Mohamed Atta

Mohamed Atta
Mohamed Atta
Born Mohamed Atta
(in Arabic: محمد عطا)

September 1, 1968(1968-09-01)
Kafr el-Sheikh, Egypt
Died September 11, 2001(2001-09-11) (aged 33)
Manhattan, New York, United States
Nationality Egyptian
Alma mater Cairo University
Technical University of Hamburg-Harburg
Religion Sunni Islam (Qutbism)

Mohamed Mohamed el-Amir Awad el-Sayed Atta (Arabic: محمد محمد الأمير عوض السيد عطا‎, Muḥammad Muḥammad al-Āmir ‘Awaḍ as-Sayyid ‘Aṭā) (September 1, 1968 – September 11, 2001) was one of the masterminds and the ringleader of the September 11 attacks who served as the hijacker-pilot of American Airlines Flight 11, crashing the plane into the North Tower of the World Trade Center as part of the coordinated attacks.[1][2][3][4][5]

Born in 1968 in a small town in Egypt's Nile Delta, Atta moved with his family to the Abdeen section of Cairo at the age of 10. Atta studied architecture at Cairo University, graduating in 1990, and continued his studies in Hamburg, Germany at the Technical University of Hamburg. In Hamburg, Atta became involved with the al-Quds Mosque, where he met Marwan al-Shehhi, Ramzi bin al-Shibh, and Ziad Jarrah, together forming the Hamburg cell. Atta disappeared from Germany for periods of time, spending some time in Afghanistan, including several months in late 1999 and early 2000 when he met Osama bin Laden and other top al-Qaeda leaders. Atta and the other Hamburg cell members were recruited by bin Laden and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed for the "planes operation" in the United States. Atta returned to Hamburg in February 2000, and began inquiring about flight training in the United States.

Atta arrived in the United States, together with Marwan al-Shehhi, in June 2000. Both ended up in south Florida at Huffman Aviation where they entered the Accelerated Pilot Program. Atta and Shehhi obtained instrument ratings in November 2000, and continued training on simulators and flight training. Beginning in May 2001, Atta assisted with the arrival of the muscle hijackers. In July 2001, Atta traveled to Spain where he met with bin al-Shibh to exchange information and finalize the plot. In August, Atta traveled on surveillance flights to determine details on how the attacks could be carried out.

In early September 2001, Atta traveled to Maryland, where fellow hijacker Hani Hanjour was at the time. Atta then traveled to Boston, and on September 10, with Abdulaziz al-Omari to Portland, Maine. On the morning of September 11, Atta and Omari traveled on Colgan Air back to Boston, where they boarded American Airlines Flight 11. Fifteen minutes into the flight, the team of hijackers attacked and Atta took over control of the aircraft. At 8:46 a.m., Atta crashed the Boeing 767 into the North Tower of the World Trade Center.[6]



Mohamed Atta varied his name on documents, also using "Mehan Atta", "Mohammad El Amir", "Muhammad Atta", "Mohamed El Sayed", "Mohamed Elsayed", "Muhammad al-Amir", "Awag Al Sayyid Atta", "Muhammad al-Amir", and "Awad Al Sayad".[7] In Germany, he registered his name as "Mohamed el-Amir Awad el-Sayed Atta", and went by the name, "Mohamed el-Amir" at the Technical University of Hamburg.[8] In his will, written in 1996, Atta gives his name as "Mohamed the son of Mohamed Elamir awad Elsayed."[9] When he came to the United States, he used the name "Mohamed Atta." Atta also claimed different nationalities, sometimes Egyptian and other times told people that he was from the United Arab Emirates.[8]

Early life

Atta was born on September 1, 1968 in Kafr el-Sheikh, located in Egypt's Nile delta region.[8] His father, Mohamed el-Amir Awad el-Sayed Atta, was a lawyer, educated in both sharia and civil law. His mother, Bouthayna Mohamed Mustapha Sheraqi, came from a wealthy farming and trading family and was also educated. Bouthayna and Mohamed married when she was 14, via an arranged marriage. The family had few relatives on the father's side and kept a distance from Bouthayna's family. In-laws characterized Atta's father as "austere, strict, and private," and neighbors considered the family reclusive.[10] Atta was the only son, but he had two older sisters who are both well-educated and successful in their careers—one as a medical doctor and the other as a professor.[11]

When Atta was ten, his family moved to the Cairo neighborhood of Abdeen, located near the center of the city. Atta's father continued to keep the family private, and did not allow Atta to socialize with other neighborhood kids. Atta spent most of his time at home studying, excelling in school.[12][13] In 1985, Atta entered Cairo University, where he studied engineering. As one of the highest-scoring students, Atta was admitted into the very selective architecture program during his senior year. In addition to his regular courses, Atta studied English at the American University in Cairo.[14] In 1990, Atta graduated with a degree in architecture,[15] and joined the Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated Engineers Syndicate organization.[8] For several months after graduating, Atta worked at the Urban Development Center in Cairo, where he worked on architectural, planning, and building design.[16] In 1990, Atta's family moved into an 11th floor apartment in Giza.[15][17]


