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    Hijackers linked to local cruise

    By Times staff and wire reports

    © St. Petersburg Times,
    published September 27, 2001


    TREASURE ISLAND -- Employees on a SunCruz gambling ship that sails from John's Pass think some of the hijackers in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks were gambling on the ship the week before the attacks.

    The FBI is investigating. SunCruz Casinos has turned over security videotapes and documents to FBI investigators.

    Two or three men linked to the hijackings may have been customers on the SunCruz ship that is based at John's Pass, said Michael Hlavsa, chairman of the gambling cruise company.

    The FBI has not confirmed the men's identities, and the cruise line is declining to identify the men being investigated. An FBI spokeswoman declined to comment.

    Hlavsa said that in the days after the attack, cruise employees said they recognized some of the hijacking suspects as former customers.

    One name on the passenger list from a Sept. 5 cruise is the same as one of the suspected terrorists' names, Hlavsa said. A cash advance was taken out on that passenger's credit card, he said.

    "They acted just like normal guests of ours and they were courteous," he said. "There were no issues."

    The ship's extensive security systems, which are in place to protect its gaming operations and customers, may help the FBI confirm the men's identifies, Hlavsa said.

    The cruise line also is giving the FBI a videotape from a Port Canaveral ship of a former customer that a casino manager thinks resembles one of the terrorists.

    - Times staff writer Mike Brassfield contributed to this report and information from the Associated Press was used.

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