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U.S. Rep. Castor calls for investigation of 9/11 Sarasota connection; Graham prods White House

By Dan Christensen, BrowardBulldog.org

U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor

Tampa Congresswoman Kathy Castor Monday called on the House Intelligence Committee to investigate why the FBI did not disclose to Congress information it learned about a Saudi couple living in southwest Florida with ties to the 9/11 hijackers.

The Saudis came to the FBI’s attention after neighbors reported they’d suddenly fled their home near Sarasota two weeks before the 2001 terrorist attacks.

“One of the great criticisms of the pre-9/11 intelligence operations,” Castor wrote in her letter to the committee’s two senior members, “was the lack of cooperation and information sharing among agencies.”

Castor’s district includes Sarasota.

“I encourage you to investigate the matter and determine exactly what was investigated and reported to Congress in 2001 and during the years of inquiry thereafter regarding these individuals,” she wrote.

The letter was sent to Committee Chairman Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Michigan and ranking Democrat Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger of Maryland.

The existence of the FBI’s investigation into what went on at the three-bedroom luxury home at 4224 Escondito Circle in a gated-community near Sarasota was disclosed in simultaneous reports in Broward Bulldog and The Miami Herald on Thursday.

Former Florida Senator Bob Graham, the Florida Democrat who co-chaired a bipartisan Joint Inquiry into the attacks, said the FBI never disclosed that probe to Congress, but should have. He said the news about Sarasota “opens the door to a new chapter of investigation as to the depth of the Saudi role in 9/11.”

The FBI’s Miami office released a brief statement Friday confirming the investigation, and stating that no relation to the events of 9/11 was found. The statement provided no details, but added that  the bureau had disclosed to Congress everything it knew about 9/11. Graham later called that assertion “total B.S.”

On Monday afternoon, in an appearance on the Dylan Ratigan Show on MSNBC Graham announced that he spoke with President Obama’s counterterrorism advisor.

“I laid out what we now know about what occurred in Sarasota and urged him to pursue an investigation in this matter, both in Sarasota and elsewhere,” Graham said.

In an earlier in interview with Broward Bulldog, Graham said he intended to specifically alert Obama’s top counter terrorism advisor, John Brennan.

The home the agents raided in October 2001 when it was owned by a Saudi couple, Esam Ghazzawi and his American born wife, Deborah. The residents were their daughter, Anoud, and her husband Abdulazzi al-Hiijjii. The house was sold in 2003, records show.

Two weeks before the 9/11 hijackers slammed into the Pentagon and World Trade Center, the al-Hiijjii’s hurriedly left their luxury home – leaving behind a brand new car in the driveway, a house full of furniture, a refrigerator full of food, clothes in the closet — and an open, empty safe in the master bedroom.

A security administrator for the Prestancia development, Larry Berberich, and a counterterrorism agent said that checks of license plates and phone records linked 9/11 hijackers, including leader Mohamed Atta.

On Monday, Graham told a nationwide audience that the FBI also did not disclose to the Joint Inquiry information about another pre-9/11 incident involving local Saudi support for a pair of Saudi-born hijackers – Khalid al-Mihdar and Nawaf al-Hazmi – in San Diego, Ca.

“It was not because the FBI gave us the information. We had a very curious and effective investigator who found out,” Graham said.

The Joint Inquiry report and the 9/11 Commission report describe how Omar al-Bayoumi, who Graham said the FBI had labeled a Saudi “agent,” provided extensive assistance to the hijackers, including flight training. The Joint Inquiry report says al-Bayoumi had access to “seemingly unlimited funding from Saudi Arabia” and that “one of the FBI’s best sources in San Diego” reported that he thought al-Bayoumi was an intelligence officer for Saudi Arabia or another foreign power. The report said the FBI also had determined that al-Bayoumi “has connections to terrorist elements.”

Graham said President Obama must find out what the FBI know about possible support contacts between Saudis and the 19 hijackers in other places they operated, including Phoenix, Az; Arlington, Va., Paterson, N.J. and South Florida. Fifteen of the 19 hijackers were citizens of Saudi Arabia.

“What was happening in those places?” Graham said. “I believe these are questions for which there are definitive answers, and that we have been denied that information.”

 

 

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