Upon graduating from Cairo University, Atta's marks were average and insufficient to be accepted into the University's graduate program. His father insisted he go abroad for graduate studies, and had Atta enroll in a German language program at the Goethe Institute in Cairo.[18] In 1992, Atta's father invited a German couple over for dinner while they were visiting Cairo. The German couple ran an exchange program between Germany and Egypt, and suggested that Atta continue his studies in Germany. They offered him a temporary place to live at their house in the city. Mohamed Atta ended up in Germany two weeks later, in July 1992.

In Germany, Atta enrolled in the urban planning graduate program at the Technical University of Hamburg-Harburg.[11] Atta initially stayed with the two high school teachers, but they found Atta frustrating owing to his closed-mindedness and intensely introverted personality. Atta also began adhering to a strict Islamic diet, frequented the mosque, seldom socialized, and was unfriendly towards the couple's unmarried daughter who had a young child. After six months, they asked him to move out.[19][20][21]

By early 1993, Atta had moved into university housing, sharing an apartment in Centrumshaus with two roommates. He remained at Centrumshaus until 1998. During that time, his roommates became aggravated with Atta, who seldom cleaned, and kept to himself to the extent that he would walk in and out of a room without acknowledging others. Beyond anything else, they could not deal with Atta's personality, described as "complete, almost aggressive insularity".[22]

Academic studies

At the Technical University of Hamburg-Harburg, Atta studied under the guidance of the department chair, Dittmar Machule, who specialized in the Middle East.[23] Atta was concerned about modern development and the construction of high-rise buildings in Cairo and other ancient cities in the Middle East. He believed that the large, impersonal, and often ugly apartment blocks built in the 1960s and 1970s had ruined old neighborhoods, and took away privacy and dignity from people. Atta's own family moved into such an apartment block in 1990, which to him was "a shabby symbol of Egypt's haphazard attempts to modernize and its shameless embrace of the West."[15] For his thesis, Atta focused his studies on the ancient city of Aleppo in Syria. He explored the history of Aleppo's urban landscapes and the general themes of the conflict between Arab civilization and modernity. Atta criticized how the modern skyscrapers and development projects in Aleppo were disrupting the fabric of that city by blocking community streets and altering the skyline.

In 1994, Atta's professor, Dittmar Machule, invited him to Aleppo for a three-day archaeological visit.[24] Atta ended up spending several weeks in Aleppo during August 1994, and visited again that December.[25] While in Syria, he met Amal, a young Palestinian woman, who worked there in the planning bureau. Volker Hauth, who was traveling with Atta, described Amal as "attractive and self-confident. She observed the Muslim niceties, taking taxis to and from the office so as not to come into close physical contact with men on the buses. But, she was 'emancipated' and 'challenging'." They appeared to be attracted to one another, but Atta regretfully explained to Hauth that, "she had a quite different orientation and that the emancipation of the young lady did not fit." This was the closest thing to romance for Atta.[8] During the summer of 1995, Atta spent three months with co-students Volker Hauth and Ralph Bodenstein in Cairo, on a grant from the Carl Duisberg Society. They looked at the effects of redevelopment in the Islamic Cairo old quarter which the government wanted to develop for tourism. Atta remained in Cairo to stay with his family, after Hauth and Bodenstein returned to Germany.[26][27]

The apartment Atta, Bahaji, and bin al-Shibh shared from 1998 until 2001 in Marienstraße, Hamburg, Germany. (The door is visible on the left side - No. 54)

While in Hamburg, Atta held a number of jobs, including a part-time position at Plankontor, an urban planning firm, from 1992 until the summer of 1997 when he was laid off. The firm's business had declined, and when it bought a CAD system, "his draughtsmanship was not needed."[8][28] Atta also worked at a cleaning firm, and buying and selling cars to earn extra money.[29] After studying in Hamburg, Atta wanted to return to Cairo to work, but there were few job prospects, as his family did not have the "right connections."[30][31] Atta was also concerned about actions of the Egyptian government in arresting political activists, and feared that he too would be a target due to his social and political beliefs.[32]

Islamic revival

After coming to Hamburg in 1992, Atta became more religious, frequently attending the mosque.[33] Atta's friends in Germany described him as an intelligent man with religious beliefs, along with political motivations, including anger at U.S. policy toward the Middle East, particularly the Oslo Accords and the Gulf War.[34][35] Atta was also enraged by Egypt's ruling elite, and the Egyptian government's crackdown on Muslim Brotherhood members.[36]

Atta went back to Egypt on August 1, 1995, for three months of study.[37] Before going to Egypt, he grew a beard, which is a sign of a devout Muslim, but was also seen as a political gesture.[29][38] Atta returned to Hamburg on October 31, 1995,[37] and joined the pilgrimage to Mecca that fall.[29]

