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 Terrorist Tragedy
 
Posted at 8:18 a.m. EDT Sunday, September 16, 2001

MOTEL OWNER

Duffel bag had plane manuals

BY CHARLES SAVAGE
csavage@herald.com

One day after two Arab men checked out of a Deerfield Beach motel last week, owner Richard Surma found a duffel bag in the Dumpster.

Inside: Boeing 757 manuals, FAA flight path maps for the East Coast, a flight map protractor, three Ju-Jitsu martial arts books, an English-German dictionary and a three-ring binder full of handwritten notes.

Surma, owner of the Panther Motel, kept what he wanted and threw out what seemed useless, including the notes out of the binder. The garbage men carted it away.

A day later, hijacked jetliners crashed into the World Trade Center, Pentagon and the Pennsylvania countryside.

One of the two men who stayed in the room was Marwan Al-Shehhi, now identified as one of the terrorist pilots who crashed into the World Trade Center.

Surma and his wife, Diane, had already cleaned the room, puzzling over a box cutter they found in a dresser of Room 12, where the Arab men had stayed between Aug. 26 and Sept. 9. Then, on Tuesday, their television filled with pictures of the terrorist attack. His wife remembered the duffel bag. Early Wednesday morning, she flagged down a sheriff's deputy to show him the items.

``His jaw dropped,'' Richard Surma said.

Within hours, the FBI had descended on the small A1A hotel at 715 S. Ocean Drive, dusting the room for fingerprints and interviewing guests. They stayed for two days, carting away what the Surmas had not thrown out as well as bed covers from the room.

The two men were in their 20s and were quiet and polite, the Surmas said. Only Al-Shehhi, who filled out the registration card, gave his name.

Al-Shehhi said the other man was either his cousin or brother. They drove a blue Chevrolet, gave a Hollywood post office box as their permanent address, and paid the $250 a week rent in cash up front.

At one point during their stay, Al-Shehhi ``was right there talking to me in the laundry room,'' Diana Surma said. ``I could have kicked him in the [butt], locked the door and called the FBI if I had known who he was.''

Herald staff writer Larry Lebowitz contributed to this report.


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