ORLANDO, Fla (Reuters) - The former co-chair of a Congressional inquiry after the September 11, 2001 attacks called on the U.S. government to reopen its investigation following a news report linking the hijackers to a Saudi Arabian couple who lived in Florida.
Former U.S. Senator Bob Graham said he has no reason to doubt the news report, which said the Saudi Arabian couple abruptly abandoned their luxury home in Sarasota two weeks before the attacks, leaving behind a full refrigerator, clothes, furnishings and a new car in the driveway.
The report was published by BrowardBulldog.org., a nonprofit Internet news site and was simultaneously published on the news website of the Miami Herald.
If true, it reveals another Saudi terrorism connection that was never disclosed by the FBI to the public or to the 2002 joint Congressional intelligence committee investigating the attacks, said Graham, who was co-chair of the committee.
The FBI office in Tampa issued a statement on Monday saying the Sarasota case was one of many leads that “were resolved and determined not to be related to any threat nor connected to the 9/11 plot.”
Graham called the Sarasota case “eerily similar” to the FBI’s failure to tell the intelligence committee about a former Saudi civil servant, Omar al-Bayoumi, who supported two hijackers while they were living in San Diego. Graham said an investigator for his committee independently unearthed the information about al-Bayoumi.
“Why did the U.S. government go to such lengths to cover up the Saudi involvement?” Graham said.
The former Democratic senator from Florida has long been critical of the administration of former President George W. Bush for refusing to release 28 pages of the intelligence committee’s report, which allegedly included information about Saudi financial support of terrorists.
Information about the Saudi couple in Sarasota was reported by Anthony Summers, an independent journalist and co-author of The Eleventh Day: The Full Story of 9/11 and Osama bin Laden, and Dan Christensen, editor of the BrowardBulldog.org.
Abdulazzi al-Hiijjii, his wife Anoud and their small children resided in a home owned by Anoud’s father, Esam Ghazzawi, in the gated Sarasota subdivision called Prestancia, according to the report.
The report said the FBI learned of the couple from a suspicious neighbor on the day of the attacks.
According to the report, the FBI connected the couple to more than a dozen terrorists through telephone records and through their car license tags and drivers licenses as they passed through the subdivision’s security gate.
Among the terrorists who visited the home or called the couple was 9/11 leader Mohamed Atta, the report said.
The report was based on quotes from an unnamed counterterrorism official, a neighbor, subdivision administrators, the security guard and the subdivision lawyer, who said the FBI tried to get him to lure the homeowner back to the U.S.
According to the report, the Sarasota couple returned to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia with Anoud’s father after abandoning their home.
Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Greg McCune