Just two weeks before the 9/11 hijackers slammed into the Pentagon and World Trade Center, members of a Saudi family abruptly vacated their luxury home near Sarasota, Fla., leaving a brand new car in the driveway, a refrigerator full of food, fruit on the counter — and an open safe in a master bedroom.
In the weeks to follow, law enforcement agents not only discovered the home was visited by vehicles used by the hijackers, but also phone calls were linked between the home and those who carried out the death flights — including leader Mohamed Atta — in discoveries never before revealed to the public.
Ten years after the deadliest attack of terrorism on U.S. soil, new information has emerged that shows the FBI found troubling ties between the hijackers and residents in the upscale community in southwest Florida, but the investigation wasn't reported to Congress or mentioned in the 9/11 Commission Report.
Former U.S. Sen. Bob Graham, the Florida Democrat who co-chaired the congressional Joint Inquiry into the attacks, said he should have been told about the findings, saying it "opens the door to a new chapter of investigation as to the depth of the Saudi role in 9/11. ... No information relative to the named people in Sarasota was disclosed."
The U.S. Justice Department, the lead agency that investigated the attacks, refused to comment, saying it will discuss only information already released.
The Saudi residents then living at the stylish home, Abdulazzi al-Hiijjii and his wife, Anoud, could not be reached, nor could the then-owner of the house, Esam Ghazzawi, who is Anoud's father. The house was sold in 2003, records show.
For Graham, the connections between the hijackers and residents raise questions about whether other Saudi nationals in Florida knew of the impending attacks, which killed nearly 3,000 people.
The FBI investigation began the month after 9/11 when Larry Berberich, senior administrator and security officer of the gated community known as Prestancia, reported a bizarre event that took place two weeks before the hijackings of four passenger jets that originated in Boston, Newark and Washington.
The couple, living with their small children at the three-bedroom house at 4224 Escondito Circle, had left in a hurry in a white van, probably on Aug. 30.
They abandoned three recently registered vehicles, including a brand-new Chrysler PT Cruiser, in the garage and driveway.