Declassified documents from the Sept. 11 commission released last week offer new clues to a lingering mystery of the 2001 terrorist attacks: Why did the plot's mastermind, Mohamed Atta, begin his journey that day in Portland, Maine, instead of Boston?
Atta is believed to have been the pilot hijacker of American Airlines Flight 11, which departed Boston and crashed into the World Trade Center. It has always been unclear why he and another hijacker, Abdulaziz Alomari, drove from Boston to Portland the night before the attacks, only to board a Portland-to-Boston flight early the next morning.
In a surveillance tape from Sept. 11, 2001, hijackers Mohamed Atta, right, and Abdulaziz Alomari pass through airport security in Portland, Maine.
(Portland Police Department Via AP)
The commission's report says that the most "plausible theory" is that Atta wanted to avoid suspicion by not having all 10 of the hijackers who flew out of Boston Logan International Airport arrive about the same time. United Airlines Flight 175, which also was hijacked and crashed into the World Trade Center, left Boston shortly after American Flight 11. Both planes carried teams of five hijackers.
New details revealed by the report indicate that Atta expected to avoid scrutiny by authorities in Boston by obtaining a boarding pass for Flight 11 in Portland. Atta "clenched his jaw and looked as though he was about to get angry" when the airline agent in Portland refused to issue him a boarding pass for the connecting flight in Boston, according to the report.
"Atta stated that he was assured he would have 'one-step check-in,' " according to the report. "The agent told [Atta and Alomari] that they had better get going if they were to make their flight. He said that Atta looked as if he were about to say something in anger but turned to leave."
Atta and Alomari barely made their flight from Portland to Boston, which, according to the Massachusetts Port Authority, was the only flight close enough to allow them to arrive in time to board American Flight 11 at Logan.
The National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States released its final report in July but turned over more detailed and classified information to the National Archives, which released the declassified material last week. The new information chronicles more of the hijackers' elaborate planning for the attacks as well as some of their missteps.
Upon arrival at Logan, Atta and Alomari had to go through security a second time, which is usually unnecessary for connecting flights at most U.S. airports. Because of the way the Boston airport is configured, the hijackers arrived at Gate 9 in Terminal B but needed to cross a parking lot and were observed asking for directions to the gate where they boarded American Flight 11, according to the report.
"No one knows what they knew" in planning the attacks, said Al Felzenberg, a former spokesman for the Sept. 11 commission. "The best we could do is retrace their steps. They did some careful planning and they also made some mistakes."