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Context of '(February-April 2001): Hijacker Atta Possibly Has American Girlfriend; Several Witnesses Confirm Story, Though Supposed Girlfriend Later Denies the Connection'

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Huffman Aviation logo.Huffman Aviation logo. [Source: Huffman Aviation]9/11 hijackers Marwan Alshehhi and Mohamed Atta attend Huffman Aviation, a flight school in Venice, Florida and enroll in its Accelerated Pilot Program, aiming to get commercial pilot licenses. According to the school’s owner Rudi Dekkers, Atta already has a private pilot’s license—though where and how he gained this is unstated—and wants to obtain a commercial license. Alshehhi wants to obtain both licenses. They begin their training in a Cessna 172 with instructor Thierry Leklou. According to the 9/11 Commission, by the end of July both are already taking solo flights. However, in August Leklou complains to Chief Flight Instructor Daniel Pursell that the two are failing to follow instructions and have bad attitudes. Pursell considers expelling them, but, according to Dekkers, after a warning they improve their behavior and continue without further problems. [US Congress, 3/19/2002; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 224, 227; St. Petersburg Times, 7/25/2004] Yet Pursell later testifies that the school’s instructors breathed “a collective sigh of relief” when the two left Huffman. [Associated Press, 3/23/2006] Furthermore, reportedly, “Atta and al-Shehhi would rent a plane from Huffman and be gone for days at a time, Pursell said. They could fly to 20 airports across the state and never be noticed.” [St. Petersburg Times, 7/25/2004] Mark Mikarts, another of the school’s instructors, says Atta has “big problems with authority,” and doesn’t take instructions well. [Wall Street Journal, 9/17/2001; 9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004, pp. 17 pdf file] Susan Hall, Huffman’s office manager, refers to Atta as “the little terrorist” while he is at the school, because, she later says, “I just didn’t like the aura he gave off.” [Reuters, 3/22/2006] In the middle of their training, in late September, Atta and Alshehhi enroll at another flight school, in nearby Sarasota. However, they are soon asked to leave it, and return to Huffman in October (see Late September-Early October 2000). While Atta and Alshehhi attend Huffman Aviation, another of the alleged hijackers, Ziad Jarrah, is taking lessons at a flight school just down the road from them (see (June 28-December 2000)). Yet no reports describe the three ever meeting up while they are all in Venice. According to official accounts, Atta and Alshehhi complete their schooling at Huffman on December 19, 2000, when they take their commercial pilot license tests. Rudi Dekkers says that after returning to the school to settle their bills, they leave and are never seen there again. [US Congress, 3/19/2002; 9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004, pp. 17 pdf file] Yet Daniel Pursell will later allege that early in 2001 the two are still connected with Huffman, being reported to the school for practicing nighttime landings in one of its planes at another Florida airport (see Between January and February 2001).

Entity Tags: Huffman Aviation, Daniel Pursell, Susan Hall, Mohamed Atta, Thierry Leklou, Marwan Alshehhi

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

The Sandpiper Apartments.The Sandpiper Apartments. [Source: Patrick Durand / Corbis] (click image to enlarge)While attending Huffman Aviation flight school in Venice, Florida, 9/11 hijackers Mohamed Atta and Marwan Alshehhi share a two-bedroom, two-bathroom apartment with four other Middle Eastern flight school students in unit 26 of the Sandpiper Apartments, near the Venice airport. The apartment they are in is rented by the flight school, and then sublet to its students at a profit. After 9/11, Paula Grapentine, who along with her husband manages the apartments, will remember Atta being her former next-door neighbor. She recalls him being “very unfriendly,” and that he “treated women like they were under him.” She also recalls “a lot of visitors” at the apartment. As a consequence of the students’ unruly behavior, the Grapentines will subsequently stop renting to Huffman Aviation. Vicky Kyser, who owns the apartment complex, says the students smoke a strange tobacco, which smells like marijuana. Postal carrier Neil Patton also later recalls Atta and Alshehhi living in the apartment, and says Atta may have gone by the name Youseff. Patton stops delivering mail to them at the apartment on January 18, 2001, which he says suggests they moved out seven to ten days earlier. After 9/11, the Charlotte Sun will obtain a written list of names of individuals the FBI is pursuing: Gamil, Rami, Mukadam, Ibrahim and Mogadem. Patton confirms all these having been used by the students at the apartment. [Charlotte Sun, 9/14/2001; Charlotte Sun, 9/14/2001] No mention is made of this residence in official accounts, such as the 9/11 Commission Report. [US Congress, 9/26/2002; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 224-227] Over about the same period as they reportedly live in the Sandpiper Apartments, Atta and Alshehhi rent a house in nearby Nokomis, although their next-door neighbor there never sees them at the house (see (Mid-July - December 2000)).