In Hamburg, Atta was drawn to al-Quds Mosque, which adhered to a "harsh, uncompromisingly fundamentalist, and resoundingly militant" version of Sunni Islam.[39] He made acquaintances at al-Quds, some who came over to visit him at Centrumshaus. Atta also began teaching classes at Al-Quds, as well as at a Turkish mosque near Harburg. Atta also formed a prayer group, which Ahmed Maklat and Mounir El Motassadeq joined. Ramzi bin al-Shibh was also there teaching occasional classes, and became a good friend of Atta's.[40]

On April 11, 1996, Atta signed his last will and testament at the mosque, officially declaring his Muslim beliefs and giving 18 instructions regarding his burial.[9][14] This was the day that Israel attacked Lebanon in Operation Grapes of Wrath, which outraged Atta. Signing the will, "offering his life" was Atta's response.[41] The instructions in his last will and testament reflect both Sunni funeral practices, along with some more puritanical demands from Wahhabism, including asking people not "to weep and cry" or show emotion. The will was signed by el-Motassadeq and a second individual at the mosque.[42]

After leaving Plankontor in the summer of 1997, Atta disappeared again and did not return until 1998. Atta phoned his graduate advisor in 1998, after a year of doing nothing for his thesis, telling Machule that he had family problems at home and said, “Please understand, I don’t want to talk about this.”[43][44] At the winter break in 1997, Atta left and did not return to Hamburg for three months. He said that he went on pilgrimage to Mecca again, just 18 months after his first time. Terry McDermott explained in Perfect Soldiers that it is highly unusual and unlikely for someone, especially a young student, to go on Hajj again that soon. Also, three months is an exceptionally long time, much longer than what Hajj requires. When Atta returned, he claimed that his passport was lost and got a new one, which is a common tactic to erase evidence of travel to places such as Afghanistan.[45] When he returned in spring 1998, after disappearing for several months, he had grown a thick long beard, and "seemed more serious and aloof" to those who knew him.[29]

By mid-1998, Atta was no longer eligible for university housing in Centrumshaus. He left and moved into a nearby apartment in Wilhelmsburg, where he lived with Said Bahaji and Ramzi bin al-Shibh. By early 1999, Atta had completed his thesis, and formally defended it in August 1999.[44]

In mid-1998, Atta worked alongside Shehhi, bin al-Shibh, and Belfas, at a warehouse, packing computers in crates for shipping.[46] The Hamburg group did not stay in Wilhelmsburg for long. The next winter, they moved into an apartment at Marienstrasse 54, near the university in Harburg.[47] It was here that the Hamburg cell developed and acted more as a group.[48] They met three or four times a week to discuss their anti-American feelings and to plot possible attacks. Many al-Qaeda members lived in this apartment at various times, including hijacker Marwan al-Shehhi, Zakariya Essabar, and others.

In late 1999, Atta, Shehhi, Jarrah, Bahaji, and bin al-Shibh decided to travel to Chechnya to fight against the Russians, but were convinced by Khalid al-Masri and Mohamedou Ould Slahi at the last minute to change their plans. They instead traveled to Afghanistan over a two-week period in late November. On November 29, 1999, Mohamed Atta boarded Turkish Airlines Flight TK1662 from Hamburg to Istanbul, where he changed to flight TK1056 to Karachi, Pakistan.[3] When they arrived, they were spotted by Al Qaeda leader Abu Hafs as suitable candidates for the "planes operation" plot. They were all well-educated, had experience of living in western society, along with some English skills, and would be able to obtain visas.[41] Even before bin al-Shibh had arrived, Atta, Shehhi, and Jarrah were sent to the House of Ghamdi near bin Laden’s home in Kandahar, where he was waiting to meet them. Bin Laden asked them to pledge loyalty and commit to suicide missions, which Atta and the other three Hamburg men all accepted. Bin Laden sent them to see Mohammed Atef to get a general overview of the mission, and then they were sent to Karachi to see Khalid Sheikh Mohammed to go over specifics.[49]

German investigators said that they had evidence that Mohamed Atta trained at al-Qaeda camps in Afghanistan from late 1999 to early 2000. The timing of the Afghanistan training was outlined on August 23, 2002 by a senior investigator. The investigator, Klaus Ulrich Kersten, director of Germany's federal anticrime agency, the Bundeskriminalamt, provided the first official confirmation that Atta and two other pilots had been in Afghanistan and the first dates of the training. Kersten said in an interview at the agency's headquarters in Wiesbaden, Germany, that Atta was in Afghanistan from late 1999 until early 2000,[50][51] and evidence that Atta met with Osama bin Laden while there.[52]

