Neighbors: Atta visited suspected hijackers in San DiegoSETH HETTENA
LEMON GROVE ---- Neighbors of a man who rented rooms to two suspects in the Sept. 11 terror attacks say they saw Mohamed Atta, a central figure in the plot, at the suburban home late last year.
Marna Adair said Friday that the polite, clean-shaven Atta was frequently at the home of Abdussattar Shaikh between August and early December of 2000.
Shaikh, a retired educator who boarded foreign students, rented a room last year to Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar, whom the FBI have called two of the hijackers of the American Airlines flight that crashed into the Pentagon.
Three men now being held as material witnesses in the case also lived at the home in the San Diego suburb of Lemon Grove, according to published reports.
Adair said she identified a photograph of Atta on Sept. 17 when FBI agents visited her home and showed her three pages of photos. Only later did she learn the photo was that of Atta.
Adair, a homemaker whose door is about 50 feet from Shaikh's house and gives a clear view of the driveway, said she is "positive" she saw Atta.
Another neighbor, Deborah Fortner, remembered that Atta "was the one that was scary. He's got these piercing eyes. That's something you never forget about him."
Shaikh, however, denied Atta had visited the house and said his neighbors are mistaken.
"My neighbors are very good people, but they don't know the difference between a Palestinian and an Indian," the India-born Shaikh told The Associated Press on Friday. "They've called me a Palestinian many times."
Shaikh declined to answer any additional questions.
FBI spokesman Jan Caldwell would not comment on the matter. However, a woman identified by the Adairs as an FBI agent was seen at their home Friday.
Atta, 33, possibly a citizen of Egypt, is believed to have been at the controls of American Airlines Flight 11, which took off Sept. 11 from Boston's Logan Airport and crashed into the north tower of the World Trade Center.
Almihdhar and Alhazmi, both believed to be Saudi nationals, allegedly hijacked American Airlines Flight 77, which took off from Dulles International Airport and crashed into the Pentagon.
Atta and at least five other suspected hijackers were in Las Vegas this summer, a source told the AP. Alhazmi and Atta were in the city at the same time on at least one occasion in August, the source said.
In Lemon Grove, neighbors who live on a narrow lane that juts off a rural street believe Atta was among the men who frequently entered and left Shaikh's two-story home.
Atta wore Western clothes and drove a red car, neighbors said. He was often cheerful and had no complaints when one neighbor briefly blocked the driveway one day while pouring concrete.
Adair said Atta was friendlier than the others. He would say hello and goodbye, wave and smile.
"That sticks out in my mind because most of those men aren't real pleasant to women," she said.
Shaikh has said he had no reason to suspect Alhazmi and Almihdhar were involved in any sort of plot. The two men, who met Shaikh at a San Diego mosque, said they were old friends from Saudi Arabia who were studying English.
Caldwell said Friday that Shaikh is not a suspect.
Three other men who also rented rooms in the home ---- Omer Bakarbashat, Ramez T. Noaman, Yazeed Al-Salmi ---- have been arrested as material witnesses, according to several published accounts. The FBI would not comment on the reports.
Bakarbashat was on his way to New York to testify before a grand jury. Randall Hamud, Al-Salmi's attorney, said he was unable to learn his client's whereabouts Friday.
Al-Salmi was arrested last weekend along with two of his roommates, Osama Awadallah and Mohdar Abdallah, as material witnesses, a law enforcement source told the AP. Hamud, who is also representing Awadallah and Abdallah, said their whereabouts on Friday were unknown as well.
Associated Press Writer Michelle Morgante contributed to this report.
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