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9/14/2001

Hunt for terrorists reaches North Port

NORTH PORT -- 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.

Thursday began like a normal day for North Port residents Tony and Vonnie LaConca, but they would later learn a man who rented their Agress Avenue home is someone whom authorities think may be connected with Tuesday's attacks.

An FDLE agent working in conjunction with the FBI arrived at the LaConca home around 10:30 a.m. Thursday and questioned the couple for two hours concerning a man they knew only as "Mohamed."

The couple told the agent 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 said in an interview. "He had beautiful, unblemished skin."

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. 

LaConca told the agent that Keller had "dishwater blonde hair, was about 21 years old, big boned with freckles" and seemed to be enamored of Mohamed. 

In an effort to locate Keller, the agent accompanied Tony LaConca to the North Port Police Department to pick up a Feb. 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. 

"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." 

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. She said he was French/Canadian. She told the LaConcas that he was not a U.S. citizen. 

A Papa John's employee confirmed that Keller was a manager there, but has not been to work for some time. 

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. Huffman was the school that enrolled Mohamed Atta and Marwan Alshehhi, both identified as suspects in the hijacked jet assaults on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. 

"We almost asked him if he wanted to fly our plane," Tony LaConca said. "He was a very polite guy." 

Keller said she would be responsible for the rental, but the man gave the couple two checks amounting to $75 each. 

While he was writing the checks, the couple noticed Mohamed had brand new clothing, all still with tags on them from a local mall, the couple remembered. 

The only request Mohamed made to the couple 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 in a thick New York accent. 

The couple learned more about Mohamed from a then-employee of Vonnie'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.

"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." 

The couple said the agent tried to locate and interview the unnamed employee, however they said she was "uncooperative to the agent." However, Vonnie learned the former employee made telephone contact with Mohamed last week. 

At the end of his week-long stay at Agress Avenue, Mohamed returned to the LaConcas' home to pick up his $75 security check. This time, the couple noticed he spoke "good English." He arrived in a rental car with a friend that he claimed he had just picked up from the airport. Mohamed requested that the check be made out to his unidentified friend. 

"His friend didn't speak any English, and his name was very strange," said Vonnie LaConca. "The two stayed at our house for at least an hour. Mohamed seemed real interested in the architecture and decor of our home. He asked all kinds of questions about it. I thought they would never leave." 

The couple said the FDLE agent showed them four photographs of possible suspects in the terrorist attack. 

"The first photo they showed us was the pilot who crashed into the first building," Vonnie LaConca said. "It was not Mohamed or his friend. But the last picture they showed us was very close, but I could not say 100 percent that it was him."

The FBI in Tampa would neither confirm nor deny any agents interviewing people in the North Port area.

"We recommend that you check in with CNN for current information," an FBI spokesperson only identified as "Pam" said Thursday afternoon. "Any press statements can be found on televised stations like CNN."

 

 

 

 


By ELAINE ALLEN-EMRICH

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