FBI found direct ties between 9/11 hijackers and Saudis living in Florida; Congress kept in dark

By Anthony Summers and Dan Christensen, BrowardBulldog.org

United Airlines Flight 175 hits the World Trade Center's south tower

Just two weeks before the 9/11 hijackers slammed into the Pentagon and World Trade Center, members of a Saudi family abruptly left their luxury home near Sarasota, leaving a brand new car in the driveway, a refrigerator full of food, fruit on the counter — and an open safe in the master bedroom.

In the weeks to follow, law enforcement agents not only discovered the home was visited by vehicles used by the hijackers, but phone calls were linked between the home and those who carried out the death flights — including leader Mohamed Atta — in discoveries never before revealed to the public.

Ten years after the deadliest attack of terrorism on U.S. soil, new information has emerged that shows the FBI found troubling ties between the hijackers and residents in the upscale community in southwest Florida, but the investigation wasn’t reported to Congress or mentioned in the 9/11 Commission Report.

Former U.S. Sen. Bob Graham, the Florida Democrat who cochaired the bipartisan congressional Joint Inquiry into the attacks, said he should have been told about the findings, saying it “opens the door to a new chapter of investigation as to the depth of the Saudi role in 9/11. … No information relative to the named people in Sarasota was disclosed.”

The U.S. Justice Department, the lead agency that investigated the attacks, refused to comment, saying it will discuss only information already released.

The Saudi residents then living at the stylish home, Abdulazzi al-Hiijjii and his wife Anoud, could not be reached, nor could the then owner of the house, Esam Ghazzawi, who is Anoud’s father. The house was sold in 2003, records show.

GRAHAM HAS QUESTIONS

For Graham, who served as Florida’s governor from 1979 to 1987, the connections between the hijackers and residents raise questions about whether other Saudi nationals in Florida knew of the impending attacks, which killed nearly 3,000 people.

The FBI investigation began the month after 9/11 when Larry Berberich, senior administrator and security officer of the gated community known as Prestancia, reported a bizarre event that took place two weeks before the hijackings of four passenger jets that originated in Boston, Newark and Washington.

The couple, living with their small children at the three-bedroom home at 4224 Escondito Circle, had left in a hurry in a white van, probably on Aug. 30.

They abandoned three recently registered vehicles, including a brand-new Chrysler PT Cruiser, in the garage and driveway.

After 9/11, Berberich said he had “a gut feeling” the people at the home may have had something to do with the attacks, prompting the FBI’s probe that would eventually link the hijackers to the house.

As an advisor to the Sarasota County sheriff — Berberich was with the group that received President Bush during his aborted visit to a Sarasota school on the morning of 9/11. He alerted sheriff’s deputies.

Patrick Gallagher, one of the Saudis’ neighbors, had become suspicious even earlier, and had fired off an email to the FBI on the day of the attacks. Gallagher said law enforcement officers arrived and began an investigation, with agents swarming “all over the place, in their blue jackets,” he recalled.

Jone Weist, president of the group that managed Prestancia, confirmed the arrival of the FBI, which requested copies of the Saudis’ financial transactions involving the house.

SIGNS OF A FAST EXIT

Berberich and a senior counterterrorism agent said they were able to get into the abandoned house, ultimately finding “there was mail on the table, dirty diapers in one of the bathrooms … all the toiletries still in place … all their clothes hanging in the closet … TVs … opulent furniture, equal or greater in value than the house … the pool running, with toys in it.”

Inside the home at 4224 Escondito Circle

“The beds were made … fruit on the counter … the refrigerator full of food. … It was like they went grocery shopping. Like they went out to a movie … [But] the safe was open in the master bedroom, with nothing in it, not a paper clip. … A computer was still there. A computer plug in another room, and the line still there. Looked like they’d taken [another] computer and left the cord.”

The counterterrorism officer, who requested his name not be disclosed, said agents went on to make troubling discoveries: Phone records and the Prestancia gate records linked the house on Escondito Circle to the hijackers.

In addition, three of the four future hijackers had lived in Venice — just 10 miles from the house — for much of the year before 9/11.

Atta, the leader, and his companion Marwan al-Shehhi, had been learning to fly small airplanes at Huffman Aviation, a flight school on the edge of the runway at Venice Municipal Airport.

A block away, at Florida Flight Training, accomplice Ziad Jarrah was also taking flying lessons. All three obtained their pilot licenses and afterwards, in the months that led to 9/11, spent much of their time traveling the state, including stints in Hollywood, Fort Lauderdale and Delray Beach, among other areas.

