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Suspected for years, but rarely pursued
Atlanta Journal-Constitution ^ | September 16, 2001 | SUSAN WELLS

Posted on 09/16/2001 3:27:51 AM PDT by sarcasm

Mohamed Atta, 33, pointedly left his bag in Boston's Logan Airport on Tuesday as he boarded American Airlines Flight 11, which he probably piloted a little while later into the north tower of the World Trade Center in New York.

Being a terrorist didn't keep Mohamed Atta from living openly in America.

The suicide note and other clues found in that bag led investigators to Hamburg, Germany; Venice, Fla.; Canada and Portland, Maine.

As federal trackers and journalists retrace Atta's footsteps, a picture emerges of a taciturn, polite man who could turn arrogant and querulous. He moved freely about the United States and across international borders using his real name, despite that name's presence on a State Department list of suspected terrorists.

Also unfolding in that search is a glimpse of a frightening and patient plot to wreak havoc on the United States using this country's open, democratic systems - and at times its bureaucratic bumbling - to aid its execution.

Here is what is known about Atta:

Born in the United Arab Emirates but carrying an Egyptian driver's license, Atta first appeared on the terrorist radar screen in 1986, when he was a suspect in a bus bombing in Israel. That landed him on a CIA-FBI-Immigration Service watch list.

In the early 1990s, he traveled to Hamburg, where he lived for a time as a student known to frequent local bars.

He later became more religious and lived among other Islamic fundamentalists, including Marwan al-Shehhi, 23, who is believed to be his cousin. They were also acquainted with Ziad Jarrahi.

German records indicate the three belonged to an organization committed to destroying U.S. targets.

All three died Tuesday - Jarrahi on United Flight 93, which crashed in rural Pennsylvania, and al-Shehhi on United Flight 175, a plane he may have steered into the South Tower of the WTC a few minutes after his cousin crashed into the North Tower.

Studies engineering

During the eight years Atta studied engineering at Hamburg's Technical University - graduating in 1999 with a master's degree in urban renewal, according to the Toronto Star newspaper- he was known to hang out in local bars, wear stylish clothes and attend meetings in the large Islamic community.

Atta's presence on a State Department watch list would not prevent him from entering the United States, officials said, but it would have given them a reason to monitor his movements.

Still, he had no apparent trouble enrolling in flight school in July 2000 when he showed up at Huffman Aviation International in Venice, Fla. He used his real name, a practice he continued throughout his movements leading up to the hijacking.

Atta may have been carrying an M-1 training visa to attend flight school, as were at least two of the hijackers in Tuesday's attack, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel reported Saturday.

Those visas are easily obtained and cause little scrutiny, said Chuck Clapper, owner of Lantana Air, a charter company in south Florida. "It's pretty quickly done," he told the Sun-Sentinel. "I don't think they do a tremendous amount" of checking.

Chris Lamarra, a spokesman for the Bureau of Consular Affairs, said the State Department reviews M-1 applications the same as other visas, but he wouldn't confirm if that meant checking names against the terrorist watch list. Flight schools themselves rarely do background checks.

Atta and al-Shehhi had no other housing arrangements, so flight school employee Charles Voss offered them a room in his home. He later asked them to leave because he and his wife didn't like their attitude. They were sloppy and rarely spoke, he said. "There's no way that me or anybody else could have picked up on why they were here or what they were doing," Voss told reporters.

The two rented a two-bedroom house in nearby Nokomis. Though they had no jobs or other means of support, both men paid $10,000 by check for their flight lessons.

"Atta was an arrogant son-of-a-bitch," Rudi Dekkers, president and owner of Huffman Aviation told The National Post of Canada. "Atta seemed to be the main one and al-Shehhi the follower. They only talked about airplanes. They didn't talk about religion or politics."

Both eventually earned commercial pilot credentials, then moved to South Florida and rented an apartment in Coral Springs.

Only practicing turns

In December, they trained on a flight simulator at Simcenter Inc. in Dade County. Atta and his cousin spent six hours on a Boeing 727 simulator, which would have helped familiarize them with jets, such as the Boeing 767s on which they apparently flew Tuesday into the twin towers of the World Trade Center.

"Looking back on it, it was a little strange that all they wanted to do was turns," Henry George, 56, a former Eastern Airlines pilot who runs Simcenter Inc., told The Miami Herald.

"Most people who come here want to do takeoffs and landings. They were qualified, licensed pilots. I didn't think twice about it. Now I have to live this for the rest of my life," he said.

Atta and al-Shehhi paid $1,500 in cash for the lessons.

