Before they committed the 9-11 terrorist attacks that changed America and the world, some of Osama bin Laden's most notorious confederates called South Florida home. They stayed among us in cheap apartments and transient motels, trained at local gyms or flight schools and drank at a popular bar.
Existing in society's dark corners, maintaining anonymity, the impact of these transients on residents and the community was barely felt. In the intervening near-decade, their footprints have become even less noticeable in South Florida's ever-changing landscape.
But bin Laden's death has resurrected memories of the time when terrorists walked among us.
Businesses the hijackers once frequented have closed or changed hands, tawdry apartments where they sought refuge have passed to new ownership or fallen to the wrecker's ball. The steady influx of new residents to the region has left many people unaware of South Florida's grim connection to the events of Sept. 11, 2001.
Three-year resident Claudia Norena was surprised to learn Mohamed Atta once lived two doors down from her apartment at the Tara Gardens condos in Coral Springs. "That's really weird," she said. "This is the first time that I hear that."
Others who remember their brush with infamy hailed the news of bin Laden's killing by U.S. special forces in Pakistan on Sunday.
"I'm glad to see it happen," Henry George, owner of SimCenter, a flight school in Opa-locka where Atta and others trained on simulators, said.
"This is definitely a relief," said George, who is retiring and closing his business. "I hate to use the words 'joyous occasion,' but it was a moment to cherish."
Richard Surma, owner of the Panther Motel in Deerfield Beach, celebrated bin Laden's demise by raising the American flag outside his business Monday.
Surma rented a room to Atta and another man from Aug. 26 through Sept. 9, 2001. He remembered how shocked they were to see women walking around in bikinis at the beach and motel pool. "They were looking [at the women] from the balconies," the innkeeper said.
The Muslim hijackers weren't too bashful about booze, though. They once got into a squabble over a bar bill at Shuckums in Hollywood, now an upscale lounge.
Though he rented a room for two, Surma recalled how other men came by and stayed up all night talking around a table. Because they were so polite, Surma allowed the men to bend the rules.
"They were clean-cut, they were gentlemen," Surma said. "When they were having their meetings, I didn't know what was happening."On Sept. 11, "then I found out," the motel owner said.
While bin Laden's death represents a milestone, the terrorist threat won't abate, Surma said. "It's like [removing] cancer from the body," he said. "You've got to get rid of it so the rest of the body is good but there are other diseases coming in."
Part of the lore at a wood-frame white cottage on Harding Street in Hollywood, renter Douglas Van Zile said, is how Ziad Jarrah, the suspected pilot of United Flight 93, once occupied a unit there.
"Places like this that rent by the week, or by the day, they really don't do background checks," he said. "It's easy to just move in."Van Zile, 51, was also gladdened by bin Laden's death -- but also sobered. "It's about bloody time," he said. "But what scares me is now that they've finally got him, there's going to be some retaliation, big time."
Staff writer Peter Franceschina contributed to this firstname.lastname@example.org or 954-356-4525Copyright © 2015, CT Now