A Saudi family who “fled” their Sarasota area home weeks before 9/11 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, Fla., 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 a field 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. It also adds to concerns raised by official investigations but never fully explored, that the full truth about Saudi Arabia and the 9/11 attacks has not yet been told.
National security and other reasons are cited for numerous additional deletions scattered across the 31 released pages. Four more pages were withheld in their entirety.
The records cast new light on one of the remaining unresolved mysteries regarding Florida’s many connections to the 9/11 attacks: What went on before the attacks at 4224 Escondito Cir., the home of Abdulaziz al-Hijji and his family?
The documents are the first released by the FBI about its once-secret probe in Sarasota. Information contained in the documents flatly contradicts prior statements by FBI agents in Miami and Tampa who have said the investigation found no evidence connecting the al-Hijjis to the hijackers or the 9/11 plot.
Details about the al-Hijji 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 9/11 attacks, to the al-Hijjis’ sudden departure in late August 2001. The family left behind three cars, clothes, furniture, diapers, toys, food 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 the 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 the 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.