A video surfaced in October 2006 which showed bin Laden at Tarnak Farms on January 8, 2000, and also showed Atta together with Ziad Jarrah reading their wills ten days later on January 18, 2000.[3][53] On his return journey, Atta left Karachi on February 24, 2000 by flight TK1057 to Istanbul where he changed to flight TK1661 to Hamburg.[3] Immediately after returning to Germany, Atta, Shehhi, and Jarrah reported their passports stolen, possibly to erase travel visas to Afghanistan.[54]

In the United States

On March 22, 2000, while still in Germany, Mohamed Atta sent an e-mail to the Academy of Lakeland in Florida, inquiring about flight training, "Dear sir, we are a small group of young men from different Arab countries. Now we are living in Germany since a while for study purposes. We would like to start training for the career of airline professional pilots. In this field we haven't yet any knowledge but we are ready to undergo an intensive training program (up to ATP and eventually higher)." Atta sent 50–60 similar e-mails to other flight training schools in the United States.[55]

On May 17, Mohamed Atta applied for a United States visa, receiving a five-year B-1/B-2 (tourist/business) visa the next day from the United States embassy in Berlin. Because Atta had lived in Germany for approximately five years, along with his "strong record as a student", he was treated more leniently and not scrutinized.[56] After obtaining his visa, Atta took a bus on June 2 from Germany to Prague where he stayed overnight before traveling on to the United States the next day. Bin al-Shibh later explained that they believed it would contribute to operational security for Atta to fly out of Prague instead of Hamburg, where he traveled from previously. Likewise, Shehhi traveled from a different location, in his case via Brussels.[57][58]

On June 6, 2002, ABC World News Tonight broadcast an interview with Johnelle Bryant, former loan officer at the U.S. Department of Agriculture in South Florida, who told about her strange encounter with Mohamed Atta. This encounter took place “around the third week of April to the third week of May of 2000”, that is before Atta’s official entry date into the United States (see below). According to Ms. Bryant, Atta wanted to finance the purchase of a crop-duster. "He wanted to finance a twin-engine, six-passenger aircraft and remove the seats," Bryant told ABC's "World News Tonight. He insisted that she write his name as ATTA, that he originally was from Egypt but had actually moved to Afghanistan, that he was an engineer and that his dream was to go to a flight school. He asked about the Pentagon and the White House. He said he wanted to visit the World Trade Center and asked Ms. Bryant about the security there. He mentioned Al Qaeda and said the organisation “could use memberships from Americans”. He mentioned Osama bin Laden and said “this man would someday be known as the world's greatest leader.” Ms. Bryant said “the picture that came out in the newspaper, that's exactly what that man looked like.” [59][60] Ms. Bryant contacted the authorities after recognising Atta in news reports.[61] Law-enforcement officials said Bryant passed a lie-detector exam.[62]

According to official reports, Atta arrived on June 3, 2000 at Newark International Airport from Prague. That month, Atta and Shehhi stayed in hotels and rented rooms in New York City on a short-term basis. They continued to inquire about flight schools and personally visited some, including Airman Flight School in Norman, Oklahoma, which they visited on July 3, 2000. Days later, Shehhi and Atta ended up in south Florida.[16] Atta and Shehhi established accounts at SunTrust Bank and received wire transfers from Ali Abdul Aziz Ali, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed's nephew in the United Arab Emirates.[16][57] On July 6, 2000, Atta and Shehhi enrolled at Huffman Aviation in Venice, Florida, where they entered the Accelerated Pilot Program, while Ziad Jarrah took flight training from a different school also based out of Venice.[16] When Atta and Shehhi arrived in Florida, they initially stayed with Huffman's bookkeeper and his wife in a spare room of their house. After a week, they were asked to leave because they were rude. Atta and Shehhi then moved into a small house nearby in Nokomis where they stayed for six months.[63][64]

Atta's flight record from Huffman

Atta began flight training on July 7, 2000 and continued training nearly every day. By the end of July 2000, both Atta and Shehhi did solo flights. Atta earned his private pilot certificate in September, and then he and Shehhi decided to switch flight schools. Both enrolled at Jones Aviation in Sarasota and took training there for a brief time. They had problems following instructions and were both very upset when they failed their Stage 1 exam at Jones Aviation. They inquired about multi-engine planes and told the instructor that "they wanted to move quickly, because they had a job waiting in their country upon completion of their training in the U.S." In mid-October, Atta and Shehhi returned to Huffman Aviation to continue training. In November 2000, Atta earned his instrument rating, and then a commercial pilot's license in December from the Federal Aviation Administration.[16]

Atta continued with flight training, including solo flights and simulator time. On December 22, Atta and Shehhi applied to Eagle International for large jet and simulator training for McDonnell Douglas DC-9 and Boeing 737–300 models. On December 26, Atta and Shehhi abandoned a Piper Cherokee on the runway of Miami International Airport. On December 29 and 30, Atta and Marwan went to the Opa-locka Airport where they practiced on a Boeing 727 simulator, and they obtained Boeing 767 simulator training from Pan Am International on December 31. Atta purchased flight deck videos for Boeing 747–200, Boeing 757–200, Airbus A320 and Boeing 767-300ER models via mail-order from Sporty's Pilot Shop in Batavia, Ohio in November and December 2000.[16]

