- "We have some planes. Just stay quiet and you'll be okay. We are returning to the airport."
- "Mohammed Atta"
Mohammed Atta (September 1, 1968 - September 11, 2001) was the mastermind behind the September 11th terrorist attacks in 2001 and was the leader of the 19 hijackers who perpetrated the attacks, and the hijacker who flew American Airlines Flight 11 into the North Tower of the World Trade Center in New York City, destroying the building and killing thousands of people inside.
Born on September 1, 1968 in Kafr el Sheikh, Egypt, Mohamed Atta was the the youngest son of a lawyer. Raised in a suburb of Cairo, Atta has been described as a shy and polite child. His father felt like Atta was spoiled by his mother, according to an interview with The New York Times. "I used to tell her that she is raising him as a girl," Mohamed al-Amir Atta Sr. said.
Atta came from a modern Muslim family. His older sisters went on to careers in medicine and academia. Atta pursued an engineering degree at Cairo University and graduated in 1990. Under pressure from his father, he continued his studies overseas at the Hamburg Technical University in Germany.
While in Germany, Atta worked part-time for an urban planning company. He became more religious and started to follow certain Muslim dietary rules, such as abstaining from drinking alcohol. According to some reports, Atta spoke out about the Egyptian government's treatment of fundamentalist groups back home. He also expressed anti-Semitic and anti-American views.
At the university, Atta insisted on a prayer room for himself and other fellow Muslims. He also lived with fellow September 11th terrorists Marwan al Shehhi and Ziad Jarrah at some point during his time in Germany. In the late 1990s, Atta is believed to have trained at an al Qaeda camp in Afghanistan. He was linked to an al Qaeda terror cell in Hamburg in 1999. While still in Germany, Atta began researching flight schools in the United States, according to the 9/11 Commission Report.
On September 10, 2001, Atta picked up Omari from the Milner Hotel in Boston, Massachusetts, and the two drove to a Comfort Inn in South Poland, Maine; on the way they were seen getting gasoline at an Gas Station. They arrived at 5:43 p.m. and spent the night in room 232. FBI also reported that "two middle-eastern men" were seen in the parking lot of a Pizza Hut.
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. 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.
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.
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. 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. At 8:24:38 a.m., a voice believed to be Atta's 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 crashed the plane into the North Tower of the World Trade Center killing everyone on board including himself and other hijackers. This was the first aircraft to hit the Twin Towers on the morning of September 11, 2001. It was also the first attack of the day. As a result of the crash the tower burned and collapsed resulting in thousands of additional casaulties.