Feds investigating possible terrorist-attack links in Florida

By Ken Thomas

Associated Press

MIAMI – A Florida man says FBI agents told him that two men who stayed with him while getting flight training last year were involved in Tuesday’s attacks on the World Trade Center.

Charlie Voss, a former employee at Huffman Aviation in Venice, said FBI agents who interviewed him at his home told him that authorities found a car at Boston’s Logan Airport registered to the two men.

“They informed us individuals who had crossed our path were involved yesterday with the airplane in the tragedy at the World Trade Center,” Voss said.

Voss said one of men who stayed at the house in July 2000 was named Mohamed Atta. He said he knew the other man only by the name of Marwan.

Shortly after 12:30 a.m. Wednesday, the FBI in Miami issued a national bulletin for law enforcement agencies to be on the lookout for two cars. The bulletin did not mention whether the vehicles were linked to Tuesday’s attacks.

Records with the Florida Division of Motor Vehicles show that one of the vehicles the FBI was pursuing – a 1989 red Pontiac – was registered to Atta. Atta, 33, previously had a drivers license in Egypt, state records show.

In Coral Springs, witnesses said about 50 FBI agents and police officers Tuesday night blanketed the apartment complex that Atta had listed with the motor vehicle division as his last address. Officers interviewed neighbors and showed a black-and-white mug-style photograph with the name Mohamed at the bottom.

About 90 miles away in Vero Beach, two sheriffs cars and several unmarked cars surrounded a house and the street leading to the house was cordoned with yellow police tape.

Michael Terrell, who lives next door and rents from the same landlord, said the landlord told him the family who lived there had moved to Vero Beach to attend the Flight Safety Academy. The family had lived there for six to eight months, he said.

FBI agents knocked on his door around 7:30 a.m. and asked if he had ever talked with the neighbors, Terrell said.

In Hollywood, Shuckums restaurant manager Tony Amos said FBI agents showed photos of two men to restaurant employees Tuesday night. The photos had signatures on the bottom, Amos said. He said he identified the photo of a man whose first name was signed Mohamed.

Amos said the two men had each consumed several drinks Friday night and had given the bartender a hard time. Mohamed told Amos he was a pilot.

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

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.”

Agents were conducting interviews and sought search warrants in southern Florida and in Daytona Beach in central Florida amid evidence that suspected terrorist sympathizers were operating in the area, officials said.

“We are covering leads all over the country and this is one of the many we are covering,” said Brian Kensel, an FBI spokesman in Tampa.

In Venice, Voss said the two men said they had just arrived from Germany and wanted to take flight training at Huffman Aviation, where Voss worked for more than 13 years. He no longer is with the company.

The houseguests took flight training on small planes at Venice Municipal Airport, about 60 miles south of Tampa. Voss said the men were asked to leave their home after a week when the couple grew uncomfortable with them.

Voss said he wasn’t involved with their training. The company offers training in light, single-engine aircraft like Cessnas and Pipers but no commercial aircraft.

Rudy Dekkers, president and owner of Huffman Aviation, said the FBI was looking at student records at the flight school, including copies of passports from the men.

Kensel of the FBI could not confirm whether a search was conducted in Venice.

Officials at Embry-Riddle, the world’s largest university specializing in aviation, would not confirm if the FBI had contacted the school.

Spokeswoman Lisa Ledewitz said one out of every four commercial airline pilots was trained at Embry-Riddle. Students train in single-engine planes and until last December the school used a Boeing 737 simulator.

“We are suffering like the rest of the country,” Ledewitz said. She said all international students who enroll in the pilot program have to receive prior approval from the U.S. State Department.

The FBI executed search warrants in Davie in Broward County north of the Miami area, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel of Fort Lauderdale reported, quoting Miami FBI spokesman Judy Orihuela. Orihuela declined comment Wednesday.

Hollywood Police Detective Carlos Negron said Wednesday that the department was helping the FBI in an investigation in Broward and declined further comment.

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

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