The counterterrorism agent said records of incoming and outgoing calls made at the Escondito house were obtained from the phone company under subpoena.

Agents were able to conduct a link analysis, a system of tracking calls based on dates, times and length of conversations — finding the Escondito calls dating back more than a year, “lined up with the known suspects.”

The links were not only to Atta and his hijack pilots, the agent said, but to 11 other terrorist suspects, including Walid al-Shehhri, one of the men who flew with Atta on the first plane to strike the World Trade Center.

Another was Adnan Shukrijumah, a former Miramar resident identified as having been with Atta in the spring of 2001. Shukrijumah is still at large and is on the FBI’s Most Wanted list.

But it was the gate records at the Prestancia development that produced the most telltale information.

People who arrived by car had to give their names and the home’s address they were visiting. Gate staff would sometimes ask to see a driver’s license and note the name, said Berberich.

LICENSE PLATES PHOTOGRAPHED

More importantly, he added, the license plates of cars pulling through the gate were photographed.

Atta is known to have used variations of his name, but the license plate of the car he owned was on record. 

The vehicle and name information on Atta and Jarrah fit that of drivers entering Prestancia on their way to visit the home at 4224 Escondito Circle, said Berberich and the counterterrorism officer.

Sarasota County property records identify the owners of the house at the time as Ghazzawi and his American-born wife Deborah, both with a post office box in al-Khobar, Saudi Arabia, and another address in the capital, Riyadh.

Ghazzawi was described as a middle-aged financier and interior designer, the owner of many properties, including several in the United States, said the counterterrorism agent.

While Ghazzawi visited the house, the people living there were his daughter Anoud and her husband al-Hiijjii, who appeared to be in his 30s and once identified himself as a college student, said Berberich, who met the son-in-law.

The couple’s sudden departure two weeks before 9/11 was tracked in detail by the FBI after the attacks, the counterterrorism agent said.

First, they traveled to a Ghazzawi property in Arlington, Va., then — with Esam Ghazzawi — via Dulles airport and London’s Heathrow, to Riyadh.

The counterterrorism agent said Ghazzawi and al-Hiijjii had been on a watch list at the FBI and that a U.S. agency involved in tracking terrorist funds was interested in both men even before 9/11.

“464 was Ghazzawi’s number,” the officer said. “I don’t remember the other man’s number.”

About a year after the family abandoned the home, the FBI made an attempt to lure the owner back.

Scott McKay, a Sarasota lawyer for the Prestancia homeowners’ association in its claim for unpaid dues on the property, said the FBI tried to get him to bring the Saudis back for the transaction.

“They didn’t say you must do this. It was more like, ‘But we’d really, really like you to make this happen,’” said McKay said.

McKay said he tried to get the Ghazzawis to sign the necessary documents in person, but the ploy failed because the documents could legally be signed elsewhere using a notary. Records show Ghazzawi’s signature was notarized by the vice consul of the U.S. embassy in Lebanon in September 2003. Deborah Ghazzawi’s signature was notarized in Riverside County, Calif.

CONGRESSIONAL INQUIRY KEPT IN DARK

Former Florida U.S. Senator Bob Graham

During an interview on Sunday, Graham said he was surprised he wasn’t told about the probe when he was co-chair of Congress’ Joint Inquiry into 9/11 — even though he was especially alert to terrorist information relating to Florida.

“At the beginning of the investigation,” he said, “each of the intelligence agencies, including the FBI, was asked to provide all information that agency possessed in relation to 9/11.”

The fact that the FBI did not tell the Inquiry about the Florida discoveries, Graham says, is similar to the agency’s failure to provide information linking members of the 9/11 terrorist team to other Saudis in California until congressional investigators discovered it themselves.

The Inquiry did nevertheless accumulate a “very large” file on the hijackers in the United States, and later turned it over to the 9/11 Commission. “They did very little with it,” Graham said, “and their reference to Saudi Arabia is almost cryptic sometimes. … I never got a good answer as to why they did not pursue that.”

The final 28-page section of the Inquiry’s report, which deals with “sources of foreign support for some of the Sept. 11 hijackers,” was entirely blanked out. It was kept secret from the public on the orders of former President George W. Bush and is still withheld to this day, Graham said.

This in spite of the fact that Graham and his Republican counterpart, U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama, both concluded the release of the pages would not endanger national security.

The grounds for suppressing the material, Graham believes, were “protection of the Saudis from embarrassment, protection of the administration from political embarrassment … some of the unknowns, some of the secrets of 9/11.”

