Federal agents investigating the deadliest terrorist attack in history fanned out throughout South Florida on Wednesday, zeroing in on two men who enrolled in area flight schools and lived in Broward County as recently as Friday.
FBI agents took a number of people into custody, searched homes, picked up court records and interviewed anyone who had contact with the men.
The people in custody may be able to give �important material information� about the attacks, federal officials said. By late Wednesday, no one had been arrested and no charges had been filed.
But investigators were tracking links to Hollywood, Coral Springs, Pompano Beach, Opa-locka, Miami, Vero Beach, Venice and Daytona Beach. One of the suspected hijackers purchased his airline ticket at Miami International Airport, said a source familiar with the airport.
Several people interviewed by the FBI said agents told them that one of the men, Mohamed Atta, was on the passenger list of one of the ill-fated jets, or was suspected of being involved in the terrorist attack.
His name was also on a government list of people associated with terrorist groups, said Vince Cannistraro, former head of counterterrorism at the CIA.
On Tuesday night, FBI agents descended on the Tara Gardens condominium in Coral Springs, showing a photo of Atta, 33, and asking whether residents had seen him. According to residents, Atta rented apartment 122 and left a car parked behind the well-kept, three-story, 36-unit building at 10001 W. Atlantic Blvd. FBI agents on Tuesday night cordoned off the car and refused to let anyone near it.
No one answered the door at apartment 122 on Wednesday, and an FBI agent who was interviewing neighbors refused to comment. The vertical blinds on the apartment were left partially open, revealing a spotless and apparently unoccupied apartment with no personal belongings visible.
It�s not clear when Atta moved to Coral Springs. He also recently rented an apartment in Hollywood.
About 11 p.m. on April 26, he was pulled over by a Broward sheriff�s deputy in the 6800 block of Inverrary Drive in Tamarac. Atta was driving a red 1989, two-door Pontiac. He was ticketed for driving without a valid license. A warrant was issued for his arrest when he failed to appear for a May 28 court hearing, according to Broward Clerk of Courts Howard Forman. Forman said FBI agents asked to examine the case records.
Although Atta failed to appear in court, he did get a Florida driver�s license. State records show that he was issued a license in May and that he reported that he had an Egyptian driver�s license.
In Hollywood, FBI agents spent Tuesday night and Wednesday at the Jackson Street home where two student pilots, Atta and Marwan Y. Alshehhi, lived earlier this year. Several Hollywood motel owners, restaurant workers and neighbors say FBI agents circulated pictures of the pair and told witnesses the men were on board one of the flights that was hijacked and crashed during Tuesday�s assault.
From May 13 until June 13, the pair lived in apartment 3A at 1818 Jackson St., said Jean Luc Desjardins and Yolanda Lavoie, the building�s former owners.
�[Atta] was a very smart guy who said he was going to pilot school,� Lavoie said on Wednesday. �In fact, he said he was moving out to be closer to his flying school. They were very polite and the place was very clean; they didn�t leave a thing behind.�
The couple said they were awakened about 1 a.m. Wednesday by FBI agents Tom Ryan and Randy Culp, who showed them pictures of two men who the agents said were linked to the attack. Lavoie identified one of them as Atta, but didn�t recognize the other man.
On their application for the apartment, the men listed their previous address as Hamburg, Germany.
FBI agents entered the apartment late Tuesday night and on Wednesday before locking it up and putting a red evidence tag on the door. At 2:46 p.m. Wednesday, Lynn DeLano, who bought the building two weeks ago, signed a �consent to search� form and about a dozen agents and Broward Sheriff�s Office detectives searched the property.
FBI agents Ronald Gaskins and Clinton Freely also signed the form and told her that the two former tenants were on the passenger manifest from one of the hijacked flights, DeLano said. Freely and Gaskins declined to comment.
�I don�t know what they found, but they said there was something significant this morning, then they closed the door,�� DeLano said.
At 9 p.m. Tuesday, about 12 hours after the first plane struck the World Trade Center, agents stopped by a Hollywood motel and a Young Circle restaurant, circulating photos and asking questions about the men.
FBI agents went to Shuckums Restaurant on Young Circle in Hollywood late Tuesday and showed employees photos of two men who they said were from Pakistan and whose names appeared on passenger lists from the crashed airplanes out of Boston. The photos looked like enlarged copies of identification documents, and one listed the name Mohamed, said Shuckums night manager Tony Amos.
�We all were able to recognize both gentlemen,� Amos said. The men visited the restaurant from about 4 to 5:30 p.m. Friday, and seemed drunk and unruly, he said.
