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Hijackers Had Flight Training in Florida - 2001-09-14


In the days since Tuesday's terrorist attacks, details have come to light revealing the extensive planning and coordination authorities say preceded the suicide missions by 19 hijackers. Some of the preparations began last year in Florida.

Twelve suspects named by federal authorities spent time in Florida in the months leading up to Tuesday's devastating attacks. Of those, authorities say at least two received extensive flight training in Florida, which boasts more than two dozen airports and more than three dozen flight schools from Key West to Orlando.

The Justice Department says Mohamed Atta boarded the American Airlines flight that first struck the World Trade Center in New York. Another suspect on the Justice Department list, Marwan Alshehhi, was listed on the United Airlines flight that followed minutes later. German authorities have identified the men as citizens of the United Arab Emirates who studied in Hamburg before moving to Florida last year.

Investigators say both men received flight training at a central Florida aviation school. They later honed their skills on a flight simulator in the Miami area.

Simulator-operator Henry George says the two men paid with a credit card, and never aroused any suspicion. According to him, they would have been well-prepared to conduct Tuesday's deadly missions. "An airplane is an airplane is an airplane. They were capable of steering the airplanes the moment they sat down and grabbed the controls. We are not talking about a level of proficiency that requires precision. I mean, you turn, you head in a direction, and, if there is something in front of you, you are going to hit it."

Mr. George has handed over all records concerning the suspects to the FBI. He is haunted by the fact that he may have unwittingly aided terrorists. "I would like to say that, if I did not need to work, I would probably quit right now and take my expertise to the grave, and not pass it on to anybody else," he said. "But I have a business to run and a family to support."

The FBI has declined to comment on specific elements of the Florida investigation, except to say that agents are putting in long hours and getting results. Spokesperson Judy Orihuela says, "A lot of people are going without sleep. A lot of people are staying here overnight working 24-hour shifts. I think the investigation is going very well."

Hundreds of federal agents continue to scour Florida for clues relating to Tuesday's attacks.

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