Anthony Summers is co-author of The Eleventh Day: The Full Story of 9/11 and Osama bin Laden, published last month by Ballantine Books, an imprint of Random House. Dan Christensen is the editor of the Broward Bulldog.

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72 Comments Post a Comment
  1. The Oracle says:

    Remember the suspected 20th hijacker, the Saudi national arrested by FBI field agents after raising suspicions of flight instructors at a flight school in the Mid-west in mid-August 2001? Remember how FBI headquarters turned down multiple, frantic requests by the FBI field agents to search this foreign national’s personal effects (especially his computer), even though a warrantless search was legal under FISA, with the FBI only required to justify the warrantless search before the FISA court within 48 hours?

    I just wonder if this guy’s arrest by the FBI may have triggered the quick departure of this Saudi family running an al Qaeda safe house in a Sarasota suburb? Was the Saudi national that was arrested three weeks before the 9/11 attacks in touch with or connected in any way to this Saudi family living in Sarasota? Was the guy arrested able to get a message to them, even though in FBI custody, or did his disappearance spook them? Were the Saudis in and around Sarasota that were involved in 9/11 preparations concerned that this guy in FBI custody might talk, or that his personal effects might be searched, revealing to the U.S. authorities the 9/11 plot, possibly leading FBI agents to this al Qaeda safe house in Sarasota, the arrest of more 9/11 plotters and potentially the stopping of the 9/11 attacks from even happening?

    It is quite obvious why the Bush administration tried to squelch any information about Saudi involvement in the 9/11 attacks, especially any information of involvement, directly or indirectly, by members of the Saudi royal family. Going back decades, the Bush family had close oil-related family, business and political ties to members of the Saudi royal family. And of course, the former Bush administration (and now Obama’s administration) didn’t want to jeopardize U.S. oil supplies from Saudi Arabia by raising too much of a stink about Saudi participation in the 9/11 attacks, even though 15 of the 19 hijackers on 9/11 were Saudi nationals, al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden was a Saudi national and Saudi “charitable organizations” were used as fronts to finance al Qaeda operations. Besides, if the Bush administration had immediately after 9/11 placed the blame for the attacks directly on the Saudi doorstep, then this would have detracted from their efforts in 2002 and early 2003 to falsely lay blame for the attacks on Saddam Hussein’s and the Iraqi’s doorstep. Thus, the Bush administration-wide cover-up of Saudi involvement in the 9/11 attacks, even reaching into John Ashcroft’s Justice Department and the FBI, including the Bush administration withholding information from Congress and the 9/11 Commission (unless this info is in the heavily redacted portions of their report) about this Sarasota incident that links another “dot” in the al Qaeda terrorist chain to Saudi Arabia..

    And then there was reading Mr. Gallagher’s description of what happened down the block from him in Sarasota at this vacated Saudi family home later in the day on 9/11 when FBI agents swarmed “all over the place, in their blue jackets.” At the same time this was happening, the Bush administration was making plans to secretly ferry Saudi nationals out of the U.S., flying them out even as a no-fly order was in effect, grounding commercial and other aircraft. And I read long ago that one of the staging areas for this Saudi national exodus was in Florida. Moreover, I read that the Bush administration blocked 9/11 investigators from interrogating any of these fleeing Saudi nationals while they were still on U.S. soil. Were any of them running pre-9/11 al Qaeda safe houses like this Saudi family in Sarasota had been doing? Had any of them, directly or indirectly, ever helped finance al Qaeda operations? It is obvious that the Bush administration didn’t want too intense a spotlight to be shone on Saudi participation in the 9/11 attacks, and this cover-up continues to this day.

  2. The Oracle says:

    Oh, BTW, kudoes on your excellent investigative report. This is Pulitzer Prize winning material, IMHO. I first read this on the Miami Herald’s on-line site, after (I believe) linking to it from Rawstory the other day. Hopefully, this will garner more widespread attention, possibly even appearing on Keith Olbermann’s Countdown or on one of MSNBC’s nightly news programs. This might just break the Saudi camels back, and blow the cover-up to kingdom come.

  3. J. Sanderson says:

    I personally met mohammed atta at a motel in St.petersburg 2 weeks before Sept.11 ’01.I know it was him because I noticed what appeared to be a gum disease.He was with another man and a small child. Upon interaction, he said he was from Egypt.Many questions arise about ties to this area and the people who might have aided him in this plot.

