“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 entirely.
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.
Thomas Julin, the news site’s attorney, called the FBI’s release of records that it had previously determined to be exempt from disclosure “highly unusual.”
“The government initially took the position that it had no documents. It hasn’t explained why things changed,” said Julin, of the Miami law firm Hunton & Williams.
Miami Assistant U.S. Attorney Carole Fernandez, who represents the FBI, declined comment.
The released FBI records are in two tiers: reports and other material written in 2001-2002, and memos, letters and email that followed publication of the first story about the matter in September 2011.
A number of pages recount information provided to the FBI by mail carriers and others, including a Sept. 18, 2001, observation that the al-Hijji family appeared to have “left in a hurry.”
A Sept. 25, 2001, report talks of bank records that agents had obtained. The report was referred to the counterterrorism division’s Usama Bin Laden Unit/Radical Fundamentalist Unit.
One of the reports written in September 2011, after the existence of the Sarasota investigation was revealed, discusses briefly the unnamed “family member” who took flight lessons at Huffman Aviation.
The family member “was interviewed multiple times after 9/11 and identified Atta and al-Shehhi as individuals [phrase deleted] flight training at Huffman. However, investigation did not reveal any other connection between [name deleted] and the hijackers and the 9/11 plot,” the report says.
FBI reports about those interviews were not made public.
Al-Hijji, who following 9/11 worked for the Saudi oil company Aramco in England, could not be reached by phone or email last week. Aramco staff said there was no longer anyone by that name in the London office.