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Former Florida resident unknowingly trained 9/11 terrorists

'I still get the goosebumps,' says Rudi Dekkers, former owner of Huffman Aviation
Rudi Dekkers, former owner of Huffman Aviation, speaks to WPTV on Sept. 9, 2021.jpg
Posted at 10:00 AM, Sep 10, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-10 23:05:09-04

PALM BEACH COUNTY, Fla. — Many of the hijackers behind the deadliest attack on American soil spent time in Palm Beach County.

The hijackers lived here and they took flight lessons in Lantana and on the Treasure Coast.

For one man, he's still demonized by that dreadful day when the hijackers committed a series of coordinated terrorist attacks by crashing commercial airlines into the North and South Towers of the World Trade Center in New York City.

The impact was felt around the world, and Florida was launched into the spotlight.

"For me, it's not an anniversary. I live 9/11 every day," said Rudi Dekkers, who is still paying the price two decades later.

Dekkers' 9/11 began that next morning on Sept. 12, 2001 in Naples, Florida.

"I still get the goosebumps when I talk about it after 20 years," Dekkers said.

Dekkers owned the flight school Huffman Aviation. The morning after the terrorist attacks, the FBI was at his business, and that's when he said the pieces started to come together.

"I felt like I was floating out of my body and I was looking down at my body because it was a shock," Dekkers recalled. "At that moment I realized I trained the terrorists, unwillingly of course."

For six months, Dekkers unknowingly taught Mohammed Atta and Marwan al-Shehhi how to fly at his school. He made copies of their passports and their visas, but he said there were no red flags.

"Nothing was out of the ordinary," Dekkers said. "We did our job."

After all these years, Dekkers said he doesn't feel guilt or responsibility. In the months after Atta and al-Shehhi piloted the planes into the towers, Dekkers said his new job was to help investigators with anything he knew.

"I said to myself, you got to be an open book, you got to be telling what you know, you got to help America, you got to give them all the information they need," Dekkers said.

Now 20 years later, for the first time in in a new documentary in Europe by Playback Images, the FBI said Dekkers provided documents and key information helping lead to the capture of an accomplice, Ramzi Bin Al-Shibh, which linked him to Osama Bin Laden.

"Rudi was very cooperative," said Kerry Myers in an interview with Playback Images. "He didn't require a subpoena, he didn't require a court order. He was a good American citizen."

Myers is an FBI agent who investigated 9/11.

"All the evidence that links Ramzi Bin Al-Shibh to Mohammed Atta, to Osama Bin Laden, to meeting with the hijackers and further instructions, all that is laid out in the United States government's proof, and Ramzi's name came into the investigation from Rudi Dekkers," Myers said.

"After 20 years, now finally, I get recognition of what I did," Dekkers said.

Since the attacks, Dekkers has faced death threats. He lost his businesses, his marriage and his reputation. He now lives in the Dominican Republic after serving time on federal drug charges.

"I did have my moments to stop, but that character that I have wants to continue," Dekkers said. "I believe in life, I believe in every day is a new opportunity but it's been tough."