By: Howard Melamed
At 8:50 a.m. on September 11, 2001, I was at home. Being late as usual in getting out of the house, I was listening to the Howard Stern show on the radio when he announced that the a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center in New York. I immediately turned on the television and glued my eyes to the screen. The shape of the hole in the building was unmistakably caused by an airplane, and being a structural engineer I knew what that meant: the odds of a plane that large hitting the building by accident was impossible to calculate. Then while watching further, after 9 a.m., I witnessed the second plane hitting the other tower.
We were under attack.
All of our lives changed on 9/11. Incredibly, the guy that masterminded all of the murders turned out to be living in South Florida. Six blocks from my house in Tara Gardens at 10001 Atlantic Boulevard. I knew the address well: I was the builder for Tara II, 10101 Atlantic Boulevard – the development beside it.
Our city was terrorized knowing that he had lived amongst us. No one suspected. No one would even think that anyone would be capable of such destruction. From right under our noses, the unthinkable became a reality.
On April 11, 2001 Egyptian hijacker and Islamic terrorist Mohamed Atta rented unit #122, a lower floor condo-apartment at Tara Gardens for $840 per month from Simon Cayouette, the manager. The specific owner of the condominium was Jean-Luc Sambault of Mercier Quebec, Canada.
One of the other terrorists, Malwan Al Shahahhi, was staying with Atta, and was seen often in the laundry room of the condo washing his clothes.
Tara Gardens, a 38-unit condominium rental complex was, and still is, commonly used as a temporary home for Coral Springs residents. Many residents at that time used it while their new home was under construction and late as usual. Tara Gardens was – and could still be the only place in Coral Springs that allowed you to rent by the week or month. Cash counts. No questions asked. The perfect place in a sleepy bedroom community like ours.
The perfect place for a terrorist to blend in. Everyone renting was in transit.
Atta was a chain smoker. He was often seen by the tenants smoking in the parking lot. I might have seen him there as well. I would often tell one particular tenant to move their car off of the Tara II parking area near the swimming pool. Maybe it was him. Maybe I towed his car, a Malibu.
Some time in April, Atta was stopped by a Broward County Sheriff’s deputy and given a ticket for operating a vehicle without a valid license. He was supposed to show up in court on April 26. He didn’t. On May 1, a criminal citation was issued for failure to appear.
Despite the recorded criminal offense, on May 2, Atta went to the Lauderdale Lakes office of the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Vehicles on Oakland Park boulevard. He was able to get a Florida Driver’s License. Quite interestingly, he could not have had the proper documentation to receive a Florida License, since he did not possess a green card. Only his student visa existed which was renewed by the INS on March 2002. Our DMV gave him a license anyway.
Who else has our state government given drivers licenses to? Who is minding the store?
The timeline indicates that he moved into his apartment in Coral Springs sometime in mid-June. From June to September, while he crossed the country and the ocean planning out the attack, he spent some time in the apartment. We might have even showed him our ‘Coral Springs Hospitality’ as he was here on July 4th, no doubt hearing and seeing our fireworks display.
Other Coral Springs residents claim to have seen him exercising at L.A. Fitness. He made friends with his neighbors who described him to reporters afterwards as being ‘a nice guy’.
Carmen Paddila lived on the 2nd floor directly above him. She said a few weeks before 9/11, she attended a party with Atta at Lakeview Village, an apartment complex adjacent to Tara Gardens. On September 7, Atta went to Hollywood and had drinks with the other hijackers at Schukum’s Bar.
He returned for his final night of sleep in Coral Springs.
On September 8th, he woke up and headed out to Fort Lauderdale Airport and flew to Maryland to meet the other hijackers. As he drove down Atlantic Boulevard in either direction, I wonder if he was smiling at the fact that no one noticed him. He left our city untouched.
He had bigger plans.
On September 11, 2001, at the Worlds Trade Center in New York and more than 1,067 miles from Coral Springs, he murdered 3,000 people. Atta was one of the ringleaders of the September 11 attacks and served as the hijacker-pilot of American Airlines Flight 11, crashing the plane into the North Tower of the World Trade Center.
Since then, our City officials have never really talked about the fact that Atta lived here. Our police did not set up special forces to deal with terrorism. In fact, nothing different has been done since Atta lived here. I am sure you can still get a drivers license pretty quickly, even if you have a record against you.
No one in Coral Springs talks about Atta living here. They are all living in a world of denial. The magnitude of 9/11 cannot be understood by us.
There is no plaque on the apartment at Tara Gardens, and no flowers to remember the victims of 9/11 there. Our memorials are carefully planned by the city and staged in a way that government likes to do things. Full of speeches. ‘Lest we forget’ they will say.
The case against Atta for not appearing in Broward County court is still “OPEN” as of this day. Why has Broward County Courts not closed this file? Are they expecting him to suddenly appear at the courthouse and pay the fine? Perhaps they decided that they can still collect the fine by serving him in Hell.
Can someone just close this case, get it off the records? I am quite sure that every once in a while, some bureaucrat is sitting in their office reviewing it.
“Hmmm….Mohamed Atta. Where have I heard that name before?” No sense closing this file, they’ll say. “Maybe we’ll catch him when a police officer pulls him over for a speeding ticket.”
Bureaucracy at its best I suppose. Our judicial system let him get away. If only we were that smart. The terrorists certainly are.
This article was originally published on September 11, 2014