SCARBOROUGH (AP) – A former U.S. Airways ticket agent who issued boarding passes to terrorists who passed through the Portland International Jetport before they hijacked a plane out of Boston says he felt guilt after the terrorist attacks in 2001.

Michael Tuohey of Scarborough said he was suspicious of Mohamed Atta and Abdulaziz Alomari when they rushed to make their flight in the early morning of Sept. 11.

Atta’s demeanor, his angry-looking eyes and the pair’s first-class, one-way tickets to Los Angeles made Tuohey think twice about them. The thought even passed through his mind that they looked like terrorists.

“I said to myself, If this guy doesn’t look like an Arab terrorist, then nothing does.’ Then I gave myself a mental slap, because in this day and age, it’s not nice to say things like this,” Tuohey told the Maine Sunday Telegram. “You’ve checked in hundreds of Arabs and Hindus and Sikhs, and you’ve never done that. I felt kind of embarrassed.”

A few hours later Tuohey was blaming himself as he watched news reports of the attacks on the World Trade Center in New York.

After leaving Portland on a 6 a.m. flight, Atta and Alomari landed in Boston, where they joined three other hijackers on American Airlines Flight 11, which they crashed into one of the World Trade Center’s twin towers. Five other hijackers left Boston at around the same time and crashed United Airlines Flight 175 into the other tower.

Tuohey, 58, said he felt at least partly responsible in the days following the attacks.

“In your mind you’re saying, Why didn’t you react? Why didn’t you do something?”‘ Tuohey said. “You just have that torturous thing pulling your mind apart.”

Tuohey, who retired last year, said he was speaking out because recently declassified material not included with the 9/11 Commission’s public report recounted his brief exchange with Atta to shed light on why Atta, the alleged mastermind of the attacks, chose to fly from Portland rather than Boston.

The leading theory among law enforcement officials for Atta’s decision to start his day in Portland – about 100 miles from Boston – was that he wanted to avoid suspicion of all of the hijackers arriving at once at Boston’s Logan Airport.

But his decision meant that he had to go through security screening once in Portland and again Boston, because he had to take a bus and switch terminals.

Newly declassified documents indicate Atta thought that once he was cleared through Portland, he would not have to be screened in Boston.

After arriving at 5:40 a.m., 20 minutes before his flight was scheduled to depart for Boston, Atta became angry when he was told he could not avoid checking in again in Boston to get to Flight 11, Tuohey said.

“He looks at me and says, I thought there was one-step check-in…They told me one-step check-in,”‘ Tuohey said. “I looked in this guy’s eyes, and he just looked angry. I just got an uncomfortable feeling.”

On Sept. 11, 2001, Tuohey was working the preferred customer line, where the frequent travelers and high-end fliers get quick service. He spotted two young men, Atta and Alomari, come in and motioned them to his station. The men were flying first class to Los Angeles, making a connection in Boston.

They hoisted two pieces of luggage toward the counter. And Tuohey asked them the standard security questions and checked their driver’s licenses, both issued in Florida. He took a look at Alomari, and then his eyes locked on Atta.

“It just sent chills through you. You see his picture in the paper (now). You see more life in that picture than there is in flesh and blood,” Tuohey said.

After the attacks, Tuohey had a gut feeling that the two young men were involved. After going home, he was called back to the airport to talk to an FBI agent. As he watched the security video, he picked out the two men without a doubt.

A few weeks later, another investigator came by Tuohey’s house and showed him a large number of pictures and asked him to point out the men he had waited on that day.

“I went right to Atta,” Tuohey said. “It’s like the skull on a poison bottle. There’s no mistaking that face.”


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