Just 15 days before the 9/11 attacks, a well-connected Saudi family suddenly abandoned their luxury home in Sarasota, Fla., leaving behind jewelry, clothes, opulent furniture, a driveway full of cars — including a brand new Chrysler PT Cruiser — and even a refrigerator full of food.
About the only thing not left behind was a forwarding address. The occupants simply vanished without notifying their neighbors, realtor or even mail carrier.
The 3,300-square-foot home on Escondito Circle belonged to Esam Ghazzawi, a Saudi adviser to the nephew of then-King Fahd. But at the time, it was occupied by his daughter and son-in-law, who beat a hasty retreat back to Saudi Arabia just two weeks before the attacks after nearly a six-year stay here.
Neighbors took note of the troubling coincidence and called the FBI, which opened an investigation that led to the startling discovery that at least one “family member” trained at the same flight school as some of the 9/11 hijackers in nearby Venice, Fla.
The investigation into the prominent Saudi family’s ties to the hijackers started on Sept. 19, 2001, and remained active for several years. It was led by the FBI’s Tampa field office but also involved the bureau’s field offices in New York and Washington, and also the Southwest Florida Domestic Security Task Force.
Agents identified persons of interest in the case, establishing their ties to other terrorists, sympathies with Osama bin Laden and anti-American remarks. They looked into their bank accounts, colleges and places of employment. They tracked at least one suspect’s re-entry into the US.
The Saudi-9/11 connection in Florida was no small part of the overall 9/11 investigation. Yet it was never shared with Congress. Nor was it mentioned in the 9/11 Commission Report.
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