While attending Huffman Aviation flight school in Venice, Florida, alleged 9/11 hijackers Mohamed Atta and Marwan Alshehhi move into a small, furnished two-bedroom house in Nokomis, about ten miles north of Venice, which they rent for $550 per month. Noting that Atta and Alshehhi also drive a ten-year-old car, Steve Kona, who owns the house, later says, “This house is nothing extravagant at all… It’s not like they were living in a $3,000-a-month rental home and driving a Mercedes.”
Kona says, “Atta I never met.” But he talks to Alshehhi “two or three times because I’d go to mow the grass. He was very friendly.” The pair refuses Kona’s offer of free cable TV, don’t use the house’s air conditioning, even in the middle of summer, and leave the place in spotless condition. Although they rent the house for as long as six months, Jeff Duignan, who lives next door, later says, “I never saw them, and when you don’t see them you don’t worry about them.”
This apparent absence could be explained by the fact that, according to several witnesses, over about this same duration they live in an apartment in Venice. No explanation is ever given as to why they have two separate residences at the same time. However, a private consumer database will later reveal that Atta had 12 addresses, including two places where he lived and ten safe houses, so the Nokomis address could possibly be one of these safe houses. Interestingly, another hijacker, Ziad Jarrah, also has a second residence he never stays at while he attends flight school in Venice
By Patrick Whittle Published: Sunday, September 10, 2006 at 5:22 a.m. Last Modified: Sunday, September 10, 2006 at 6:51 a.m. The little pink 1958 2-and-1 on West Laurel Road remains the only extra property Steve Kona has ever owned.
A Venice native born in the city's hospital 41 years ago, Kona rented the home to Atta and al-Shehhi for six months. The Venice fire captain remembers Atta as standoffish and al-Shehhi as warm and friendly. They weren't suspicious at all, he said.
"Of course, probably they are taught to blend in," he said. "And that's what they did. Well."
The terrorists likely found out about Kona's $650-a-month rental through a Realtor.
"Atta I never met. Al-Shehhi, I talked to him two or three times because I'd go to mow the grass. He was very friendly." Seven or eight tenants have lived in the house since the terrorists left, the turnover aided by the eerie attachment to history.
"By law you have to disclose problems with the house. But it really doesn't affect the condition of the house. I never get a chance to tell them because the neighbors always get to them first," he said.
The pair left the house in spotless condition. They refused his offer of free cable and frequently kept their windows open, even in the Florida summer.
Two or three years after the attacks, Kona visited New York's ground zero.
"As big as this United States is, why did they pick this city and my house? It's still hard to imagine. They were living in my house in Nokomis, Fla."