  4. Mary says:

    Great article! Is it possible that we did the same thing here that we did with Iran-Contra and used a foreign country to perpetrate crimes in a way that would create plausible deniability? I have resisted thinking 9/11 was an inside job but the more I read about Destination 2025, UN Agenda 21, ICLEI etc. etc., the more I realize we are under internal assault and that part of what is necessary is an act that would cause the American people to be okay with giving up freedoms for (false) security.

  5. Mary says:

    She signed from “Riverside California”. I find that rather interesting when you consider that Usama Bin Laden’s ties to that area via the Iran-Contra crowd has been confirmed. I believe he used the name Tim Osman. The Saudi purchase of the shoulder missile launching systems for use against the Russians was discussed/set in Riverside. A man named Michael Riconisciuto, who worked with the CIA and Bin Laden reported what was going to happen before it happened. The US policy/Iran-Contra nonsense carries on……

  6. Prof Ken Kolk says:

    Most of the hijackers were Saudis, Ben Laden was a member of a prominent Saudi family, but Bush decided that the supporter of Ben Laden was Iraq! You might want to read George Will’s book about the Bush family’s Saudi connection. The Saudi and Wahabi branch of Islam is the most radical fundamentalist branch of Islam and the Saudi royal family funds it. It is out of this branch that many ideas championed by Ben Laden came from. The big unasked question did the Bush Administration order the FBI to keep this secret as part of it’s justification for wasting our money on an unfunded and off the budget war in Iraq? Cheney admitted he approved of war crimes and a recent book titled “Black Flags” by an FBI integrator who actually secured the information that Cheney claims resulted from “enhanced interrogation” [torture] well before the CIA contractors came in and began to use torture to get the answers they wanted.

  7. formercia says:

    Actually, the tribal roots of the Bin-Laden family are in North Yemen and USG/Saudi joint operations using North Yemenis to attack South Yemen, then a Marxist enclave with ties to East Germany and the Soviet Union go back to the beginnings of the Reagan Administration. One failed operation in December of 1981 that led to the execution of 26 North Yemeni operatives may have been the seed to threats of revenge against the US and Saudi interests.

  8. randall labolle says:

    I had been working at Pier 1 imports in the years before Sept. 11 and at that time the Saudi family mentioned were moving in to that house in Prestancia. They had asked for a large quantity of accessories be delivered to their house the same evening…seemed like a normal family except that they had an Australian bodyguard protecting them. He was unpacking his stuff as we unpacked our delivery. He had a high-powered rifle of some sort and it freaked me out a bit. Very paranoid people I think..and it may explain their sudden departure if they thought that there was something coming.

  9. Swirling Sands says:

    The Saudi embassy in Washington did not respond to telephone messages and emailed questions seeking comment.

  10. H Eubanks says:

    Why are we continuing to allow these Saudis and other mideastern SOB’s into our country???
    This is our home!! You do not invite potentially unfriendly or dangerous people into your home!!
    Wise up America!!!

  11. peg says:

    This article might be upping the ante for the real perpetrators of 9/11. I just read this morning about some ‘scientific’ report from ‘Norway” that the heat from the planes, combined with the water from the sprinklers affected the aluminum and caused the implosion. I checked the Norway institute that issued the report, and sure enough, they have an office in Austin, TX.

  12. Grapost says:

    So now it is obvious what Bush did. The real guilty party for 9/11 were Saudi Nationals. If the public found this out, there would be IMMENSE pressure to attack the Saudis as revenge.

    But to to do so would cripple our supply of oil wrecking our economy, while also embarrassing Bush because of his Family’s close ties to the Saudi Royal Family, AND COST THE BUSH FAMILY MILLIONS IS LOST OIL REVENUE!

    So Bush created a STRAW MAN for us to attack to quench the national thirst for revenge.

    The Straw Man was Saddam Hussein with his WMD’s and his quest for Nuclear Weapons, who was falsely accused of haboring Al Queda and thus was guilty of assisting in the crime.

    It is obvious the American people have been lied to a DUPED!

