The Mysterious Saudi Family That Vanished Two Weeks Before 9/11

Did you know that a Saudi family living in Sarasota, Fla., that met with 9/11 mastermind Mohammed Atta disappeared without a trace—leaving behind their cars, food, and furniture—two weeks before the attacks? Neither did Congress, or the 9/11 Commission! The FBI didn't think to tell them.

It's amazing what stuff starts coming out ten years later. You'd think that 9/11 was one of the most picked-over events in history, with thousands of journalists, intelligence agents, and investigators poring over every aspect of the attacks. Not really! Some recorded radio communications from that day are just coming to light now. And today we learn that a Saudi family that actually met with Atta up and disappeared without a trace just days before the attacks, something that the FBI investigated but never bothered to tell Congress or the 9/11 Commission. Writing for the Miami Herald, Anthony Summers and Dan Christensen report:

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....

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....

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."

Big deal, right? Who cares if some Saudi citizens happened to decide to go home, or move somewhere else, in late August 2001? Well, their neighbors found it suspicious, and one of them called the FBI on the day of the attacks to report the departure. And it turns out the couple, Anoud and Abdulazzi al-Hiijjii, had ties to the 9/11 hijackers.

[A] 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....

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.

OK, you're saying, sure: A "link analysis" connects them to the hijackers. But the FBI can link Atta to Rabbi Shmuley Boteach if it wants to. So they called someone who called someone who called a hijacker. What does that prove?

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.

So there you have it: The FBI had photos of Mohammed Atta's car driving to visit a Saudi family that suddenly disappeared mysteriously just days before Atta executed the most deadly terrorist attack in U.S. history and the bureau never told anyone about it. Totally unrelated: The only major redaction in the 9/11 Commission report was a 28-page section spelling out connections between the hijackers and Saudi elites. I can't wait until the 20th anniversary, when we'll get to find out more. Happy 9/11 Day!