venice Municipal Airport attended by hijackers Atta and al-Shehhi.

The third person on the list "lived with flight students at Huffman Aviation" and was "arrested numerous times by the Sarasota County Sheriff's Office," the report says.

The next paragraph, which ends the report, is blanked out.

A notice on the document indicates the censored information regarding the three individuals associated with the terrorist attacks is scheduled to remain classified for another 25 years — until March 14, 2038.

The FBI released the records as a Freedom of Information lawsuit filed by BrowardBulldog.org inches toward trial this summer in federal court in Fort Lauderdale. The suit was filed in September after the FBI rejected both a request for its investigative records and an appeal of that request.

Al-Hijji could not be reached last week. Last year, he told a reporter his family did not depart their Sarasota home in haste but left so he could take a job with Aramco in Saudi Arabia. He denied involvement in the Sept. 11 plot, which he called "a crime against the USA and all humankind."

Comments
Three dead in wrong-way, head-on crash Thursday on I-75 in Gibsonton

Three dead in wrong-way, head-on crash Thursday on I-75 in Gibsonton

Three people in their early 20s died Thursday when a car driving the wrong way on Interstate 75 slammed head-on into another car, killing both drivers and a passenger in the car that was struckThe accident happened about 10 p.m. just south of Gibsont...
Updated: 14 minutes ago
Florida's iconic offshore Stiltsville survived another hurricane season, somehow

Florida's iconic offshore Stiltsville survived another hurricane season, somehow

MIAMI — Stiltsville, a stubborn relic of Miami’s less-glitzy past as a sun-soaked outpost, has survived Hurricane Irma’s brutal winds and waves, much to the surprise of the landmark’s caretakers and fans. Perched at the edge ...
Updated: 17 minutes ago
Trump wants to end welfare as Bill Clinton knows it

Trump wants to end welfare as Bill Clinton knows it

WASHINGTON — Overhauling welfare was one of the defining goals of Bill Clinton’s presidency, starting with a campaign promise to "end welfare as we know it," continuing with a bitter policy fight and producing change that remains hotly debated 20 yea...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Murky waters: Chartering the wrong boat can have tragic consequences

Murky waters: Chartering the wrong boat can have tragic consequences

Captain Dan Peretz noticed the same charter boats overloaded with passengers again and again. He thought, "This is how people die.’’ So he sent emails to the Coast Guard, sharing his concerns, naming specific boats, including the Jaguar....
Updated: 2 hours ago
Jon Mott wins record fifth Times Turkey Trot 10K

Jon Mott wins record fifth Times Turkey Trot 10K

By BOB PUTNAMCLEARWATER — The Tampa Bay Times Turkey Trot has long been a fixture on Jon Mott’s sporting calendar. Not even a 103-degree fever Tuesday could keep him away from the event, in its 39th year. Mott, a record four-time 10k champion, added ...
Updated: 12 hours ago
Bucs players, coaches say they cherish getting game balls for special feats

Bucs players, coaches say they cherish getting game balls for special feats

TAMPA — In the jubilant moments after a Bucs win, Dirk Koetter will sometimes ask for a game-used ball from his equipment staff, hold it high in the locker room and present it to the player who was most crucial to the victory.NFL players can ask for ...
Published: 11/23/17

 
Published: 11/23/17

Published: 11/23/17
Woman killed in Largo motorcycle crash could ‘out-game any dude’

Woman killed in Largo motorcycle crash could ‘out-game any dude’

LARGO — Sydney Pender, 27, loved riding her motorcycle, even though she knew the dangers. Three years ago, her friend said, a delivery truck hit her. But she kept riding. On Thanksgiving, it was a crash with a taxi cab that killed her.Pender, a St. P...
Published: 11/23/17

Valrico intersection closed after car-sized hole opens in road

VALRICO — A hole the size of a vehicle opened up beneath the intersection of Nature’s Way Boulevard and Elm Grove Lane, Hillsborough officials said.The cause of the depression is unclear, but the intersection was blocked off to traffic.Hillsborough C...
Published: 11/23/17