Knight Ridder/ Tribune News Service article for the Miami Herald, September 14, 2001
Wanda deMarzo, David Kidwell, Alfonso Chardy and Curtis Morgan
MIAMI _ South Florida may have been an epicenter of the terrorist conspiracy, with at least 13 of the 19 hijack suspects linked to homes or flight training schools here.
A list of the hijacking suspects released Friday by the FBI indicated that seven may have ties to Delray Beach. The list also included five men already publicly identified as hijackers. In addition, The Herald tied a 13th suspect to Lauderdale by the Sea.
The men hopscotched through South Florida homes and motels, and many got flight training in the region's flight schools, interviews and records show.
Another common link:
At least five of the suspected hijackers apparently came to Florida from Germany, possibly the city of Hamburg, which Islamic extremist groups are known to favor.
One of the new figures emerging in the terrorist plot, Ziad Jarrahi, rented an apartment in Lauderdale by the Sea for two months this summer, the owner said. Landlord Charles Lisa said Jarrahi and another hijacking suspect who shared the apartment, Ahmed Alhaznawi, both provided German passports as proof of identity.
Lisa said both told him they were taking flying lessons in the area.
The FBI said both died in the crash of United Airlines Flight 93 in rural Pennsylvania.
"Ahmed spelled his name a little different than what was on the manifest, but it's definitely him, and Ziad went by the name of Jarrahi Ziad," Lisa said Friday, a day after the FBI searched the apartment.
Federal Aviation Administration records show a pilot's certificate in the name of Ziad Jarrah with a Hamburg, Germany, address.
Two other central suspects from Florida, Mohamed Atta and Marwan Alshehhi, were once enrolled at a university in Hamburg. And they shared an apartment with a third man _ Waleed Al Shehri _ who was also among the dead hijacking suspects. Al Shehri graduated from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach in 1997 and is listed as having a commercial pilot's certificate.
The Hamburg connection has drawn particular interest because German authorities believe it to be a European base for the organization of Osama bin Laden, the Saudi whom U.S. authorities say is their prime suspect in the attacks. German counter-terrorism officials say they are keeping track of more than 1,000 Arab extremists in Hamburg.
In Hamburg, Atta studied town planning and civil engineering for almost nine years. Alshehhi was enrolled for just one year and may not have attended classes.
Public records indicate they arrived in Florida during the past year. Both attended various flight schools. They bounced around cheap rooms in Coral Springs and Hollywood. Alshehhi had a commercial pilot's certificate. It wasn't known whether Atta had one.
Germany's top prosecutor, Kay Nehmn, said Atta and Alshehhi organized a terrorist group in Hamburg committed to attacking important American targets.
The other suspects with South Florida ties are: Wail Alshehri; Abdulaziz Alomari; Fayez Ahmed; Ahmed Alghamdi; Hamza Alghamdi; Mohald Alshehri; Saeed Alghamdi and Ahmed Alnami.
The FBI also named: Khalid Al-Midhar; Majed Moged; Nawaq Alhamzi; Salem Slhamzi; Salem Alhamzi; Hani Hanjour and Satam Al Suqami.
U.S. investigators say they are having difficulty pinpointing all of their movements because of differences in spelling the Arabic names. Many of the suspects also likely used assumed identities or varying versions of their names to keep authorities off their track, they said.
"This was well thought-out and planned to avoid detection, to not raise a red flag," a law enforcement source said.
Investigators suspect that documents used by the Florida-linked hijackers to enter the United States and enroll in flight schools were obtained using false identities at U.S. consulates.
The assumed identities could complicate the U.S. investigation of possible terrorist affiliations.
However, agents said Friday they were quickly building an "extensive" profile of the 13 hijackers who spent time in Florida.
"Although they paid nearly everything in cash, we're finding there is a good paper trial," said one investigator familiar with the probe.
In a news conference Friday, FBI Director Robert Mueller sidestepped a question over whether Delray Beach and Hollywood, the two most common addresses on the suspects list, served as a base of operations for the plotters.
"All I can say, that there are a number of places in the country, without specifying any particular place, where we have conducted a number of interviews and executed several search warrants," he said.
But investigators were clearly focusing a significant portion of their effort in South Florida, where they continued serving search warrants on Friday and pursuing leads that sources said numbered around 1,000.
Agents believe the suspected hijackers had help from local sympathizers who provided money and other support to the plot.
"They clearly got some help or at least they had sympathizers here," a law enforcement source said. "That's common sense."
Investigators have compiled a growing list of cellphone records, which could soon provide a chronology of how the suspected hijackers plotted Tuesday's attacks. Investigators want to know everyone the suspects talked to in the time leading up to the attacks.
The investigators were also building a list of pilots from the different flight schools, including FlightSafety, in Vero Beach, where some suspects had trained.
The investigators may have gotten a break from Lisa, the Lauderdale by the Sea landlord. He said he was able to provide the FBI with photocopies of Jarrahi and Alhaznawi's German passports.
The agents seized a green notebook, a videotape, a napkin with Arabic writing on it, several Arabic newspapers that were stuffed between the mattress and the boxsprings and a greeting card, property receipts show.
Lisa said he never suspected anything was amiss with his tenants, who rented a small apartment attached to his home from early July to the end of August. He said Jarrahi told him he had moved to Germany from Lebanon several years ago with his father, an engineer working in Germany.
"They said they were pilots taking flying lessons at one of the airports around here," said Lisa, 64. "They had quite a few visitors who used to walk up to the apartment.
Lisa said he liked his tenants.
"They seemed like the kind of young men you would take to a baseball game," Lisa said. "Very polite, friendly, nice. It's hard to believe they would do something like this.
"When they left I asked them for a forwarding address," Lisa said. "But Ahmed just smiled at me and said, `I'll send you a postcard.' "