WELCOME TO TERRORLAND -- MOHAMED ATTA & THE 9-11 COVER-UP IN FLORIDA
40 years ago, the worst nightmare for the Warren Commission was that someone would walk through the door with proof for the 'second gunman' theory. A 'second gunman' was to be avoided at all costs, because what if someone had seen a 'third gunman?' This was something they were going to nip right in the bud.
News of Atta's 'third landlord' in Venice was treated in the exact same way. A 'third landlord' brought unwanted attention to the role of the Venice Airport in the terrorist conspiracy, and there was an enormous can of worms there, waiting to be opened.
The Venice Airport is a string of nondescript buildings and hangars running for several blocks down one side of Airport Avenue just before it dead-ends at Casperson Beach on the Gulf of Mexico.
Across the street is the Sandpiper Apartments, a drab two-story stucco building, next door to the equally-colorless Lemon Bay Apartments, also maintained by the same management.
When we arrived at the Sandpiper we made a beeline up the stairs to unit 26, Atta and Amanda's unit. It certainly looked normal. Nothing to indicate that a mass murderer had walked through that door, or walked down those steps.
When we stopped at the apartment next door, Stephanie Frederickson, a pleasant-looking 50 year- old housewife, answered, smiled as we told her why we'd come, and invited us inside.
Stephanie Frederickson is nobody's idea of a 'conspiracy theorist.' She cares during the day for the baby of a friend needing help. She had not sought publicity, nor had she spoken to the press. And a good thing too. From what she told us, she clearly believes she would have been in trouble if she had.
We were soon sharing iced tea while she told us what had happened at the complex after the attack. The only interruption came when the baby she was caring for, a sparkling-eyed little girl, woke up from her nap.
In the first few days after the attack, all of the local newspapers in the Venice area -- the Sarasota Herald Tribune, Charlotte Sun, and Venice Gondolier -- reported that Mohamed Atta had lived at the Sandpiper Apartments.
The Sandpiper, Stephanie explained, had been home to a transient tenant population which included an ever-changing roster of foreign pilot trainees learning to fly at the twin flight schools across the street, Huffman Aviation and the Florida Flight Training Center. Many of the tenants who were flight school students were Arab, along with sizable Dutch and German contingents.
All had come to learn to fly, supposedly, in the single engine trainers speckling the tarmac across the street. We say 'supposedly' because we will soon hear that Mohamed Atta already possessed pilot's licenses -- from a half dozen nations -- when he arrived in the U.S., ostensibly to learn to fly. So just 'what all' Atta was doing while he was a flight student was not yet clear.
Atta's stay at the Sandpiper was a small part of local news coverage. No particular emphasis was placed on it. The local papers were full of stories about unsuspecting townspeople who discovered, to their shock and disbelief, that 'their paths had crossed' with the terrorists.
Several accounts quoted landlord Charles Grapentine saying Atta had been living in his apartment building, with Amanda Keller in April, in apartment 26 on the second floor. Atta was also said to have been close to a group of six Middle Eastern men who had been renting a downstairs apartment.
One of the men in the downstairs apartment had been positively identified as Atta's 'sidekick' Marwan Al-Shehhi, who was in fact his bodyguard. So the public record -- the public record in Venice anyway -- was clear.
Somehow though the news of Atta at the Sandpiper wasn't included with those of the other two Venice landlords: Steve Kona, owner of the house the terrorist duo rented for six months, and Charlie Voss, the Huffman employee, with whom they lived for a week.
Why was that? If reports of Atta living at the Sandpiper were any less credible than the others, local newspapers wouldn't have carried them. They weren't lacking for stories about terrorist sightings. Atta had been seen all over town. He dressed "in khakis and polo shirts." He seemed "fairly quiet and aloof."
"The only thing I can tell you about him is he drank Bud Light," said a waitress at the Charlotte County Airport.
Becky Cover worked in the deli of Publix supermarket a mile from the airport. "I was on the phone with my mother-in-law when they started showing pictures of three different guys on TV. Atta was one of them. And immediately I recognized the faces and I told my husband then, "My God, those are the three guys. They were just in the store a week ago. The week before they were in the store. They got subs."
Becky says the terrorist pilots were in Venice just one week before the attack. They got subs. This is, of course, inconvenient knowledge, and would not be music to the FBI's ears.
Like a number of other witnesses, Becky mentioned the terrorist ringleader's malevolent presence. She said that Atta "didn't speak, just stood and glowered."
