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AMERICA ATTACKED: THE INVESTIGATION

'Acts Of War'

Bush Vows Full Assault, Says 'Good Will Prevail'; Probe Finds Some Attackers Trained as Pilots in U.S.

Investigators Identify 50 Terrorists Tied to Plot

Inquiry: Agents scouring the East Coast reportedly find suicide notes that some of the hijackers wrote for their parents.

September 13, 2001|WILLIAM C. REMPEL and RICHARD A. SERRANO | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

The Huffman school is about 25 years old and handles about 800 students a year. It is a small building on the edge of the Venice airport, and 75% to 80% of his students are foreigners who come to the United States to learn flying because it costs less.

Dekkers said that his school trains fliers for single- or small-engine aircraft and that the two men needed such a certificate to qualify for training to fly jets.

He said he was told that the two men went on to a jet school in Pompano Beach, Fla.

Dekkers described one of the students as "a big, chubby guy and a likable person." Now, realizing that two of the hijackers may have passed through his school, Dekkers said, "I feel terrible. I feel worse than anyone."

Charles Voss, the school bookkeeper, and his wife, Dru, took the two men in as boarders in their south Venice home for a couple weeks in July.

Dru Voss said the men appeared to be in their 30s and were very secretive, claiming to be from Germany. She said that she and her husband eventually evicted them because they were unkempt and did not keep their bedroom clean.

"I didn't really care for their attitude," she said. "Their personality was nothing to care for. They kept to themselves."

She said they often would step out of the shower and shake their hair dry throughout the house.

Alluding to Tuesday's tragedy, she added: "Do I feel bad? Do I ever."

Det. Sgt. Mike Treanor of the Venice Police Department said that FBI agents had obtained the two suspects' school records from the Huffman school and the Voss home and identified them as two of the men who agents believe flew the hijacked jets.

"This one man, Atta," said Treanor, "was confirmed on one of the planes that hit the towers."

It remained unclear how or when the men arrived in this country, but Treanor said that they appeared to have the proper papers when they enrolled at the Huffman school.

"They had to show them work visas and passports and all the proper ID," Treanor said, "and they had all that."

Treanor added that FBI agents were drawn to Venice after finding the Arabic language flight manual in a car at the Boston airport.

Officer Chuck Lesaltato of the Sarasota County Sheriff's Office said that the car in Boston also had registration papers that listed a Venice, Fla., address. Local and federal authorities said that, while the flight schools in Florida often are filled with foreign students, there is no requirement for background checks.

One senior FBI official in Washington complained that "there are lots of flight schools out there. You don't have to be accredited to fly, and they don't do any background checks on people who want to learn how to fly."

Federal agents conducted additional searches across Florida. Search warrants were served on four homes in Davie and an apartment in Coral Springs, and workers at a restaurant in Hollywood were also interviewed.

In Vero Beach, dozens of FBI agents questioned neighbors about several Middle Eastern men who were reportedly taking classes at the nearby flight school.

Eight agents showed up at Hank Habora's house Wednesday morning and questioned him about his next-door neighbor. "They gave me a photo and asked if this was the guy, and I said yes."

Habora said he knew the man as "John." FAA records show that a Saudi Arabian flight engineer named Amer Mohammed Kamfar listed the address as his home.

The man lived in the house with his wife and four children from February until two or three weeks ago, when he "left in a hurry" in a green van, Habora said.

"They took all of the stuff they had and put it out by the trash: clothes, furniture, pots and pans, Tupperware," he said.

He said the man often wore the uniform of student pilots at nearby FlightSafety, a school that frequently trains foreign pilots on jumbo jets.

Habora, 55, said he wasn't surprised when the FBI agents knocked at his door Wednesday because he had phoned the bureau earlier to report his suspicions.

"They were good neighbors as far as neighbors go," he said. "They were quiet. They kept the lawn mowed. They put the garbage out when it was needed to be put out."

About eight miles away, FBI agents questioned Kenneth Reams about two Middle Eastern families who lived on his Vero Beach street. More than a dozen police cars lined the street all day.

"My wife thought they were gone," said Reams, 72. "She hasn't seen the children in weeks."

Reams said the men who lived in the two houses also were taking classes at FlightSafety.

The men had been renting the houses for more than a year, Reams said, living there with their wives and children. "They seemed to be nice."

The owner of one of the houses, Llonald Mixell, said the tenant moved out with his wife and at least three children a week before the hijackings. Mixell said the tenant, whose name he refused to divulge, was a commercial pilot from Saudi Arabia who was getting advanced training at FlightSafety. FBI agents also questioned Mixell on Wednesday.

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