Atta's cellphone was recorded phoning the Moroccan embassy in Washington on January 2, just before Shehhi flew to the country. Atta flew to Spain on January 4, 2001 to coordinate with bin al-Shibh and returned to the United States on January 10. While in the United States he traveled to Lawrenceville, Georgia, where he and Shehhi attended a LA Fitness Health Club. During that time Atta flew out of Briscoe Field in Lawrenceville with a pilot, and Atta and either the pilot or Shehhi flew around the Atlanta area. They lived in the area for several months. On April 3, Atta and Shehhi rented a postal box in Virginia Beach, Virginia.

On April 11, Atta and Shehhi rented an apartment at 10001 Atlantic Blvd, Apt. 122 in Coral Springs, Florida for $840 per month,[65] and assisted with the arrival of the muscle hijackers. On April 16 Atta was given a citation for not having a valid driver's license, and began steps to get one. On May 2, Atta received his driver's license in Lauderdale Lakes, Florida. While in the United States, Atta owned a red 1989 Pontiac Grand Prix.[66]

On June 27, Atta flew from Fort Lauderdale to Boston, Massachusetts, where he spent a day, and then continued to San Francisco for a short time, and from there to Las Vegas. On June 28, Atta arrived at McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas to meet with the three other pilots. He rented a Chevrolet Malibu from an Alamo Rent A Car agency. It is not known where he stayed that night, but on the 29th he registered at the EconoLodge at 1150 South Las Vegas Boulevard. Here he presented an AAA membership for a discount, and paid cash for the $49.50/night room. During his trip to Las Vegas, he is thought to have used a video camera that he had rented from a Select Photo outlet back in Delray Beach, Florida.[67]

July 2001 summit in Spain

Atta left again in July 2001 for Spain to meet with bin al-Shibh for the last time. On July 7, 2001, Atta flew on Swissair Flight 117 from Miami to Zürich, where he had a stopover.[68] On July 8, Atta was recorded withdrawing 1700 Swiss francs from an ATM, and using his credit card to purchase two Swiss Army knives and some chocolate in an airport shop in Zurich.[69] After the stopover in Zurich, he arrived in Madrid at 4:45 pm on Swissair Flight 656, and spent several hours at the airport. Then at 8:50 pm, he checked into the Hotel Diana Cazadora in Barajas, a town near the airport. That night and twice the next morning, he called Bashar Ahmad Ali Musleh, a Jordanian student in Hamburg who served as a liaison for bin al-Shibh.[70]

On the morning of July 9, Mohamed Atta rented a silver Hyundai Accent, which he booked from SIXT Rent-A-Car for July 9 to 16, and later extended to the 19th.[70][71] He drove east out of Madrid towards the Mediterranean beach area of Tarragona. On the way, Atta stopped in Reus to pick up Ramzi bin al-Shibh at the airport. They drove to Cambrils, where they spent a night at the Hotel Monica. They checked out the next morning, and spent the next few days at an unknown location in Tarragona.[70] The absence of other hotel stays, signed receipts or credit card stubs has led investigators to believe that the men may have met in a safe house provided by other al-Qaeda operatives in Spain. There, Atta and bin al-Shibh held a meeting to complete the planning of the attacks. Several clues have been found to link their stay in Spain to Syrian-born Imad Eddin Barakat Yarkas (Abu Dahdah), and Amer el Azizi, a Moroccan in Spain. They may have helped arrange and host the meeting in Tarragona.[72] Yosri Fouda, who interviewed bin al-Shibh and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (KSM) before the arrest, believes that Said Bahaji and KSM may have also been present at the meeting. Spanish investigators have said that Marwan al-Shehhi and two others later joined the meeting. Bin al-Shibh would not discuss this meeting with Fouda.[73]

During the Spain meetings, Atta and bin al-Shibh had coordinated the details of the attacks. The 9/11 Commission obtained details about the meeting, based on interrogations of bin al-Shibh in the weeks after his arrest in September 2002. Bin al-Shibh explained that he passed along instructions from Osama bin Laden, including his desire for the attacks to be carried out as soon as possible. Bin Laden was concerned about having so many operatives in the United States. Atta confirmed that all the muscle hijackers had arrived in the United States, without any problems, but said that he needed five to six more weeks to work out details. Bin Laden also asked that other operatives not be informed of the specific data until the last minute. During the meeting, Atta and bin al-Shibh also decided on the targets to be hit, ruling out a strike on a nuclear plant. Bin al-Shibh passed along bin Laden's list of targets; bin Laden wanted the U.S. Congress, the Pentagon, and the World Trade Center to be attacked, as they were deemed "symbols of America." They also discussed the personal difficulties Atta was having with fellow hijacker Ziad Jarrah. Bin al-Shibh was worried that Jarrah might even abandon the plan. The 9/11 Commission Report speculated that the now-convicted terrorist conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui was being trained as a possible replacement for Jarrah.[56][57]