Entity Tags: Marwan Alshehhi, Mohamed Atta

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Amanda Keller.Amanda Keller. [Source: Unknown]A man, possibly Mohamed Atta, stays for a time at the apartment of a 21-year-old blonde-haired pizza restaurant manager named Amanda Keller. Keller lives in the Sandpiper Apartments in Venice, Florida, the same complex in which Atta reportedly shared a (presumably) separate apartment with Marwan Alshehhi and four others months earlier (see (Mid-July 2000 - Early January 2001)). Stephanie Frederickson, a resident at the Sandpiper Apartments, later remembers Keller and Atta. She claims Keller moved in next door to her. She goes on to say, “Then one day in the middle of March she brought home Atta.” Her recollection of Atta mirrors that of others. She will call him “a really nasty guy,” and say that he “had no patience, and seemed mad at the world.” Charles Grapentine, the manager of the Sandpiper Apartments, later recalls seeing Atta at the complex for about three weeks in April, and confirms that he was living with Keller. Keller’s mother, Susan Payne, also meets Atta and later says, “I didn’t like him; he just seemed strange.” As well as his stay at the Sandpiper Apartments, the man, possibly Atta, briefly rents a home in North Port. Its owners, Tony and Vonnie LaConca, know him only as “Mohamed.” They will be questioned in the days after 9/11 by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE), and describe him as 25 years old, “very polite,” “very handsome,” and with “beautiful, unblemished skin.” From talking with “Mohamed” and Keller, the couple learns he is training for a commercial pilot’s license at Huffman Aviation, the Venice flight school attended by Atta in 2000 (see July 6-December 19, 2000). The Sarasota Herald-Tribune will claim that Keller’s companion is not Mohamed Atta, but another man of Middle Eastern descent who also took flying lessons in Venice. But authorities will refuse to reveal the full name of this “unidentified fifth man,” and investigators are reportedly unable to find him. [Charlotte Sun, 9/14/2001; Sarasota Herald-Tribune, 9/23/2001; Hopsicker, 2004, pp. 57, 60-65 and 76] According to official accounts, plus the testimony of Huffman Aviation’s owner Rudi Dekkers, Atta left the Venice flight school around the end of 2000, months before “Mohamed” stays in the apartment of Keller. [US Congress, 3/19/2002; US Congress, 9/26/2002; 9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004, pp. 17 pdf file] Investigative reporter Daniel Hopsicker later locates and interviews Amanda Keller, and she claims that the Middle Eastern man who was briefly her boyfriend was indeed Mohamed Atta (see March 2004). However, in 2006 she will retract this claim and say she lied to Hopsicker. She will say, “It was my bad for lying. I really didn’t think about it until after I did it.” [Sarasota Herald-Tribune, 9/10/2006] Keller, Charles Grapentine, and Stephanie Frederickson will all later allege that the FBI intimidated them after 9/11, and told them to keep quiet about what they knew (see (September 12, 2001-2002)).

Entity Tags: Stephanie Frederickson, Tony LaConca, Vonnie LaConca, Susan Payne, Daniel Hopsicker, Mohamed Atta, Amanda Keller, Charles Grapentine

