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9/11 Mastermind & 2 Hijackers Stayed in Jacksonville

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By Jackelyn Barnard
First Coast News

JACKSONVILLE, FL -- In a city of more than one million people, faces tend to blend in, but there are certain faces that should look familiar.

"We had a couple of the 9/11 hijackers here for a couple of weeks, " says FBI Special Agent in Charge Robert Cromwell.

The FBI cannot talk openly about these 19 men or how many of them were here.

However, the First Coast News I-team has confirmed at least three of the hijackers were in Jacksonville, including September 11 mastermind, Mohammed Atta.

We showed you the first piece of the puzzle back in August.

A hotel log from the Ramada Inn off University Boulevard has one of the terrorists names on it, Ziad Jarrah.

Jarrah checked into the Ramada Inn on a Sunday night.

It was February 25, 2001, six and a half months before the attacks.

The pilot, of United Airlines Flight 93, was tucked away in room 250 for at least a week. The I-team has learned, before Jarrah's visit there was someone else.

"That is correct. Other terrorists have passed through here, yes," says Agent Cromwell.

The I-team has confirmed, in the Fall of 2000, 11 months before September 11 and on another Sunday night, two men came into town.

The two were getting flight time for their pilots license. The men flew into Craig Airfield in a small plane.

The crew at Craig says the men were students from Huffman Aviation in South Florida.

Ken Fisher was the General Manager of Sky Harbor when the FBI came in showing pictures after 9/11.

"We went through our archives and found the receipt where he had made his fuel purchase."

Fisher is talking about Marwan Alshehhi. Alshehhi was the pilot of United Flight 175 on September 11, 2001, the plane that took down the second tower at the World Trade Center.

Alshehhi landed at Craig Airfield and bought fuel.

A crewmember, who was there that night, did not want to be identified but she did tell us Alshehhi bought 11 gallons of fuel.

The bill was about $30. She says Alshehhi charged it to a Huffman Aviation credit card and signed the receipt with his own name.

"The receipts for his fuel purchase were picked up by the special agent from FBI," says Fisher.

Fisher says records show Alshehhi left the airport in a courtesy car then came back after an hour or two.

A crew member, who does not want to be identified, says the other man with Alshehhi looked like Mohammed Atta.

According to testimony of Huffman Aviation's CEO, Atta and Alshehhi were the only hijackers enrolled in their flight school.

A U.S. official who would only talk to us on condition of anonymity also confirms Atta and Alshehhi were logging flight hours over Jacksonville and flew into Craig Airfield.

"It was frightening when you think you're only so many degrees of separation from someone who had done such a terrible deed and to actually see his signature on that credit card receipt was quite sobering, " says Fisher.

The FBI cannot tell us why Atta and Alshehhi were here or where they went.

We do know Ziad Jarrah frequented Wacko's strip club during his stay.

U.S. Senator Bill Nelson, who was briefed by the 9/11 commission, is just hearing about Jacksonville's visitors for the first time.

When asked, "At no time in those commission hearings did you ever hear Jacksonville come up?" Nelson replied, "Not a one."

We first confronted Senator Nelson about what we found two months ago.

"I'll get the answers. And the first answer I want to know is why didn't the September 11 commission know about this. That was given carte blanche authority to get any piece of intelligence to put together this jigsaw puzzle."

A puzzle that is still coming together three years after the attacks, a puzzle that has left so many questions.

FBI Special Agent Robert Cromwell will tell you it is a puzzle they are working from by putting names, faces and pieces to a much bigger puzzle together.

"They are dead and gone. I'm more concerned with current threats and preventing future events."

Future events are what the FBi is focused on.

In the last 5 months, police have worked two different cases.

In July, an off-duty JSO officer spotted men taking pictures from the Main Street bridge of The Landing and downtown area.

Then in September, there was another report of a group of men in a van from Georgia videotaping downtown.

Both cases are still under investigation.

The FBI says right now there is nothing on their radar screen that they consider an imminent threat.

Created: 11/10/2004 5:45:13 PM
Updated: 11/11/2004 7:03:07 PM
Edited by  Jackelyn Barnard, reporter
© 2004 First Coast News. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, rewritten, or redistributed.

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