From July 13 to 16, Atta stayed at the Hotel Sant Jordi in Tarragona.[70][71] After bin al-Shibh returned to Germany on July 16, 2001, Atta had three more days in Spain. He spent two nights in Salou at the beachside Casablanca Playa Hotel, then spent the last two nights at the Hotel Residencia Montsant.[74] On July 19, Atta returned to the United States, flying on Delta Air Lines from Madrid to Fort Lauderdale, via Atlanta.[71]

August 2001 final plans in U.S.

On July 22, 2001, Mohamed Atta rented a Mitsubishi Galant from Alamo Rent A Car, putting 3,836 miles on the vehicle before returning it on July 26. On July 25, Atta dropped Ziad Jarrah off at Miami International Airport for a flight back to Germany. On July 26, Atta traveled via Continental Airlines to Newark, New Jersey and checked into the Kings Inn Hotel in Wayne, New Jersey and stayed there until July 30 when he took a flight from Newark back to Fort Lauderdale.[16]

On August 4, Atta is believed to have been at Orlando International Airport waiting to pick up suspected "20th Hijacker" Mohammed al-Qahtani from Dubai, who ended up being held by immigration as "suspicious." Atta was believed to have used a payphone at the airport to phone a number "linked to al-Qaeda" after Qahtani was denied entry.[75]

On August 6, Atta and Shehhi rented a 1995 white, four door Ford Escort from Warrick's Rent-A-Car, which was returned on August 13. On August 6, Atta booked a flight on Spirit Airlines from Fort Lauderdale to Newark, leaving on August 7 and returning on August 9. The reservation was not used and canceled on August 9 with the reason "Family Medical Emergency". Instead, he went to Central Office & Travel in Pompano Beach to purchase a ticket for a flight to Newark, leaving on the evening of August 7 and schedule to return in the evening on August 9. Atta did not take the return flight. On August 7, Atta checked into the Wayne Inn in Wayne, New Jersey and checked out on August 9. The same day, he booked a one-way first class ticket via the Internet on America West Flight 244 from Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport to Las Vegas, Nevada.[16] Atta traveled twice to Las Vegas on "surveillance flights" rehearsing how the 9/11 attacks would be carried out. Other hijackers traveled to Las Vegas at different times in the summer of 2001.

Throughout the summer, Atta met with Nawaf al-Hazmi to discuss the status of the operation on a monthly basis.[76]

On August 23, Atta's driver license was revoked in absentia after he failed to show up in traffic court to answer the earlier citation for driving without a license.[77] On the same day, Israeli Mossad reportedly gave his name to the CIA as part of a list of 19 names they said were planning an attack in the near future. Only four of the names are known for certain including Atta; Marwan al-Shehhi, Khalid al-Mihdhar and Nawaf al-Hazmi.[78] On August 30 he was recorded purchasing a utility knife from a Wal-Mart store near the hotel where he stayed prior to 9/11.


Atta (blue shirt) and Omari in the Portland International Jetport in Portland, Maine on the morning of 9/11

On September 10, 2001, Atta picked up Omari from the Milner Hotel in Boston, Massachusetts, and the two drove their rented Nissan Altima to a Comfort Inn in South Portland, Maine; on the way they were seen getting gasoline at an Exxon Gas Station. They arrived at 5:43 p.m. and spent the night in room 232. While in South Portland, they were seen making two ATM withdrawals, and stopping at Wal-Mart. FBI also reported that "two middle-eastern men" were seen in the parking lot of a Pizza Hut.[79]

Atta and Omari arrived early the next morning, at 5:40 a.m., at the Portland International Jetport, where they left their rental car in the parking lot and boarded a 6:00 a.m. Colgan Air (US Airways Express) BE-1900C flight to Boston's Logan International Airport.[80] In Portland, Mohamed Atta was selected by the Computer Assisted Passenger Prescreening System (CAPPS), which required his checked bags to undergo extra screening for explosives but involved no extra screening at the passenger security checkpoint.[81]

The connection between the two flights at Logan International Airport was within Terminal B, but the two gates were not connected within security. One must leave the secured area, go outdoors, cross a covered roadway, and enter another building before going through security once again. There are two separate concourses in Terminal B; the south concourse is mainly used by US Airways and the north one is mostly used by American Airlines. It had been overlooked that there would still be a security screen to pass in Boston because of this distinct detail of the terminal's arrangement. At 6:45 a.m., while at the Boston airport, Atta took a call from Marwan al-Shehhi, another hijacker. This call was apparently to confirm that the attacks were ready to begin. Atta checked in for American Airlines Flight 11, passed through security again, and boarded the flight. Atta was seated in business class, in seat 8D. At 7:59 a.m., the plane departed from Boston, carrying 81 passengers.[80]

