Mohammed Atta (also Mohamed, Mohammad), terrorist, was one of five men identified by the U.S. Justice Department as hijackers of the first plane to crash into the World Trade Center in the September 11, 2001 Terrorist Attack. He is now believed to have been the leader of the attacks.
Atta was born in 1967 or 1968 in Egypt and also carried a Saudi passport. He grew up in Egypt and graduated with a degree in architecture from Cairo University. Then he moved to Germany, where he was registered as a student of urban planning at the Technical University of Hamburg-Harburg, in Hamburg, Germany, from 1993 to 1999.
Initially, Mohammed Atta's identity was confused with that of a native Jordanian, Mahmoud Mahmoud Atta, who bombed a bus in 1986 on the Israel-controlled West bank, killing one and severely injuring three. Mahmoud Mahmoud Atta, a naturalized US 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 invalidated his extradition and set him free; his whereabouts are unknown. He is 14 years older than Mohammed Atta. After the September 11 attacks, a general furor arose over the supposed failure of immigration authorities and the US intelligence community to stop a known terrorist from entering the country under his true name. Eventually, the Boston Globe factually reported details from records at the US Circuit Court of Appeals detailing the detention and subsequent extradition of Mahmoud Mahmoud Atta from the US.
In Germany, the real Mohammed Atta was registered as a citizen of the United Arab Emirates. His German friends describe him as an intelligent man with religious beliefs who grew angry over the Western policy toward the Middle East, including the Oslo Process and the Gulf War.
While in Germany, Mohammed Atta became more and more religious, especially after a pilgrimage to Mecca in 1995, started an Islamic prayer group in 1999 at the university and is thought to have recruited for fundamentalist causes there. In late 1999, he reported his passport stolen, possibly to erase travel visas to middle eastern countries. In July 2000, Atta enrolled at Huffman Aviation International in Venice, Florida. He was always accompanied by Marawn Alshehhi, a hijacker of United Airlines flight 175; Atta claimed to be of royal Saudi descent and presented Alshehhi as his bodyguard. In December, he went to the Miami area to practice on a Boeing 727 simulator. He returned to Germany and left again in May 2001, first travelling to Spain and then on to Florida.
US investigators claim that Atta sent a package to Mustafa Ahmed in the United Arab Emirates on September 4. Mustafa Ahmed is central to the funding of al-Qaeda, Osama bin Laden's terror organization.
In the week before the attack, he was seen drinking and playing video games in a Florida sports bar. Atta spent the day before the attack with another hijacker, Aabdul Alomari, in South Portland and Scarborough, Maine. In the morning of September 11, they drove to the Portland airport, flew to Logan airport in Boston and boarded American Airlines flight 11.
One of his bags did not make flight 11; it was later found to contain airline uniforms, flight manuals and a four page document in Arabic, copies of which were also found with the terrorists of the other three planes. It contains a list of instructions, such as "make an oath to die and renew your intentions", "you should feel complete tranquillity, because the time between you and your marriage in heaven is very short", "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".
It is believed that Atta was a ring leader of the terrorist attacks and probably piloted the plane. In a video released by the US government, Osama bin Laden points to Atta as the leader of the attacks (see videos of bin Laden). Atta's father, a retired lawyer in Egypt, characterized this accusation in an interview as ridiculous, calling his son gentle and shy.
External Links and References
- Unpolished Secret Agents Were Able to Hide in Plain Sight, The New York Times, 9/23/2001
- THE INVESTIGATION: Investigation of the Conspirators' Largely Quiet Lives Centers on a German University, The New York Times, 9/17/2001
- THE INVESTIGATION: An Unobtrusive Man's Odyssey: Polite Student to Suicide Hijacker, The New York Times, 9/15/2001
- Investigation of the claim that Atta also blew up a bus in Israel, snopes.com
- Social Network Map of Atta and his covert conspirators
- Six Degrees of Mohamed Atta