Bartender Patricia Edrissi, 38, said FBI agents told her the men �were on the plane and that they passed away,� she said.
The man authorities referred to as Mohamed sat on a barstool speaking in a foreign language to an unidentified man, while the other man from FBI photos played video games for more than an hour, Amos and Edrissi said. The men were rude, spoke English poorly and argued about paying their bill, Edrissi said. The man known as Mohamed was clean-cut with a large build and wire-rimmed glasses, they said.
Amos said he asked the men if they could afford the $48 liquor bill, and one of them got angry and pulled out a thick roll of cash from his pocket.
�He said, �I�m a pilot from American Airlines, and I can afford to pay my bill,� Edrissi said. They paid the bill, left her a $3 tip and walked out.
Atta and possible associates may have gone to classes at different flight schools, officials and instructors said.
Atta attended the SimCenter Inc. flight training school at Opa-locka Airport for two days in December, owner Henry George said Wednesday.
�I just got through talking with the FBI and they would prefer I didn�t discuss it with anybody, and for the good of the country I won�t say any more,� George said.
Asked if Atta trained with him, George said: �Absolutely yes. But that�s all I feel comfortable saying.�
Brad Warrick, owner of Warrick�s Rental Car, 1512 S. Dixie Highway in Pompano Beach, said he called the FBI on Wednesday afternoon, after he recognized a picture of Atta on television.
Warrick said he rented two cars to Atta and Alshehhi: a White Ford Escort, which was returned Sunday by other men and a blue Chevy Corsica, which was rented from Aug. 15-29. Alshehhi used his credit card to pay for one of the vehicles.
Two FBI agents visited Warrick�s office late Wednesday night to ask him about Atta. They towed away one vehicle and took receipts and rental car contracts, he said.
�He seemed as normal as can be,� Warrick said of Atta. �He was very polite, well-spoken. He always had a briefcase.�
Atta and another man, possibly his cousin, also took flying lessons at Huffman Aviation Venice Flying Service at the Venice Municipal Airport during July of last year, school officials confirmed.
Drucilla Voss and her husband Charles said they rented a room in their Venice home to Atta and another man, whom they knew only as �Marwan,� for $17 a night in July 2000. Charles Voss worked as a bookkeeper at the flying school.
�[Atta] stayed here for a couple of days over a year ago,� she said. �They came over here to get their pilot�s licenses.�
Both men, she said, had a �bad attitude�, and were asked to leave. �They thought they could do anything they wanted,� she said.
The men moved to a neighboring town and continued to attend flying classes at the school, Charles Voss said.
Drucilla Voss was annoyed to learn that Atta and the other man bought a car and gave the couple�s address as their own. That brought FBI agents to their front door.
The agents told Charles Voss they had found a car in Boston. They said it was a four-door sedan, and he told the agents that it sounded like the car the two men had bought soon after arriving in Venice. The car�s registration listed Voss� address.
In Daytona Beach, FBI agents asked Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University for records. School officials said they were working with the agency but would not discuss specifics.
The FBI also visited three homes in Vero Beach on Wednesday, according to neighbors and federal agents. Indian River County Sheriff Roy Raymond confirmed that a man was taken into custody for questioning, but would not identify him.
Agents searched two houses in the 4000 block of 57th Terrace that were rented by Saudi Arabian families, neighbors said. One of the families had recently moved out. The FBI also visited a house at 905 11th Court in the Colonial Gardens subdivision of Vero Beach.
The men who lived on 57th Terrace attended the Flight Safety Academy in Vero Beach, neighbors said. Landlord Paul Strimeling said that one of the residents, Adnan Zakaria Bukhari, had his rent paid by the Saudi Arabian government and he was reportedly sponsored by a Saudi airline. Documents found inside the house indicated he was a flight engineer who was training as a pilot. The family moved out at the end of August to return to Saudi Arabia, Strimeling said.
The landlord at the neighboring house said the families wanted to live side by side because the men were attending flying school and their spouses did not speak English. Llonald Mixell said both men had families and small children.
A neighbor, Everett Tripp, said that about 5 a.m. Wednesday, FBI agents asked him to identify a photo of one of his neighbors. �They were very friendly people. My kids played with their kids,� he said. �I�m stunned. I don�t know what to think.�
Staff Writers Ardy Friedberg, Ken Kaye, Kevin Krause, Shannon O�Boye, Diana Marrero and Fred Schulte contributed to this report. Information from Sun-Sentinel wire services was used in this report.