The Miami Herald last week revealed that a house in Sarasota, Fla., was regularly visited by Sept. 11 hijack leaders Mohamed Atta and Ziad Jarrah, and that numerous calls were made from the house to many of the other hijackers involved in the attacks. The house was owned by a Saudi Arabian national named Esam Ghazzawi, who also owned property in Arlington, and who suddenly fled from Arlington with his daughter and son-in-law -- who lived in the Sarasota house -- on Aug. 30, 2001, the Herald story says.
Ghazzawi's family fled during the same week that the hijackers were purchasing the tickets for the flights they would later take over, records show. It is not clear if a penthouse apartment owned by Ghazzawi in Rosslyn was a safe house for his daughter, son-in-law or others, whether Ghazzawi stayed there when he was in the United States or was just one of many properties he owned, and what — if anything — he knew about the attacks before they occurred.
The story by veteran investigative reporter Anthony Summers and Florida journalist Dan Christensen also states that the FBI withheld the Sarasota house information from the joint Congressional inquiry into the Sept. 11 attacks, and that it was not mentioned in the Sept.11 National Commission's final report. Former Sen. Bob Graham of Florida told Summers and Christensen that the FBI withheld information from Congress linking Saudis in Florida and California to the attacks, and that the Sept. 11 Commission's report on foreign support for the hijackers was entirely blacked out.
Summers has published a book on the Sept. 11 attacks and has reported on the seemingly extensive links between Saudi Arabia and alQaeda.
Sources described Esam Ghazzawi as "a middle-aged financier and interior designer, the owner of many properties, including several in the United States," the story relates. Ghazzawi is married to American-born Deborah Ghazzawi. In the mid-1990s, Esam Ghazzawi's name arose when investigators of the renowned corrupt bank BCCI were trying to recover assets from Saudi Prince Fahd bin Salman, and the prince argued that his assets were being held in another account under Esam Ghazzawi's name.
Arlington real estate records indicate that Esam Ghazzawi owned a two-story penthouse apartment in The Atrium apartment building, on Key Boulevard in Rosslyn, which he purchased in 1992. The penthouse was deeded over to Zuhair Ghazzawi in 1997, and Zuhair Ghazzawi sold it in 2003.
Esam Ghazzawi also purchased a home in a gated community outside Sarasota, but did not live there, the Herald story reports. His daughter, Anoud Alhijji, and her husband Abdulaziz Alhijji, lived there. Summers and Christensen report that on Aug. 30, 2001, the Alhijjis suddenly abandoned the house, as well as several brand new luxury vehicles, their clothes and many luxury items in the house.
"First," the Herald story reports, "they traveled to a Ghazzawi property in Arlington, Va., then -- with Esam Ghazzawi -- via Dulles airport and London's Heathrow, to Riyadh."
The story claims that Esam Ghazzawi and Abdulaziz Alhijji were already on an FBI watch list before Sept. 11. They have not been seen again.
In 2002, the FBI tried to lure the Ghazzawis back into the country by having their Sarasota homeowners' association file a legal action for unpaid dues, the Herald story reports. But the maneuver did not require them to reenter the country, and the documents were signed elsewhere using a notary. Esam Ghazzawi's signature was notarized by the vice consul of the U.S. Embassy in Lebanon in September 2003, and Deborah Ghazzawi's signature was notarized in Riverside, Calif., the Herald story reports.
“Penthouse 7” at The Atrium in Rosslyn was sold by Zuhair Ghazzawi in December 2003, Arlington real estate records show. Officials at Condo 1, which manages The Atrium, and longtime residents of the building, including some who speak Arabic, all say they do not remember Esam Ghazzawi or any FBI investigation in the building. The FBI heavily investigated the Sarasota house, the Herald story reports.
Esam Ghazzawi appears to be living in Saudi Arabia now, and one Facebook posting says he designed the interior of a posh restaurant in Khobar. Another designer's Web site claims to have designed the lighting of Ghazzawi's home in Dammam.