New Questions About Real Identity of 9-11 Hijackers
Ticket agent says Atta, Alomari were dressed in business suits; surveillance photos don’t match
By Greg Szymanski
He sat silent for years, keeping a secret Americans were dying to hear. Not able to talk, there were days he cried uncontrollably, days he pounded his fists on the table like a madman, wondering if he could have prevented so many people from dying the morning of Sept. 11, 2001. For years, he tossed and turned, cursing himself for letting Mohammad Atta and Abdul-azziz Alomari, two of the alleged 19 hijackers, slip through his fingers at 5:40 a.m. on 9-11.
There’s an old saying that “a moment can change a lifetime.” And the moment that changed U.S. Airways ticket agent Michael Tuohey’s life was when he says he was face to face with the two purported hijackers, one being Atta, the man the federal government claims was the ringleader of
the entire operation.
But there are major discrepancies to the story that have yet to be explained by federal authorities and are still perplexing to Tuohey. The following relates the unanswered questions that form the basis of the government’s explanation of what happened on that day.
Tuohey’s brief encounter took place at the U.S. Airways ticket and baggage check-in at the airport in Portland, Maine. Working the ticket counter as he did most every morning for 37 years, he remembered two clean-shaven Arab-looking businessmen with tickets in hand approaching his workstation, both looking elegant and wearing suits and ties.
He remembers they were running late for their flight as they presented prepaid, one-way tickets from Portland to Boston and then onto Los Angeles on Flight 11. Looking back, he recalls nothing unusual about the alleged hijackers, saying both appeared calm, and the younger Alomari acting happy-go-lucky.
“Not like you’d expect from someone knowing he is going to die,” recalls Tuohey, now retired and living near Portland. “There are certain things in my job you are trained to look for that red-flags danger. One is adult males with a one-way ticket paying in cash.
“If they had paid in cash, we probably would have run them through security, checked their bags, and they might have never gotten on the flight,” he said. “I can’t tell you how many nights I have seen their faces in my dreams and how many nights I second-guessed myself for not stopping
Asked why he waited so long to tell his story, which came to public attention on national television as well as in an article in The Portland Press-Herald he added: “No one really ever asked. However, looking back, I probably wasn’t ready to face the public since I had asked the FBI to keep my name out of the papers. Thank God they kept their word.”
Behind the emotions and the human interest Tuohey’s story evokes, there is an ulterior motive behind those now questioning him about his encounter with Atta and Alomari. Those now asking questions are hoping his eyewitness accounts and recollections help clear up a controversy brewing over the only airport surveillance photo ever released of Atta and Alomari.
The government claims the surveillance photo released in the Portland airport conclusively shows them walking through the security clearance gate about 100 yards away from where Tuohey checked the pair’s tickets and bags. Critics, however, contend that the government altered the photos since they were not a clear match of other independent mug shots released of Atta and Alomari.
These same critics claim Atta and Alomari never boarded the 19-seat airplane. This, they claim, is just another small piece of the larger 9-11 government conspiracy puzzle.
And now since Tuohey was one of the last to see the alleged hijackers before the controversial surveillance photos were taken, his words are being dissected and interpreted, perhaps misinterpreted, with the obvious goal of trying to establish if Atta and Alomari actually boarded Flight 11.
“I know about the conspiracy theories and about the surveillance camera shots released, but all I can tell you is what I saw. I’ll tell you what I told the FBI agents when I was interviewed on 9-11,” said Tuohey. “I believe the two men in front of me on 9-11 were Atta and Alomari. I have no reason to believe otherwise. They looked
like the same two guys that were in the mug shots shown to me by the FBI agents the same morning.”
As for details, Tuohey is very precise about the appearance, demeanor and attitudes of the alleged hijackers even after four years when memories fade and prior visions become cloudy.
“You don’t forget something like this,” he added. “I remember looking into Atta’s eyes like it was yesterday. He spoke good English, and the other one never spoke. Looking back, they appeared to have rehearsed the proper way to act and the proper things to say. Atta appeared to
understand everything I said.
“When I asked how many bags they were checking in, Atta simply said ‘two.’ He then asked for a one-stop boarding pass, which means he wouldn’t be again checked at Logan if I gave it to him,” he said.
“It was customary back then to give one-stop boarding passes on connector flights, but I never did it, because I figured I worked for U.S. Airways and not for American, which was their connector flight,” Tuohey added. “When I didn’t give it to him, he became noticeably agitated. But he
stopped short of making a scene and hurriedly left in order to catch his flight.”
One of the major inconsistencies between Tuohey’s description of their appearance and the surveillance photo released was that the two men in the photo were dressed casually in shirts without suits and ties, and there was no white shawl over Alomari’s head.
“They left my workstation in suits and ties. I didn’t see them take their coats off,” recalls Tuohey. “Atta left carrying a small duffel bag and the other had a very small bag. I guess they could have placed the jackets, ties and shawl in Atta’s bag. I just don’t know.”
Asked if a surveillance camera was posted by his workstation, he said he was told by the FBI on 9-11 that the video camera had been out of order for several weeks and no other pictures were available.
“I had worked there a long time and never knew the cameras were broken until I was told by the agents,” said Tuohey, adding they were installed by airport officials and not U.S. Airways.
To shed light on Tuohey’s vivid recollections, an independent 9-11 researcher, who prefers to remain anonymous due to prior government harassment, added these important details after numerous interviews and countless hours of researching the two hijackers’ movements in and around
Portland prior to 9-11:
“Atta and Alomari were conveniently captured on video cameras at three different locations in Portland the night before 9-11. Yet none of the stills taken from those locations, Jetport Gas, the ATM machine and Wal-Mart, were clear enough, as posted on the FBI web site, to confirm that they were the same two men whose FBI mug shots were displayed prominently on the major networks for weeks along with the other 17 hijackers.
“The Portland Press Herald article that came out back in October of 2001, the first publication to print the now famous Atta and Alomari surveillance photo, was also too fuzzy to make the confirmation that they were the same two men.
“When I interviewed ‘Jerry,’ the attendant at Jetport Gas in early 2002 who saw the hijackers, he told me that the ‘second one could not have been the Alomari the FBI showed on TV because he was too tall.’ He also told me that ‘they spoke such poor English that I had to give them directions to Wal-Mart three times.’ This clearly contradicts Tuohey’s statements that Atta spoke perfect English.
“The eyewitness quoted in the original Portland Press Herald article, who put Atta and Alomari on the 19-seater to Logan, was Jane Eisenberg of Cape Elizabeth, Maine. I interviewed Ms. Eisenberg around the same time as Jerry, and she told me when asked if she could confirm if the two men she saw on the 19-seater were the same two men the FBI was displaying all over the major networks, ‘No, I cannot.’
“And remember, it was the FBI who told Tuohey the camera he worked under every day hadn’t worked for some time. They knew that, but a guy who worked directly under it every day didn’t know?
“Also, a friend of Tuohey’s, who took that flight to Boston, was quoted as saying, he recalled seeing the two leaving the plane in Boston in suit coats and ties.
“Like Tuohey mentioned, Alomari also wore a shawl of some type that is missing in the famous photo. Although he assumed they must have placed these articles of clothing in their carry-on bags, his friend on the plane didn’t mention them dressing up again on the flight.
It should be mentioned that the short distance between Tuohey’s workstation and the security check-in, the size of Alomari’s carry-on piece and the fact that they were running late for the flight, make it very suspicious that they would first take off their jackets and ties before boarding.