"I didn't like the way he just stared at you," she told us. "It would have been different if they would have talked to you like you were a normal person, like 'hi, how are you today.' But he just stood back and just glared at you with his dark eyes."
Few people we spoke with who had met Atta were surprised it had been him piloting a plane in the attack. No one said what you usually hear, which is, 'Oh no. Not him. It couldn't be.'
No national newspaper picked up the reports of Atta living at the Sandpiper. One paper, the New York Times, even sent a reporter who made persistent attempts to spike it, winning him the enmity of Sandpiper residents, including Stephanie Frederickson, who knew different.
During our afternoon at the Sandpiper with Stephanie Frederickson and Charley and Paula Grapentine, we learned that even before the Sept. 11th attack, Mohamed Atta had stuck out in a way that made him hard to forget.
"He was very unfriendly," said Paula Grapentine. "He wouldn't talk to women."
Atta stopped by the Grapentine's apartment one time to discuss something regarding the complex, Paula stated.
"He came to talk about something and said, 'I don't talk to women and you're supposed to look down when you talk to me,"' Grapentine recalled.
"He treated women like they were under him."
We heard the same complaint from neighbor Stephanie Frederickson, who confirmed the Grapentine's account. Atta and Amanda lived next-door for several months, she explained, and he was no picnic as a neighbor.
What she really wanted to talk about, though, was how she, and other building residents like the Grapentine's, had been harassed and intimidated by agents of the FBI, in an effort to keep them from talking to reporters.
"The question they (the FBI) asked was always the same," said Frederickson. "You aren't saying anything to anybody, are you?"
"At first, right after the attack, they told me I must have been mistaken in my identification. Or they would insinuate that I was lying. Finally they stopped trying to get me to change my story, and just stopped by once a week to make sure I hadn't been talking to anyone. Who was I going to tell?"
She shrugs. "Most everyone around here already knew."
Frederickson said a New York Times reporter to whom she spoke accused her of making it up. He urged her to stop talking about it.
What makes this strange is that the reporter need only have read his own local newspaper to learn the story of Atta's American girlfriend had been confirmed by a number of witnesses.
A competent and intelligent grown woman, Stephanie Frederickson knows what she saw. She resented the FBI agents heavy-handed and repeated assertions to the contrary. And she wanted us to know about it.
Real Americans won't be silenced.
"Amanda moved in next door first, saying she had come from Orange Park (near Jacksonville)," Frederickson began. "Then one day in the middle of March she brought home Atta. She had only been here for a short time before he showed up, just a couple of weeks."
"She told us she met him at the bar at the 44th Aero, across the street at the airport, which was remodeling at the time and not really re-opened yet, but the bar was still doing business."
"Amanda said to me, 'I'd like you to meet my friend Mohamed Atta. He's from France.' I looked at her to see if she was joking, but I guess she wasn't," stated Frederickson.
"Later when I saw her alone I asked her if she realized that Mohamed Atta wasn't really a French name, and that he was definitely not French. She looked at me like I was nuts. I didn't know if she really believed he was French, but it was clear to me that he wasn't."
When she arrived at the Sandpiper Apartments with Mohamed Atta in tow, Amanda Keller was a good-looking, sexy twenty-year-old with pink hair living a fast life. She is still remembered fondly by some in Venice.
But when we first heard she thought Atta was French, however, we concluded that she was perhaps not the sharpest knife in the drawer. This may have been a little hasty; after we met her we discovered that Atta spoke fluent French.
Atta and Amanda's brief relationship was troubled, Frederickson said. While Atta's cheesy taste for infidel flesh is well-known, when it came to his own girlfriend he apparently balked at sharing glimpses of it with others.
This created difficulties, since his girlfriend was a 'lingerie model,' and it became something of an issue for the couple.
"That's when she started dressing really slutty, and dyeing her hair pink," Frederickson said. "She wasn't going to let herself be controlled by him."
The more we heard about Mohamed Atta, the more his image as an Islamic fundamentalist began to crumble. An Islamic fundamentalist who shacks up with women with pink hair fits no definition of 'Islamic fundamentalist' we've come across.
Pink hair doesn't seem Wahabbi.
But perhaps Atta wasn't who we've been told us he was ... Considering the bombshell Stephanie Frederickson casually dropped into our conversation, between burpings of the baby. We already knew that Atta was a Kitten Killer.
Now we learned he beat his girlfriend too.
"There were a couple of times he beat her up that I know about," Frederickson said, "mostly over the slutty way she dressed to go to meet her escort service clients. Her hair was always done up in a half dozen funky colors and she always dressed ... well, you know, like a hooker," said Stephanie.