The hijacking began at 8:14 a.m.—15 minutes after the flight departed—when beverage service would be starting. At this time, the pilots stopped responding to air traffic control, and the aircraft began deviating from the planned route.[6] At 8:18 a.m., flight attendants Betty Ong and Madeline Amy Sweeney began making phone calls to American Airlines to report what was happening. Ong provided information about lack of communication with the cockpit, lack of access to the cockpit, and passenger injuries.[80][82] At 8:24:38 a.m., a voice believed to be Atta's[not in citation given] was heard by air traffic controllers, saying: "We have some planes. Just stay quiet and you will be OK. We are returning to the airport." "Nobody move, everything will be OK. If you try to make any moves you'll endanger yourself and the airplane. Just stay quiet..." "Nobody move please. We are going back to the airport. Don't try to make any stupid moves." The plane's transponder was turned off at 8:28 a.m. At 8:46:40 a.m., Atta[not in citation given] crashed the Boeing 767 into the North Tower of the World Trade Center. This was the first aircraft to hit the Twin Towers on the morning of September 11, 2001.[6]

Because the flight from Portland to Boston had been delayed,[83] his bags did not make it onto Flight 11. Atta's bags were later recovered in Logan International Airport, and they contained airline uniforms, flight manuals, and other items. The luggage included a copy of Atta's will, written in Arabic, as well as a list of instructions, also in Arabic, such as "make an oath to die and renew your intentions", "you should feel complete tranquility, because the time between you and your marriage in heaven is very short", and "check your weapon before you leave and long before you leave. You must make your knife sharp and you must not discomfort your animal during the slaughter".[84]

Martyrdom video

On October 1, 2006, The Sunday Times released a video it had obtained "through a previously tested channel", purporting to show Mohamed Atta and Ziad Jarrah recording a martyrdom message six and a half years earlier at a training camp in Afghanistan. The video, bearing the date of January 18, 2000, is of high quality resolution but contains no sound track. Lip readers have failed to decipher it. Atta and Jarrah appear in high spirits, laughing and smiling in front of the camera. They have never been pictured together before. Unidentified sources from both Al-Qaeda and the United States confirmed to The Times the video's authenticity. A separate section of the video shows Osama bin Laden addressing his followers at a complex near Kandahar. Ramzi bin al-Shibh is also identified in the video. According to The Sunday Times, "American and German investigators have struggled to find evidence of Atta’s whereabouts in January 2000 after he disappeared from Hamburg. The hour-long tape places him in Afghanistan at a decisive moment in the development of the conspiracy when he was given operational command. Months later both he and Jarrah enrolled at flying schools in America."[1][85]

Mistaken identity

In the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 attacks, names of the hijackers were released. There was some confusion regarding who Mohamed Atta was, and cases of mistaken identity. Initially, Mohamed Atta's identity was confused with that of a native Jordanian, Mahmoud Mahmoud Atta, who bombed a bus in 1986 on the Israeli-occupied West Bank, killing one and severely injuring three. Mahmoud Atta was 14 years older than Atta.[86]. Mahmoud Atta, a naturalized U.S. citizen, was subsequently deported from Venezuela to the United States, extradited to Israel, tried and sentenced to life in prison. The Israeli Supreme Court later overturned his extradition and set him free.[87] After 9/11, there also were reports stating that Mohamed Atta had attended International Officers School at Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery, Alabama. The Washington Post quoted a United States Air Force official who explained, "discrepancies in their biographical data, such as birth dates 20 years off, indicate we are probably not talking about the same people."[88]

There were numerous reports in the media of Atta and Shehhi going to Shuckum's Oyster Pub and Seafood Grill, a sports bar in Hollywood, Florida, on September 8, 2001. Atta, Shehhi, and a third unidentified man reportedly drank heavily and played the Golden Tee '97 arcade game there.[89] The bartender said "Atta drank vodka and orange juice, while Shehhi preferred rum and cokes, five drinks apiece. They were wasted [visibly intoxicated]."[90] Manager Tony Amos described, "The guy Mohamed was drunk, his voice was slurred and he had a thick accent." Bartender Patricia Idrissi said the men argued over the bill, and when she asked if there was a problem, "Mohamed said he worked for American Airlines and he could pay his bill."[91] Atta said, "I have plenty of money. I'm a pilot." And he hauled a wad of $50 and $100 bills from his pocket, eventually leaving a $3 tip.[90] However, Atta flew on US Airways Flight 2719 to Baltimore on September 7 from Fort Lauderdale.[92] On September 8, Atta was in Laurel, Maryland, where he went to a Safeway grocery store to wire $2850 to Mustafa Muhammad Ahmad in Dubai, and sent another $5000 to Ahmed from a Giant Food store in Laurel on the same day.[93][94] On September 9, Atta flew on to Boston.[92]

