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Hijackers traced to huffman aviation { September 12 2001 }

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Feds investigatie links in Florida

September 12, 2001


MIAMI -- Two men who came to Florida for flight training school a year ago emerged as suspects Wednesday in the FBI investigation into the terror attacks in New York and Washington.

Charlie Voss, a former employee at Huffman Aviation in Venice, said FBI agents told him the two were involved in Tuesday's airplane attack of the World Trade Center. The men had stayed briefly with Voss while attending flight school in July 2000.

Voss said one of men was named Mohamed Atta. Azzan Ali, a student at Huffman Aviation, identified the second man as Marwan Alshehhi.

Voss said FBI agents told him authorities found a car at Boston's Logan Airport registered to two men who were once students at the Huffman school in Venice, about 60 miles south of Tampa. The two jetliners that crashed into the World Trade Center were hijacked after leaving Boston.

Voss said the men said they had just arrived from Germany and wanted flight instruction at Huffman, which offers training in light, single-engine aircraft but not commercial jetliners. Rudy Dekkers, Huffman's president and owner, said the two attended the school for about five months beginning in July 2000, then left to train elsewhere.

Ali said the friends referred to each other as "cousin," keeping a low profile at the school while planning to fly corporate jets in the United Arab Emirates.

"They didn't talk to anyone about anything at all," Ali said.

Kathern Lewis, who lives at the rental house that Alshehhi listed as his address in Nokomis, north of Venice, said FBI agents knocked on her door asking about former residents. "The only thing I said to them was, 'Do you guys have any ideas who did this?' The guy said 'yes."'

Records with the Florida Division of Motor Vehicles show that one vehicle being pursued by the FBI--a 1989 red Pontiac--was registered to Atta, 33, who previously had a driver's license in Egypt.

More than 400 agents in Florida were working on the investigation and leads were "coming in fast and furious," Miami FBI spokeswoman Judy Orihuela said.

FBI agents also removed student files from the Florida Flight Training Center, which is down the street from Huffman Aviation and offers the same type of pilot training. Owner Arne Kruithof would say only that one of the files was related to a student from Tunisia.

In Coral Springs, witnesses said about 50 FBI agents and police officers Tuesday night blanketed the apartment complex that Atta had listed on his Florida driver's license. Officers interviewed neighbors and showed a photograph bearing the name Mohamed.

Agents showed employees at a Hollywood restaurant, Shuckums, photos of two men Tuesday night. Manager Tony Amos said he identified a man in a photo bearing the name Mohamed.

Amos said that man and two others had each consumed several drinks Friday night and Mohamed told Amos he was a pilot.

"The guy Mohamed was drunk, his voice was slurred and he had a thick accent," Amos said Wednesday.

Bartender Patricia Idrissi said the men argued over the bill, and when she asked if there was a problem, "Mohamed said he worked for American Airlines and he could pay his bill." An American spokeswoman did not return a call seeking comment.

FBI agents also searched a Hollywood apartment and took out "bags of items," said Lynn DeLano, the property owner. She had no details.

Atta received a ticket on April 26 in Broward County for failure to provide his driver's license earlier this year. His license was suspended indefinitely Aug. 23 when he failed to appear in traffic court.

The investigation turned elsewhere in Florida. In Vero Beach, about 70 miles north of West Palm Beach, FBI agents searched four homes in three neighborhoods.

Agents asked Hank Habora about a neighbor, Amer Kamfar, 41.

Kamfar was licensed as a flight engineer to fly turbojets and listed a Saudi Airlines post office box as his address in FAA records. Habora said the family moved into the house in February and moved out abruptly in recent days.

"They threw out everything they had--clothes, dishes," Habora said.

His neighbor told him his name was John and that he wore a pilot's uniform similar to those worn at Flight Safety Academy, which trains commercial jet crews.

In another neighborhood, agents searched two houses next door to each other, leaving with several garbage bags of evidence and towing away two cars. Neighbor Everett Tripp said a Middle Eastern family with four children moved out of one of the homes last weekend.

Landlord Paul Stimelind identified the tenant in the other home as Adnan Bukhari, who said he worked for Saudi Airlines and was training at Flight Safety Academy. Bukhari arrived with family in June 2000 and planned to move out in mid-August, Stimelind said.

In Daytona Beach in central Florida, officials at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, the world's largest university specializing in aviation, said they were working with the FBI but would not discuss specifics.

Copyright 2001 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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