- Note - There are numerous reports of how relatives of
Saudi elite and the bin
- Laden family were hastily flown out of the US right after
the 911 attacks. This
- appears to be a piece of that puzzle...
- TAMPA - The twin-engine Lear
jet streaked into the afternoon sky, leaving Tampa behind but revealing
a glimpse of international intrigue in the aftermath of terrorist attacks
- The federal government says the flight never took place.
- But the two armed bodyguards hired to chaperon their
clients out of the state recall the 100-minute trip September 13 quite
- In the end, the son of a Saudi Arabian prince who is
the nation's defense minister and the son of a Saudi army commander made
it to Kentucky for a waiting 747 and a trip to their homeland.
- The hastily arranged flight out of Raytheon Airport Services,
a private hangar on the outskirts of Tampa International Airport, was anything
but ordinary. It lifted off the tarmac at a time when every private plane
in the nation was grounded due to safety concerns after the Sept. 11 attacks.
- Local and federal authorities will say little about the
- "It's not in our logs ... it didn't occur,'' said
Chris White, spokesman for the Federal Aviation Administration's regional
office in Atlanta.
- For private investigators Dan Grossi and Manuel Perez,
the bodyguards on the Lear, it was a trip they can't forget.
- A Special Situation
- Grossi said Tampa police intelligence detectives called
him about 11 a.m. Sept. 13, needing help with a special situation: They
had been watching three young Saudi men - at least one a student at the
University of Tampa - at their south Tampa apartment, and the trio was
scared and wanted to go home.
- Jim Harf, director of UT's international programs, confirmed
one of them is the son of Prince Sultan, the defense minister.
- University spokesman Grant Donaldson refused to provide
details. Perez said he understood the men arrived in Tampa three weeks
earlier to receive tutoring in English.
- The Tampa detectives guarding the men were ordered to
stay in Tampa by Police Chief Bennie Holder, so Grossi was offered the
job of escorting the trio to Lexington, Ky., where the prince's relatives
were buying race horses.
- Lexington police Lt. Mark Barnard confirmed a Saudi
relative had asked for help in getting protection for the men in Tampa.
Two off-duty detectives were assigned. Tampa police records list Sultan
bin Fahad as the one requesting the security detail.
- But Tampa's official assistance ended at Raytheon's airport
- "There was a perceived threat, and the family of
the person wanted him home right away,'' said Tampa police Sgt. John Solomon.
"The job lasted about five hours. It was handled very quickly.''
- Out Of A Tom Clancy Movie'
- Meanwhile, Grossi had put Perez on alert and went home
to wait. Both men provide security for the National Football League at
Raymond James Stadium. Grossi, who retired from the Tampa Police Department
in August, has worked in internal affairs and homicide. Perez, who has
his own investigative company in St. Petersburg, worked for the FBI for
more than 29 years and has experience in counterterrorism and as a bomb
- At 2:30 p.m., Grossi got the call from the police department.
- "They said it was happening,'' Grossi said. "This
was out of a Tom Clancy movie.'' Grossi said he was told the clearance
came from the White House after the prince's family pulled a favor from
former President Bush. Prince Sultan, the Saudi defense minister, was
part of the coalition that fought the Persian Gulf War in 1991.
- To the United States, Saudi Arabia is a key component
in the emerging coalition of nations in the war on terrorism.
- The White House referred questions on the trip to the
State Department, which denied involvement, and the National Security Council,
which did not return messages.
- At Raytheon airport, Grossi met with the Tampa detectives
who had brought the young men. The Lear's pilot, who had flown in from
Fort Lauderdale, introduced himself.
- By 4:30 p.m., the twin-engine, eight-passenger jet lifted
- "They [the trio] looked like typical college students
with knapsacks,'' Perez said. "I didn't realize the prince's son
was onboard until we landed.'' Grossi and Perez recalled the strange feeling
of flying in the near-empty sky, knowing of the ban on private flights.
- "My first reaction to the pilot was, `We're not
going to get shot down are we?' '' Perez said.
- Grossi said he spoke only briefly to the prince's son.
- "He wanted to leave,'' Grossi said. But he also
said he would like to return, Grossi said.
- In less than two hours, the Lear landed at the Blue Grass
airport, where the passengers were met by Saudi security officials, Grossi
said. He and Perez saw several private 747s parked on the tarmac with
foreign flags on the tails and Arabic lettering on the sides.
- Within the hour, the Lear took off again for Tampa with
Grossi and Perez. Neither would say how much they were paid.
- But the Lear was not headed back to Fort Lauderdale,
Grossi said the pilot told him. It was bound for New Orleans to pick up
someone who needed a ride to New York.
- Grossi said he doesn't recall the name of the aircraft
company providing the jet.
- "Who knows who they really were,'' Grossi said.
``It was certainly somebody important to obtain clearance to fly.'' Reporter
Kathy Steele can be reached at (813) 885-5437. Reporters Brenna Kelly
and Elizabeth Lee Brown contributed to this report. They can be reached
at (813) 885-5437.