Prague controversy

In the months following the September 11 attacks, officials at the Czech Interior Ministry asserted that Atta made a trip to Prague on April 8, 2001 to meet with an Iraqi intelligence agent named Ahmed Khalil Ibrahim Samir al-Ani. This piece of information was passed on to the FBI as "unevaluated raw intelligence".[95] Intelligence officials have concluded that such a meeting did not occur. A Pakistani businessman named Mohammed had come to Prague from Saudi Arabia on May 31, 2000, with this second Atta possibly contributing to confusion. The Egyptian Mohamed Atta arrived at the Florenc bus terminal in Prague, from Germany, on June 2, 2000. He left Prague the next day, flying on Czech Airlines to Newark, New Jersey. In the Czech Republic, some intelligence officials say the source of the purported meeting was an Arab informant who approached the Czech intelligence service with his sighting of Atta only after Atta's photograph had appeared in newspapers all over the world. U.S. and Czech intelligence officials have since concluded that the person seen with Ani, was mistakenly identified as Atta, and the consensus of investigators has concluded that Atta never attended a meeting in Prague.[96][97][98]

Able Danger

In 2005, Army Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer and Congressman Curt Weldon alleged that the Defense Department data mining project Able Danger produced a chart that identified Atta, along with Nawaf al-Hazmi, Khalid al-Mihdhar, and Marwan al-Shehhi, as members of a Brooklyn-based al-Qaeda cell in early 2000.[99] Shaffer largely based his allegations on the recollections of Navy Captain Scott Phillpott,[100] who later recanted his recollection, telling investigators that he was "convinced that Atta was not on the chart that we had." Phillpott said that Shaffer was "relying on my recollection 100 percent," and the Defense Department Inspector General's report indicated that Philpott "may have exaggerated knowing Atta's identity because he supported using Able Danger's techniques to fight terrorism."[101][102]

Family reaction

Atta's father, Mohamed el-Amir Awad el-Sayed Atta, a retired lawyer in Egypt vehemently rejected allegations his son was involved in the September 11 attacks and instead accuses Mossad and the U.S. government of having a hand in framing his son.[31] Atta Sr. vehemently rejected media reports his son was drinking wildly, and instead described his son as a quiet boy uninvolved in politics, shy and devoted to studying architecture.[103] The elder Mr. Atta claimed to have spoken with Mohamed by phone two days after the air crashes of the September 11, although there is no evidence to support Mr. Atta's claim. He held interviews with the German news magazine Bild am Sonntag in late 2002 claiming his son is alive and in hiding in fear for his life, and claimed American Christians were responsible for the September 11 attacks.[104] However in 2005, in another interview, Atta Sr. has stated "My son is gone. He is now with God. The Mossad killed him."[105] In all of the interviews, Mr. Atta usually does not answer questions and rambles angrily claiming that from Israel's Mossad, to the FBI, to the CIA, and American religious groups, were responsible for the 9/11 attacks and that his son was not involved at all.


There are multiple, conflicting explanations for Atta's behavior and motivation. Political psychologist Jerrold Post has suggested that Atta and his fellow hijackers were just following orders from Al Qaeda leadership, "and whatever their destructive, charismatic leader, Osama bin Laden said was the right thing to do for the sake of the cause was what they would do." [106] In turn, political scientist Robert Pape has claimed that Atta was motivated by his commitment to the political cause, that he was psychologically normal, and that he was “not readily characterized as depressed, not unable to enjoy life, not detached from friends and society.” [107] By contrast, criminal justice professor Adam Lankford has found evidence that Atta was clinically suicidal, and that his struggles with social isolation, depression, guilt, shame, hopelessness, and rage were extraordinarily similar to the struggles of those who commit conventional suicide and murder-suicide. By this view, Atta’s political and religious beliefs affected the method of his suicide and his choice of target, but they were not the underlying causes of his behavior. [108]


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  • Burke, Jason (2003). Al-Qaeda: The True Story of Radical Islam (2006 revised ed.). New York: IB Tauris. ISBN 9781850436669. 
  • Corbin, Jane (2003). Al-Qaeda: In Search of the Terror Network that Threatens the World. Nation Books. ISBN 1560255234. 
  • Der Spiegel (2002). Inside 9-11: What Really Happened. Diane Pub Co. ISBN 031298748X. 
  • Fouda, Yosri and Nick Fielding (2004). Masterminds of Terror. Arcade Publishing. ISBN 1559707178. 
  • Four Corners, Australian Broadcasting Corporation, broadcast November 12, 2001
  • McDermott, Terry (2005). Perfect Soldiers: The 9/11 Hijackers: Who They Were, Why They Did It. HarperCollins. ISBN 0060584696. 
  • The 9/11 Commission Report, (W.W. Norton & Company) ISBN 0-393-32671-3

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