Sunday, September 11, 2011

Saudi family in Florida let 9/11 hijackers use their home

We weren't told about this for 10 years! Congress was not informed!  Nor was the 9/11 Commission!

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

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.
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.
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.
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.
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.

Graham asks Obama for answers on Saudi 9/11 role; FBI denies Sarasota probe found ties to plot

Former U.S. Senator Bob Graham has called on President Obama to use his authority to get answers to long-lingering questions about possible Saudi involvement in 9/11.
“If we are truly going to be respectful of the victims of 9/11 one of the things the president and this administration must do is get to the bottom of these questions,” said Graham, who co-chaired Congress’s bi-partisan Joint Inquiry into the 2001 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington.
Graham’s remarks followed a Thursday story inBroward Bulldog about a 2001 investigation by the FBI that reportedly found direct ties between the hijackers and a Saudi family who abruptly abandoned their luxury home near Sarasota two weeks before the attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people. Sources on and off the record said agents found the home was visited by vehicles used by the hijackers, including leader Mohamed Atta.
Phone calls were also linked between the home and the hijackers, the sources said.
That “significant” information was not reported to Congress as it should have been, Graham said.
Friday night, the FBI in Miami issued its first public statement on the matter. It confirmed the existence of the investigation, but said it was “resolved and determined not to be related to any threat nor connected to the 9/11 plot.” No details were provided.
The statement released by Special Agent Michael D. Leverock added, “All of the documentation pertaining to the 9/11 investigation was made available to the 9/11 commission and the (Joint Inquiry).”
Reached Saturday afternoon, Graham said the FBI’s assertion that it had made all of its 9/11 information available to Congress was not credible.
“Nobody I’ve spoken to with the Joint Inquiry says we got any information on this,” Graham said. “It’s total B.S. It’s the same thing we’ve been getting from the FBI for the past 10 years.”
The former chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee said what is now known to have happened in Sarasota “shares a common outline” with contemporaneous events involving a pair of 9/11 Saudi-born hijackers – Khalid al-Mihdar and Nawaf al-Hazmi – across the country in San Diego, Ca.
Fifteen of the 19 hijackers were Saudi citizens. Atta was born in Egypt. The remaining hijackers were from Lebanon and the United Arab Emirates. They were all affiliated with al-Qaeda and died along with the passengers and crew of the four hijacked commercial airliners.
The Joint Inquiry report and the 9/11 Commission report describe how another Saudi living in San Diego, Omar al-Bayoumi, provided extensive assistance to the hijackers, including housing. The report says al-Bayoumi had access to “seemingly unlimited funding from Saudi Arabia” and that “one of the FBI’s best sources in San Diego” reported that he thought al-Bayoumi was an intelligence officer for Saudi Arabia or another foreign power. The report said the FBI also learned that al-Bayoumi “has connections to terrorist elements.”
“There is no evidence that Bayoumi knew what was going on; just that he’d been told to take care of these men,” Graham said in an interview.
The home at 4224 Escondito Drive in a gated community near Sarasota now linked to the hijackers was owned by a Saudi couple, Esam Ghazzawi and his American born wife, Deborah. The residents were their daughter, Anoud, and her husband Abdulazzi al-Hiijjii.
A counterterrorism agent said Ghazzawi, a middle-aged financier and interior designer, and al-Hiijii were both on a watch list at the FBI and that a U.S. agency involved in tracking terrorist funds was interested in both men prior to 9/11.
Graham said there is also a lack of evidence “as to whether Saudi leadership knew why these people were here. What we do know, however, is that without being very curious or inquisitive the Saudi monarchy made these services available to persons who ultimately exposed themselves in death as being hijackers.”
Omar al-Bayoumi
The Saudi embassy in Washington did not respond to telephone messages and emailed questions seeking comment.
Bayoumi left the U.S. two months before the Sept. 11 attacks. In June 2010, Graham sought to meet with Bayoumi while traveling in the Saudi capital, Riyadh. “I asked and I was told he’d moved to Jeddah,” Graham said.
Graham has long believed that Bayoumi was not the only Saudi in the U.S. to provide support for the hijackers.
“What Sarasota adds to me is that, yes, there was a network…that it may have involved other people who were known to be very loyal to the crown and were willing to undertake this responsibility for protecting and facilitating the hijackers in different areas.”
Graham has long contended the U.S. has engaged in a cover up of information about possible Saudi involvement in 9/11 to protect America’s relationship with the oil-rich kingdom. That includes a decision by President George W. Bush to redact the final 28-page section of the Joint Inquiry’s report dealing with “sources of foreign support for some of the Sept. 11 hijackers.”
This week’s news of what happened in Sarasota is further evidence of a cover up, he said.
“It’s fairly easy to get why George Bush kept this information from the public. It’s much harder to understand why the Obama Administration keeps this information from the public. I think they need to be pushed,” Graham said.
The White House did not respond to phone calls or detailed requests for comment emailed over two days.
What’s needed now, Graham said, is an effort by federal investigators to determine whether the hijackers had Saudi “overseers” in other locations that they are known to have frequented during the run up to the attacks, including New Jersey and South Florida.
“We need to be looking in the places in Southeast Florida where they actually lived and used as a base of operations – Palm Beach, Broward and Dade counties. For instance, one or more of the hijackers used that big Air Bus simulator on Northwest 36th Street across the street from Miami International Airport,” he said.
Graham, a former Florida governor, said “there needs to be a sense of urgency” in any renewed investigation into possible Saudi complicity.
“If they provided this kind of support for an operation in 2001, do they have the same capability to do it in 2011?” he said.
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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