By JAMES KIRLEY, Scripps Howard News Service
VERO BEACH, Fla. - The day after Tuesday's terrorist attacks, federal authorities questioned a Vero Beach man after dozens of FBI agents descended on three local neighborhoods, searching homes and towing away vehicles.
The Vero Beach sweeps were believed to be part of a massive anti-terrorist FBI effort in Florida Wednesday to find the people behind attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon. The FBI also searched an apartment complex in Coral Springs and questioned a flight school owner in Venice.
Meanwhile, CNN reported late Wednesday that two Vero Beach brothers were suspects in the case.
Landlords of side-by-side Vero Beach homes at Treasure Trail subdivision in the 4000 block of 57th Terrace both said their tenants were Saudi airline employees training at FlightSafety Academy. They lived in the homes for about one year with their wives and children, who reportedly returned to the Mideast without their husbands in late August.
Agents scoured the homes all day, sealing off the north end of the cul-de-sac and refusing public comment.
''They would not give me access to the home,'' said Paul Stimeling, owner of the home at 4036 57th Terrace. He identified his tenant as Adnan Bukhari, who had signed a lease for $1,400 per month.
''I faxed (the FBI) copies of the contract and his letter of intent to move out at the middle of this month,'' Stimeling said.
According to neighbors, a man - possibly Bukhari himself - was taken into custody Wednesday morning at the home. Bukhari could not be reached at his listed phone number Wednesday night.
Stimeling said he asked FBI agents if their search was connected to Tuesday's tragic events in New York City and Washington, D.C. 6
''They said 'possibly,''' Stimeling said. ''I took that for an affirmative.''
Llonald Mixell, owner and landlord of 4032 57th Terrace, declined to give the name of his tenant. But the Vero Beach City Directory lists ''Abdulrahman Alomart'' as the resident; an ''A. Alomari'' is listed without address in the Vero Beach phone book. A recording Wednesday night said that phone had been disconnected.
Mixell said the couple and three children recently moved from the house.
''He was (in Vero Beach) for advanced flying, to help his job,'' Mixell said. ''I believe he was with Saudi Airlines ... to the best of my knowledge, both of these people were already commercial pilots and that they were here because the airlines require them to keep current.''
FlightSafety Academy officials at Vero Beach airport referred all inquiries to the New York office, where Director of Communications Roger Ritchie said the company was ''working closely with the FBI.''
Ritchie said the FBI approached FlightSafety Academy with two names.
''One name they had was not on FlightSafety records,'' Ritchie said, ''and the other gentleman was in Saudi Arabia and they interviewed him.''
Ritchie said he had ''no personal knowledge'' of Wednesday's FBI searches of Vero Beach residences and refused to comment on student names.
CNN reported that Bukhari and his brother, Ameer, were suspects in the case. Press Journal files indicate that an Ameer Bukhari of Vero Beach, a Saudi training at FlightSafety, was killed in a two-plane collision in North St. Lucie County on Sept. 11, 2000.
The FBI also searched the former home of Amer Taiybkamfar, 41, Wednesday morning at 2095 Ninth Place in Vero Beach, neighbors said.
Taiybkamfar had lived in the neighborhood for several months with his wife and three small children while attending FlightSafety Academy, said neighbor Jack Rhodes. 6
About two weeks ago, Taiybkamfar and his family moved out, he added.
''They stayed really just to themselves. They'd wave hello to you, but just kept going without making much conversation,'' said Rhodes, who added that the wife was always fully garbed and veiled in traditional Islamic dress.
A brown Mercury Sable that was seen being examined by the FBI in Vero Beach is registered to Almadani Abdulwahab, 44, who lived at 810 32nd Ave., and also attended FlightSafety Academy, a neighbor said. His number was disconnected, a phone call indicated.
Abdulwahab and his family, who are Egyptian, moved out of the residence two weeks ago, said John Greeley, who lived across the street.
''We didn't have much to do with them,'' he said. ''In retrospect, you get suspicious. They always had a lot of people coming and going.''
Greeley said he distinctly remembers at least one green Plymouth Voyager being parked in Abdulwahab's driveway. A vehicle of that description was seen being towed from 57th Terrace Wednesday by sheriff's deputies.
Carloads of FBI agents also searched a home at 905 11th Court in Vero Beach Wednesday. A man, woman and young children of Middle Eastern descent reportedly moved in within the last eight months.
The man either worked at FlightSafety or was a student there, neighbors said.
Agents working the 11th Court home took photographs of a beige Chrysler Sebring LX parked in the driveway with a license plate that shows it was leased from Enterprise Leasing Co. in Lauderdale Lakes.
Roger Ball and family lives on 57th Terrace, a few doors south of the two homes searched Wednesday. He said about 25 FBI and Indian River County sheriff's deputies arrived in the neighborhood and knocked on his home's door at 5:45 a.m.
''They had brought a bomb truck and parked it across the driveway,'' Ball said. ''My wife had gotten up to walk the dog and they told her to go back in the house.''
''It's been pretty active here since about 6 a.m.,'' said Jim Smith, Ball's next door neighbor.
Speaking Wednesday at a Washington, D.C., news conference, FBI Director Robert Mueller said investigators had identified hijackers of Tuesday morning's flights after poring through airline passenger manifests, rental car and pay phone records and video surveillance at airports.
Mueller declined to name the hijackers, however, nor would he comment directly on the FBI's activities Wednesday in Vero Beach.
He said the agency is tracking down leads on the hijackers or their associates in South Florida, Boston and Providence, R.I.