"'Fantasies & Lace' would send a car and driver to get Amanda," she said. "And I would hear the driver and Atta arguing out on the balcony. Atta didn't want her to leave."
"The third time it happened -- the third time he beat her up -- she put him out," states Frederickson. "She threw his two suitcases, and a blue Gold's gym bag which he always carried around with him over the balcony railing onto the driveway in front of the apartments, and called a cab to come get him."
Frederickson was glad to see him go.
"He was a really nasty guy," she says. "He had no patience, and seemed mad at the world. One day, I remember, it was raining out, and I left my apartment at the same time he came out of his. He didn't have a car that day, for some reason, so I offered him a ride."
"He got furious, and shouted at me, 'You do not speak to me unless I speak to you first!"
"I said get over yourself, bub," she said. "You're in America now."
"Atta said, 'American women are all bitches.' I told him the least he could do was thank me for offering him a ride."
Apartment manager Charlie Grapentine, a grizzled former marine in his early 60's, remembers when Amanda performed her informal eviction. Later we learn from Amanda that she sought his counsel first, on what to do about the unworkable arrangement.
Amanda's name was on the lease.
Grapentine told her to kick him out.
"Atta always carried a fanny pack around his waist," Grapentine said. "I remember Amanda once telling him that she needed some new clothes, and he reached in and peeled off a few hundreds from a thick roll of cash he had stuffed inside the fanny pack."
The FBI did not receive apartment manager Grapentine's recollections any more warmly than they had those of Stephanie Frederickson.
In fact, says Grapentine, the FBI was positively frosty, especially on the subject of talking to reporters.
"They called me a liar, and told me to keep my mouth shut," states the ex-marine grimly. "Nobody likes to hear that; that they didn't see something they know they saw."
Frederickson and Grapentine, both still angry, felt their personal integrity had been attacked. The FBI, more concerned with squelching the story, apparently didn't mind stepping on a few toes in the process.
What did they think the attraction was between Atta and Amanda?
"Atta and his crew were always flush with lots and lots of money," Stephanie replied promptly.
"Those guys were all really party animals."
Although the six Arab men at the Sandpiper may have had money to burn, their living accommodations didn't reflect it.
"I lived next door to Amanda and Atta on the second floor, but then moved downstairs to my father's apartment to help him, because he had had surgery and couldn't climb stairs any longer," says Frederickson.
She remembered some of the crew of Middle Eastern men who took over her old apartment ... like 'Sid,' a nice gentlemen with a red car. Sid was Siad Jarrah, she later learned. And the big guy named 'Mahmouti' was probably Marwan Al-Shehhi. He lived in Nokomis, where he had a cousin, Sara, a pharmacist.
"Atta's pals took my old apartment. One time I stuck my head in, and there were at least eight of them living in a small two-bedroom place, with sleeping bags spread out everywhere.
The student pilots living at the Sandpiper and hanging out with Mohammed Atta hadn't all been Arab, she said. 'Pierre' came looking for a bride. 'Patrick' came from Holland.
The one subject we were getting nowhere with was Amanda's current whereabouts. She had gone to ground. No one knew where. We checked bars we learned she had been known to frequent, and former employers. We learned nothing.
Amanda Keller was another witness who had disappeared.
We tried to track down the man she left the Sarasota nightclub with the night she broke up with Atta, Garret Metts.
"Garret was a dark-haired guy, a good-looking little shit," remembered Stephanie.
Unfortunately, Garret was now dead. Killed in a car accident. His brother, who remembered Amanda, gave us the names of several of her girlfriends, and we began looking for them.
The reason for our urgency was that it was clear after interviewing Charlie Grapentine and Stephanie Frederickson the FBI had been extremely anxious to suppress news of Amanda Keller and Mohamed Atta's dalliance.
There must have been a reason.
One of the things which puzzled us was why Amanda hadn't sold her story to a tabloid. A girl who makes her living as a "lingerie model" could probably use the money. Certainly the tabloids would go nuts to get her story.
"Terrorist's Girlfriend Bares All!" would sell a lot of papers in the check-out line. Why hadn't she? Was something preventing her? Or someone?
We found a clue on the 1-year anniversary of the attack, filed by the Associated Press. The headline said it all: "One year later, 19 hijackers still a tangle of mystery and contradiction."
We thought: is that on purpose?
While Atta had been living at the Sandpiper Apartments, apartment manager Paula Grapentine told reporters, he had "a lot of visitors."
