When the FBI investigated a Saudi Arabian family that abruptly left Sarasota weeks before the 9/11 terror attacks, it found “many connections between the (redacted) family and individuals associated with the terrorist attacks on 9/11/01.”
The description, included in documents released Friday as part of a federal lawsuit against the agency, comes as the FBI is working to comply with a federal judge’s order to produce 27 boxes of materials.
To date, the agency said it has moved the boxes to the U.S. Attorney’s office in South Florida, and spent many hours trying to delineate for U.S. District Court Judge William Zloch which documents are top secret by inserting 822 page markers into the boxes.
The agency also explained an earlier discrepancy that resulted in four additional boxes of documents. David M. Hardy, the FBI’s section chief in charge of records management, said the agency used a smaller box size to comply with the order. That and the marker pages resulted in more boxes overall.
“An 80,266 page file was received from Tampa, and the 80,266 page file was produced,” Hardy wrote.
The FBI also shipped a CD copy of all the files to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida on April 29 “and has been advised the Court has received them,” Hardy noted.
As the Herald-Tribune reported previously, negotiations between the Justice Department and the court were to result in the government’s installing a special safe in Judge Zloch’s office capable of handling four FBI boxes simultaneously.
In the four pages of material released Friday, which the FBI had said previously it was unable to find in the case, a July 2002 memo describes a copy of a letter and a list of phone numbers, presumably from the Sarasota house. The actual letter was not among the four pages.
Names and other details from the documents are redacted save for the hand-written name “Esam Ghazzawi” — the wealthy, well-connected Saudi businessman who owned the home in the south Sarasota neighborhood of Prestancia.
For several years before 9/11, the home had been occupied by his daughter, Anoud, and his son-in-law, Abdulaziz Al-Hijji.
The Broward Bulldog news organization of Fort Lauderdale revealed FBI knowledge of connections between the home’s residents and three terrorists who learned to fly at Venice Airport in a story published in 2011.
The connections included telephone calls and license plate numbers associated with the terrorists on cars that visited Prestancia and possibly Ghazzawi’s house.
The Broward Bulldog filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit against the Justice Department and the FBI in the fall of 2012, after the FBI dismissed the Bulldog’s report.
The Herald-Tribune has become a “friend of the court” in the ongoing lawsuit, arguing that the public deserves to know what the FBI learned from its investigation of the Prestancia home and any connection its occupants might have to 9/11.