  13. ed says:

    George Bush as soon as he moved into the White House IMMEDIATELY told the FBI to stop all surveillance of OsamaBinLaden & the Royal Family. ALL were being followed & Bush stopped it immediately. Jan.20th.He’s a traitor & a madman & should be tried & hung just like SaddamHussein.
    Senator Bob Graham was WARNED about 911 Months b4 anything happened. He did NOTHING. He said he reported it to the “appropriate authorities” afterwards but never ever followed up. He’s a LIAR & a traitor also.
    He watched the attack on 911 with Porter Goss another one who was warned about 911 months b4 it occured,with 1 other man-Gen.Mamoud Ahmed-the man who gave Mohammed Atta $100,000 right b4 911. All 3 watched together in Washington DC. 911 Was definitely an inside intelligence operation with Bush & these other scumbags knowing all about it….because they made it happen & allowed it to happen.They cleared the military from stopping any of it.
    Bush-Cheney-Rice-Rumsfelf-Ashcroft & others should be hung by the neck until dead…after a truth revealing Trial.No one was held responsible for 911 failures yet everyone in position was rewarded afterwards.FBI supervisors who covered up Moussawi’s computer search were all promoted.
    Wake up people-you are lied to daily.

  14. ed says:

    George Bush as soon as he moved into the White House IMMEDIATELY told the FBI to stop all surveillance of OsamaBinLaden & the Royal Family. ALL were being followed & Bush stopped it immediately. Jan.20th.He’s a traitor & a madman & should be tried & hung just like SaddamHussein.
    Senator Bob Graham was WARNED about 911 Months b4 anything happened. He did NOTHING. He said he reported it to the “appropriate authorities” afterwards but never ever followed up. He’s a LIAR & a traitor also.
    He watched the attack on 911 with Porter Goss another one who was warned about 911 months b4 it occured,with 1 other man-Gen.Mamoud Ahmed-the man who gave Mohammed Atta $100,000 right b4 911. All 3 watched together in Washington DC. 911 Was definitely an inside intelligence operation with Bush & these other scumbags knowing all about it….because they made it happen & allowed it to happen.They cleared the military from stopping any of it.
    Bush-Cheney-Rice-Rumsfelf-Ashcroft & others should be hung by the neck until dead…after a truth revealing Trial.No one was held responsible for 911 failures yet everyone in position was rewarded afterwards.FBI supervisors who covered up Moussawi’s computer search were all promoted.

  15. remo says:

    With regard Sarasota, and identification of ATTA.[stories not being told]
    There is another account FBI/CIA didn’t ‘pass on’ to the Zelikow Commission, which clearly finds ATTA as anything but a ‘trainee’ pilot, down there in Venice, at HUFFMAN Aviation.
    According to Daniel HOPSICKER, in his powerful investigation of ATTA at HUFFMAN [Welcome to TERRORLAND], a woman [Amanda KELLER] ATTA briefly lived with in Venice, stated he was a skilled pilot carrying multiple identities/pilots licenses, and associations way more in tune with ‘asset’ status, than martyrdom. A cocaine user, drinker of alcohol, he liked to drive TransAms, and was ‘very familiar with the back roads of Florida’. I guess the Sarasota address was just one of his visiting spots. He identifies HUFFMAN airport as being part of long established covert ‘deep state’ activities, including drug flights.

  16. anna rivas says:

    wonderful publish, very informative. I’m wondering why the opposite experts of this sector do not notice this. You must continue your writing. I am confident, you have a great readers’ base already!

  17. John Doe says:

    I remember seeing Atta and a suspicious group having a meeting near the corner store in Hollywood Beach. This was before I ever knew it was him. They appeared out of place fully dressed not for the beach around 1pm in the afternoon. Something was telling me to go up to the cop car patroling by and ask him to investigate, that they might be selling drugs or something. I said to myself if I’m all wrong about this I’ll look like a crazy person. Wrongfully accusing is not good either. On a day I was walking in opposite dirrections
    hdjshOn a later day I was walking in opposite directions but towards Mohamad Atta and a shorter person He was definitely taller than 5’8” more like 6′, 1” or 2” He walked with long strides and his head up high and proud. He tried to pick a fight with me because I looked at him like who the hell does he think he is! His shorter friend put his hand ce twice on his shoulders to stop him from turning around and start in with me. He convinced him and said forget him. I’m a very holyspirit living Christian with God on my side and always pray to the lord to show me a hint of things to come or at least in this case what he could allow to reveal! By the way I was a struggling pilot. Didn’t make it all the way.Had very little money. These guys said just the opposite to the bartended in Hollywood that they are pilots and make good money. Very interesting! Piece out

  18. Stepanie says:

    Write more, thats all I have to say. It appears that you relied on some good sources to make your point.
    You definitely know what you’re talking about.

    More to come on my internet page Stepanie

  19. Joe says:

    Save the Saudis and the Bushies from “embarrassment?”

    Perhaps trials for High Treason can be embarrassing.

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