The building's owner, Vicky Keyser, told authorities that the students smoked a strange tobacco which smelled like marijuana. This will be by no means the last reference to drugs we will come across in connection with the terrorist conspiracy.
It was clear the FBI didn't want the public to know that Mohamed Atta returned -- or maybe even remained -- in the Venice area after receiving his multi-engine commercial pilot's license on December 21, 2000.
Maybe it would open up that 'endless can of worms' Senator Fulbright talked about. This notion received some support when we discovered another local news account about Mohamed Atta and Amanda Keller, one we'd missed, because it didn't come from Venice, but from North Port, the next town southeast of Venice ...
According to witnesses there, interviewed in the Charlotte Sun Herald Atta and Amanda engaged in a very un-Islamic three-day drug-and booze-fueled party in Key West.
At the time of the party weekend, late February, 2001, Atta was living in a rented house in North Port that he and six other Middle Eastern men rented in early January and left in early March, after being evicted.
Far from leaving Venice, Florida, forever in December, Mohamed Atta had still been in the immediate vicinity, in North Port, in January and February 2001, and then in Venice with Amanda during March and April.
What had he been doing there? And why was the FBI lying?
Mohamed Atta's three-day binge in Key West made the news -- the local news, at least -- in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attack, before disappearing without a trace, down the rabbit hole, never to be heard again.
This is, once again, extremely strange. It wasn't that it's not newsworthy. In the land of 'Entertainment Tonight,' the sheer salaciousness of the tale should have guaranteed that every national reporter younger than Sam Donaldson would be beating it down to the Keys on the double.
But they weren't.
Back in the early days after the tragedy -- when authorities couldn't use the name "Mohamed Atta" without the appellation "Islamic fundamentalist" in front of it -- the story of Atta in Key West might have made a big difference.
In little things. Like notions of who had attacked us, and why.
The idea that the 9/11 attack stemmed directly from fanatic Islamic fundamentalism might have been 'rendered inoperative' if Attas hi-jinks in the Keys had surfaced, for the very good reason that Islamic fundamentalists don't do coke in hotel rooms in Key West.
The story of Atta's trip to Key West broke in the Charlotte Sun-Herald; where reporter Elaine Allen-Emrich's account offered revealing insights into the nature and workings of the terrorist conspiracy's operations in the U.S.
"Hunt for terrorists reaches North Port," read the headline in the paper, which covers Venice, North Port, and Port Charlotte. "As authorities continue to dig through the rubble in Tuesday's terrorist attacks, agents were digging through North Port to find one of the many missing pieces to the puzzle of who declared war on the United States and why."
FBI agents were combing the town of North Port two days after the attack, said the paper, looking for North Port landlords Tony and Vonnie LaConca, who had rented their Agress Avenue home to "someone whom authorities think may be connected with Tuesday's attacks. Agents questioned the couple for two hours concerning a man they knew only as 'Mohamed."'
This is not strictly true. The LaConcas knew the man's full name, or at least the full name he gave them. It was on the check he used to pay for his rent. Unless you're Elvis or Madonna, banks make you use your whole name on your checks.
It wasn't true, but it was definitely useful. We have already seen that when the FBI doesn't want the public to know an individual's true identity, they give him one name. 'Ghandi. 'Hakim.' Now 'Mohamed.'
It's a crock.
Mohamed "was associated with a local woman believed to be Amanda Keller, a local restaurant manager," the Sun reported.
LaConca told the FBI that Keller had "dishwater-blond hair, was big-boned and freckled, and seemed to be very enamored of Mohamed."
The FBI was looking for Keller for additional questioning, said the paper, "but she might be missing."
"While talking to Keller and Mohamed, the couple learned he had a pilot's license to charter small planes of four to six people and was going to school at Huffman Aviation in Venice to train for a commercial pilot's license," said the Sun.
Sounds like Mohamed Atta. The paper felt on safe ground mentioning it. "Huffman was the school that enrolled Mohamed Atta and Marwan Al-Shehhi, both identified as suspects in the hijacked jet assaults on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon."
The LaConcas told agents the man was about 25, 5 feet 10 inches, 160 pounds, had "dark, perfect" skin, and was clean cut and very polite. "He was a very handsome guy," Vonnie LaConca told reporters. "He had beautiful, unblemished skin."
Mohamed Atta's black heart did not always manage to conceal his good looks, apparently. He also looks younger than thirty-three, even in the mug shot picture we've all seen a million times.
"Mohamed was associated with a local woman believed to be Amanda Keller, a local restaurant manager, LaConca said. The FBI is looking for Keller for additional questioning, but she might be missing."
