PORTLAND, Maine — An airline agent who received an icy stare from the ringleader of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks that morning at the Portland International Jetport said Monday that he felt “great joy” upon hearing of the death of Osama bin Laden.
Michael Tuohey checked in Mohamed Atta and accomplice Abdulaziz Alomari for their flight to Boston, where they joined other hijackers and boarded larger planes that they crashed into the World Trade Center on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001.
When he heard the news of bin Laden’s death on Monday, his mind raced back to the brief yet chilling encounter he had with Atta and Alomari nearly a decade ago.
“I thought of Atta and Alomari and how they were dead, and I was glad to see bin Laden joining them — and I doubt they have virgins with them, either,” Tuohey told The Associated Press, referring to the belief by some Islamic militants that martyrs will meet virgins in paradise. “Their lives are ended, his life is finally ended, and now we can move on.”
Atta and Alomari spent the night at a Comfort Inn and were captured on video cameras making stops at a Walmart, a gas station and a bank ATM that evening.
Tuohey was a US Airways ticket agent when Atta and Alomari checked in at about 5:30 a.m., the last passengers arriving for the short flight to Boston. Tuohey said Atta in particular looked menacing and consumed with anger.
Tuohey, who retired in 2004, has relived that moment for nearly a decade. He said his experience that day has made him hypervigilant and suspicious, and he can’t bring himself to watch any video footage from the attacks. When he does happen to catch a glimpse, he’ll break down sobbing.
When he heard about bin Laden’s death, he felt like making a toast with a glass of champagne. He said bin Laden’s death will bring “psychological value” to Americans and that it was good it was American forces — not somebody else — that killed him.
“But I also had terrible thoughts,” he said. “I hoped he saw his son killed and hoped that the soldier aimed his rifle right at his head and he had a chance to see it coming at him. It’s an awful thing and mean of me to think like that, but I can’t help it. He’s a man responsible for the murder of thousands and thousands of people, not just in New York but all around the world.”
Jeff Monroe, who oversaw the airport as Portland’s transportation director at the time of the attacks, said bin Laden’s death should bring some closure to the attacks.
“I don’t think there’s any question that as long as Osama hadn’t been dealt with one way or the other, that this was an open piece,” he said. “I think as long as bin Laden was active, people felt what had occurred had really not been settled.”