Pulled over in Florida

From January to April, investigators are not sure where Atta and al-Shehhi were. They may have traveled back to Germany. Atta reportedly received a visitor's visa in Hamburg and re-entered the United States.

According to the Sun-Sentinel, Atta, driving a 1986 Pontiac, was pulled over by a Broward County sheriff's deputy the evening of April 26. He gave his address as an apartment in Coral Springs, but couldn't produce a driver's license.

The deputy gave him a ticket and ordered him to appear May 28 for traffic court. Atta didn't show up, and as is routine, a bench warrant was issued for his arrest.

But the warrant was never served on Atta, as is typical in such mundane cases.

In May, Atta applied for and got a Florida driver's license.

He and al-Shehhi rented an apartment in Hollywood, Fla., and began renting planes by the hour at various South Florida airports.

In August, Atta began periodically obtaining cars from Warrick's Rent-A-Car in Pompano Beach. Interviewed by The New York Times, owner Brad Warrick said he saw Atta's picture on television and recognized him as a three-time customer.

"His driver's license and insurance matched up to a Florida address, he had a credit card, he spoke very good English and he carried a briefcase," said Warrick, who turned over the last car Atta rented to the FBI. It had not been cleaned since Atta dropped it off and could yield valuable clues.

Atta drove the rental cars more than 3,000 miles total.

Books one-way ticket

Then on August 28, Atta booked a reservation for a one-way ticket for Sept. 11 on American Airlines Flight 11 through the airline's Web site. He used his frequent flier card, which had been established just three days before. He paid with a Visa card. He also bought a ticket on the same flight for Abdulazziz Alormari, a Saudi Arabian pilot who trained in Florida at FlightSafety International in Vero Beach while living with his wife and four children. The Miami Herald reported that he had twice been arrested by Florida police for drunk driving.

Six of the suspected hijackers used Atta's contact telephone number in booking flights for Sept. 11.

On August 29, Atta rented the last of the three cars from Warrick, and kept it until Sept. 9, when he turned it in having driven it 1,035 miles.

On the night of Sept. 7, Atta, al-Shehhi and another man were drinking at Shuckums sports bar in Hollywood, employees told The Toronto Star. Atta played video games and al-Shehhi argued over the $48 bill. When manager Tony Amos, after an argument over the bill, asked if he could afford to pay, al-Shehhi "looked at me with an arrogant look. He pulled out a wad of cash and put it on the bar table and said 'There is no money issue. I am an airline pilot.' "

After returning the rental car in Florida Sept. 9, Atta may have gone to Canada. He and several other suspected hijackers may then have driven a rental car onto a ferry going from Nova Scotia to Bar Harbor, Me., and spent the night in a motel in Portland, Me.

On Sept. 11, Atta and Alomari boarded a plane in Portland for Boston's Logan Airport. There they hooked up with Waleed M. Alsherhri, a graduate of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach and fellow South Florida resident. Alsherhi, who had been in the U.S. since at least 1994, has been linked to Osama bin Laden's Al Qaida network.

Also at Logan Airport was Wail Alshehri, who once lived at the same Boynton Beach, Fla., address as Salam al Suqami, 25.

Atta, Waleed and Wail Alshehri, Alomari and Suqami boarded American Airlines Flight 11, which took off at 7:45 a.m. An hour later, the plane crashed into the World Trade Center.

Twenty minutes later, Atta's cousin al-Shehhi, on United Airlines Flight 175 with Fayez Ahmed, Mohald Alshehri, Hamza Alghamdi, Ahmed Alghamdi, all of whom reportedly lived in Delray Beach, Fla., died when the plane crashed into the World Trade Center.

TOPICS: News/Current Events
He moved freely about the United States and across international borders using his real name, despite that name's presence on a State Department list of suspected terrorists.
1 posted on 09/16/2001 3:27:51 AM PDT by sarcasm
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To: sarcasm
And still some people wonder how things of this nature are pulled off with such apparent ease.
2 posted on 09/16/2001 3:40:54 AM PDT by riley1992
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To: sarcasm
And no one thought to bar him and his confederates from entering the country. The ease with which they carried out their mass murder scheme without any one in the U.S government noticing the red flags surrounding their movements has to rank as one of the worse bureaucratic foul-ups in American history. What is troubling is how many more of them are out here in America waiting to attack this country's major targets, its leadership, and as many Americans as possible. There no guarantee there won't be more terrorism in the future.
3 posted on 09/16/2001 3:45:46 AM PDT by goldstategop
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