"Keller, who allegedly met Mohamed while working at Papa John's Pizza in Venice, told the couple she would translate because Mohamed spoke limited English," the story continued.
This is further confirmation of Amanda Keller's relationship with Mohamed Atta, and also confirmation of Stephanie Frederickson's account that Amanda thought Atta was French.
Keller was a restaurant manager when she met Atta, she will tell us later. Before she switched to a more lucrative line of work, she managed the local Papa John's. And it is there she first met Atta, which is why -- two days after the attack -- the FBI was looking for Amanda Keller ...
"In an effort to locate Keller, agents accompanied Tony LaConca to the North Port Police Department to pick up a February 25 police report in which Keller had called police about harassing cell phone calls."
"According to the police report, after Keller called police about the calls, a computer check was conducted and showed an outstanding warrant from Marion County on a worthless check charge," the story said.
"Mohamed bailed her out of South County Jail," Vonnie LaConca said. "We told agents this because we thought they (FBI) might be able to get his last name from the reports."
Mohamed had used a check to bail her out of jail, Amanda will tell us. She knew him as Mohamed Arajaki, which was also the name on the check. "The FBI told me they found bank accounts of his all over in numerous different names," Keller stated.
'This is a written paper trail,' would be the FBI's thinking on the matter. 'It will be made to go away.' Barring extraordinary circumstances, we predict that neither check will ever see the light of day.
The only request Atta made to the couple, reported the paper, was that they provide him a desk in which he could do his aviation homework.
"He didn't even care if the house had a bed, all he wanted was a desk," said Tony LaConca.
Here is where our story begins to get up close and personal.
Let's go 'backstage,' for the 'behind the scenes' look at Mohamed Atta's wild life that would have been aired already, if not for wartime censorship.
Although he was in this country for -- at least -- the 14 months the FBI says and probably much longer, we haven't heard any personal accounts from Americans who knew Atta.
Read on, for reasons why not!
Reporter Allen-Emrich's account said Mohamed Atta and his American girlfriend Amanda Keller had partied for three days straight in a very un-Islamic drug and booze-fueled binge in Key West.
The LaConcas told her they learned this from a then-employee of Vonnie Laconca's cleaning company. "After meeting Mohamed and Keller on Feb. 21, the former employee joined the couple on an adventure to Key West the following day," said the paper. "They were gone for three days," said Tony LaConca. "They didn't sleep -- it was a continuous party."
LaConca said Mohamed footed the entire bill for the weekend, including buying Keller and the unnamed employee new clothes, alcohol, drugs and hotel stay.
However, the couple said, Mohamed did not have a job.
"The two girls were introduced to two men from Germany that they said were Mohamed's friends," Tony LaConca continued. "I thought it was strange, because Mohamed didn't appear to be French-Canadian or German."
Atta was meeting "two men from Germany" in Key West, who we will later learn flew in solely to meet him. This is the first hint we have gotten that all of Mohamed Atta's associates don't face East five times every day.
Who were these Germans? Part of Tony Blair's 'global network?' The story says nothing more about them. We will learn later who the men are from Amanda herself.
The LaConcas told the paper that the FBI tried to locate and interview Vonnie's employee who'd gone on the jaunt. She goes nameless in the story. Nameless witnesses must be even more dangerous to the official story than one-named ones.
Whatever her true identity -- and this is really interesting -- she was, according to the Sun-Herald "uncooperative to the agent."
Maybe it was because she had kept in touch with Mohamed ...
"However, Vonnie learned the former employee made telephone contact with Mohamed last week," the paper said.
This is big news. A deliberately-unnamed woman had received a phone call from Mohamed Atta less than a week before the attack.
Were any confidences exchanged? We wanted to ask. Unfortunately, she's gone. No one knows where.
Maybe the Island of Lost Witnesses.
We're also dying to know more about Mohamed Atta's two German friends in Key West. Sun- Herald reporter Elaine Allen-Emrich apparently felt the same way ...
"The FBI in Tampa would neither confirm nor deny that any agents were interviewing people in the North Port area," she reported. "Asked for more information about Atta's wild weekend, an FBI spokesperson identified only as 'Pam' said, "We recommend that you check in with CNN for current information. Any press statements can be found on televised stations like CNN."
The discovery that an American girl was romantically involved ("very enamored of Mohamed") with the terrorist ringleader makes Amanda Keller an extremely important witness to the terrorist conspiracy's activities. We went looking for Amanda.
We didn't feel like checking in with CNN.