Abdulazzi al-Hiijjii (maybe Abdulaziz) and his wife Anoud lived in a Sarasota, Florida house owned by her father, Esam Ghazzawi until they the three fled back to Saudia Arabia two weeks before the 9/11/01 attacks. The house, located in the gated-community of Prestancia, was left with three vehicles in the garage and driveway – each recently registered. Fruit was left on the counter top, food in the fridge and toys in the pool. Larry Berberich, a senior administrator and security office at Prestancia reported strange events connected to the family, including visits and phone calls from 9/11 attackers to al-Hiijjii. The report prompted an investigation that was never reported to Congress.
The day of the attacks President George Bush was visiting a Sarasota school. Larry Berberich was with the Sarasota County sheriff’s contingent that day. He alerted the sheriff to suspicions he had when the news of the attacks broke. A neighbor of al-Hiijjii sent a email to the FBI on the day of the attacks. FBI agents showed up immediately and asked for financial information on the property at 4224 Escondito Circle in Prestancia.
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.”
“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…
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 just 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, Fla., 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, Berberich said. 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.
The al-Hiijjiis fled the U.S. from Arlington, Virginia with Esram Ghazzawi departing Dulles and Heathrow to Riyadh. Ghazzawi was on an FBI watch list. His wife Deborah is American-born, and there is no news that she left has left the U.S., but both had postal records in Saudi Arabia. Ghazzawi reportedly owned or owns many properties in the U.S.
The FBI later tried to get Ghazzawi back to the U.S. for the sale of the Sarasota property. That didn’t work. He had papers notarized in Riyhad, but his wife’s signature was notarized in Riverside Country California in 2003. When did she leave the U.S.? Did the FBI care? There is a Deborah Ghazzawi on Twitter as dgcupcake, and there is at least one Saudi connection follower there. There is a Deborah Ghazzawi announcing the opening of a nail salon and spa in al-Khobar, one of the couple’s postal locations, in 2006. Phil Warner has more on differing social security numbers, name spellings and birth dates.
The fact is the Bush administration is believed to have covered up the investigation, bypassing Congress to keep from embarrassing Saudi Arabia or because Saudi warned him to not pursue it. Scary to think about.
Much of the information on this house, the residents, the owners and the investigation has been chronicled and reported by Dan Christensen at the BrowardBulldog, ending with this latest news: the FBI says neither the Hiijjiis nor the Ghazzawis have a connection to the 9/11/01 terrorist attacks.