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Some reports later suggest that around this time 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta has an American girlfriend called Amanda Keller (see (February-April 2001)). According to Tony and Vonnie LaConca, a couple that meet Keller and her boyfriend (who they know only as “Mohamed”), the pair and another woman go on a short trip to Key West, Florida. Tony LaConca later recalls, “They were gone for three days. They didn’t sleep—it was a continuous party.” The three indulge in drugs and alcohol, all paid for by “Mohamed,” even though he does not have a job. After returning from the trip, on February 25 “Mohamed” has to bail Keller out of South County Jail, after police take her in because of an outstanding warrant over a “worthless check charge.” [Charlotte Sun, 9/14/2001; Charlotte Sun, 9/11/2003] The Sarasota Herald-Tribune claims that Keller’s companion is not Mohamed Atta, but another man of Middle Eastern descent named Mohammed. [Sarasota Herald-Tribune, 9/23/2001] In 2002, Keller will say that her boyfriend was indeed Mohamed Atta, but in 2006 she retracts this claim. [Sarasota Herald-Tribune, 9/10/2006] Interestingly, other witnesses later describe Atta as frequently drinking alcohol, smoking, and possibly doing drugs (see (Mid-July - December 2000)).

Entity Tags: Mohamed Atta

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

A number of witnesses who claim they saw Mohamed Atta living in Venice, Florida in early 2001 later allege that, in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, they are intimidated by the FBI and told to keep quiet about what they knew. Amanda Keller, who claims to have lived with Atta during early 2001 (see (February-April 2001)), later says that, even after she moved away from Venice, FBI agents called her every other day for several months after the attacks. She tells investigative reporter Daniel Hopsicker about “intimidation by the FBI” that she suffered, adding, “They told me not to talk to anybody, to keep my mouth shut.” Stephanie Frederickson, who remembers Keller and Atta living next door to her in the Sandpiper Apartments in Venice, later recalls, “At first, right after the attack, [the FBI] told me I must have been mistaken in my identification. Or they would insinuate that I was lying. Finally they stopped trying to get me to change my story, and just stopped by once a week to make sure I hadn’t been talking to anyone. Who was I going to tell? Most everyone around here already knew.” Charles Grapentine, the manager of the Sandpiper Apartments, also confirms Atta having lived with Keller. He says that, after 9/11, the FBI “called me a liar, and told me to keep my mouth shut.” [Hopsicker, 2004, pp. 62-63, 65 and 88-89] According to the FBI’s account of events, Atta had left Venice by late December 2000 or early January 2001. Its account makes no mention of him returning there later. [US Congress, 9/26/2002] A former manager at Huffman Aviation, the Venice flight school attended by Atta in late 2000 (see July 6-December 19, 2000), also later alleges that the FBI intimidated him and told him to keep quiet. He says the FBI was “outside my house four hours after the attack.” He claims his phones were bugged after 9/11, and adds, “I thought these guys [Atta and his associates] were double agents. Why is that so incriminating?” [Hopsicker, 2004, pp. 149-150]

Entity Tags: Daniel Hopsicker, Charles Grapentine, Mohamed Atta, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Stephanie Frederickson, Amanda Keller

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Daniel Hopsicker.Daniel Hopsicker. [Source: Daniel Hopsicker]A book examining the life of Mohamed Atta while he lived in Florida in 2000 is published. Welcome to Terrorland: Mohamed Atta and the 9-11 Cover-Up in Florida, is by Daniel Hopsicker, an author, documentary maker, and former business news producer. Hopsicker spent two years in Venice, Florida, where several of the 9/11 hijackers went to flight school, and spoke to hundreds of people who knew them. His account portrays Atta as a drinking, drug-taking, party animal, strongly contradicting the conventional view of Atta having been a devout Muslim. He interviewed Amanda Keller, a former stripper who claims to have briefly been Atta’s girlfriend in Florida. Keller describes trawls through local bars with Atta, and how he once cut up her pet kittens in a fit of anger. The book also alleges that the CIA organized an influx of Arab students into Florida flight schools in the period prior to 9/11, and that a major drug smuggling operation was centered around the Venice airfield while Atta was there. [Deutsche Welle (Bonn), 4/30/2004; Sarasota Herald-Tribune, 7/11/2005] It also implicates retired businessman Wally Hilliard, the owner of Huffman Aviation, as the owner of a Lear jet that in July 2000 was seized by federal agents after they found 43 pounds of heroin onboard. [Long Island Press, 2/26/2004; Green Bay Press-Gazette, 3/22/2004] The book is a top ten bestseller in Germany. [Hopsicker, 2004; Deutsche Welle (Bonn), 4/30/2004]

Entity Tags: Wally Hilliard, Mohamed Atta, Central Intelligence Agency, Amanda Keller, Daniel Hopsicker

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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