Fifth pilot trainee vanishes

Copyright 2001 Sarasota Herald-Tribune Co.  
Sarasota Herald-Tribune (Florida)
September 23, 2001 Sunday All Editions


LENGTH: 493 words

HEADLINE: Fifth pilot trainee vanishes;
"Mohammed" slept on her couch, a Venice woman says


Investigators have identified a fifth man of Middle Eastern descent who trained to fly in Venice, but they don't know if he was involved in the Sept. 11 attacks because they can't find him.

He told the people he lived with in Venice earlier this year that he was moving to Paris. The man, known as Mohammed, stayed at Amanda Keller's unit in the Sandpiper Apartment complex on Airport Avenue in April.

Authorities would not release the man's full name and Keller would not divulge it, citing instructions from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

Investigators recently asked Keller about the man because his name appeared on a list of flight students at Venice area flight schools.

One investigator, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the man is among "hundreds" of flight students of foreign descent now under scrutiny by federal authorities.

They aren't sure whether he was among the 19 men who hijacked the jets that crashed into the Pentagon, the World Trade Center towers and in rural Pennsylvania.

But his training in Venice and his disappearance have attracted their attention because of four other men who authorities say trained in Venice to prepare for the attacks.

Ramzi Binalshibh, 29, Mohamed Atta, 33, Marwan Al-Shehhi, 23, and Ziad Samir Jarrah are believed to have trained at one of two schools in Venice, the Florida Flight Training Center or Huffman Aviation.

Keller said comments attributed to her in the Herald-Tribune on Saturday, saying that Atta lived in her apartment, were wrong. She said that it was this unidentified fifth man, also named Mohammed, that stayed in her home.

The FBI believes Atta was on the plane that crashed into the World Trade Center's north tower.

Investigators believe that Al-Shehhi was at the controls of the plane that crashed into the Trade Center's south tower.

It's unclear what role the FBI believes Binalshibh played in the attacks. Investigators believe Jarrah was the pilot of the hijacked plane that crashed in Pennsylvania.

Germany's chief prosecutor, Kay Nehm, has said all four men were part of a terrorist cell in his country.

The fifth man being eyed by investigators was tall, lanky and quiet, according to Keller's mother and sister.

In interviews at their home in the North Florida town of Lady Lake, they said the man introduced himself as Mohammed.

"He would leer," said Tammy Payne, Keller's sister. "God was he creepy."

Susan Payne, Keller's mother, said her daughter and then-boyfriend Garrett Metts often took in strangers at her apartment.

The two were popular, Payne said, and people often stayed there after nights of partying and visiting the clubs.

Mohammed, Tammy Payne said, often went out clubbing, usually at Margarita Maggie's in Sarasota.

In an interview at her mother's house, Keller wouldn't talk about the man who stayed on her couch. But she did say the attention she's received from police and the media has been unwelcome.

GRAPHIC: PHOTO; ASSOCIATED PRESS, PORTLAND POLICE DEPARTMENT; Suspected hijackers Mohammed Atta, right, and Abdulaziz Alomari, center, pass through airport security Sept. 11, at Portland International Jetport in this photo from the airport surveillance tape. Atta is one of several suspects who took flight training in Venice.

LOAD-DATE: September 24, 2001