Agents focus on Fla. resort

Neighbors report late-night visitors who spoke Arabic

FBI eyes link to terrorists

Terrorism Strikes America

The Nation

September 17, 2001|By Laura Sullivan | Laura Sullivan,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

VERO BEACH, Fla. -- For more than a year in this resort community, maroon and green minivans came and went at a yellow one-story house in the 600 block of 26th Ave., shuttling around a stream of Arabic-speaking people who visited late at night, and unloading computers and mattresses.

Similar activities took place at two houses on the other side of town, as concerned neighbors wondered what was going on. Meetings often lasted until 1 a.m. or later, and the vans clogged the parking places along the otherwise quiet streets.

Three weeks ago, the inhabitants of the latter two houses disappeared in their vans, leaving piles of household goods on the curb and lots of mattresses inside.

As the FBI combs the country for confederates of the men who carried out the attacks Tuesday on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, agents have paid especially close attention to these houses. They are the last known addresses of several men who appear on a confidential list of 52 names that the Federal Aviation Administration distributed to airlines on Thursday at the behest of the FBI.

The security directive warns that those on the list "may be associated with terrorist activity" and tells the airlines to "immediately notify the FBI" should any of the men try to board a plane.

At least one of the people on the list, Adnan Bokhari, a pilot trainee from Saudi Arabia who lives in Vero Beach, has been cleared of any ties to the hijacking and is described as cooperating with the FBI inquiry. Agents took him to Miami, questioned him extensively and administered a polygraph test, which he passed.

The Vero Beach connection

But the list of names includes 12 that match those of suspected hijackers, one of whom lived in recent years in Vero Beach in a second-floor dormitory room at FlightSafety Academy, which trains commercial pilots.

Down a dank hallway is Room 209, yellowed from cigarette smoke and crammed with worn couches crowded around a coffee table. Public records indicate that this is where the suspected hijacker Saeed Alghamdi lived. His Dodge Intrepid was registered to the three-person communal room in 1999.

A year and a half later in Newark, N.J., he boarded United Airlines Flight 93, which was hijacked and crashed into a field in western Pennsylvania.

Abdulaziz Alomari, an alleged hijacker on American Airlines Flight 11, which crashed into the World Trade Center, also is believed to have spent time in Vero Beach.

Of the remaining 40 names on the security directive, more than half listed addresses in Vero Beach. From the questions agents have been asking landlords and neighbors, the FBI appears to be looking for many of them.

Two of those sought for questioning, Ryani Al Khoster and Majid Alotaibi, listed addresses in the same dorm room at the FlightSafety Academy as Alghamdi.

Comings and goings

The man who lived in the yellow house is Mohammad A. Shabouni, another name on the list. A pilot from Saudi Arabia, he moved in two years ago with several children, telling his landlord and neighbors he would soon be bringing his wife.

A neighbor, John Call, remembers seeing her only once, when she came to visit for a few days. Shabouni later told him his wife, an American, returned to Portland, Ore., to live with her mother.

Call remembers men coming and going frequently in minivans, and thought Shabouni was a spiritual leader or flight instructor because of the way others deferred to him.

"People were always around until all hours," Call said. "The only thing they ever moved in and out of the place was computers and mattresses. I mean, not a rocking chair, a hutch or a box of plates."

When Shabouni, whom Call describes as friendly and polite, moved out about nine months ago, the landlord was dismayed to find almost a dozen mattresses left in the house.

She was more perplexed when another neighborhood landlord knocked on her door three months ago and said that a silver Mercury Sable registered to Shabouni had been abandoned outside one of his properties. He had traced the tags to her house, and wondered why it had been left there.

The landlord, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said she had no forwarding address for Shabouni, so the car was eventually towed by the county.

Besides renting from her, Shabouni patronized her car repair shop and referred friends there. According to shop records, two of those friends were Khalid Ad Khorayef and Abdul Lutai Chalam. They are also on the list.

Chalam's last address was in the 1400 block of 33rd Ave. Neighbor Nicholas Phillips said Chalam moved out last fall, about the time Shabouni left. The current tenant said the FBI came by several days ago, questioned him and told him not to talk to anyone.

Like most people on the list, Chalam and Ad Khorayef had cell phones with AT&T, which no longer work, and e-mail accounts on AOL.

On Monday, they were gone

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