Looking somewhat plump and with a grown beard, Mohammed Atta seemed meek as he played with a Pashtun hat like a child. He stuttered in front of the camera and was smiling… This was how Mohammed Atta appeared in footage recorded in January 2000 in Afghanistan. In this recording, he did not in any way resemble the picture of the leader of the terrorist group that carried out the 9/11 attacks, an image that has been engraved in our minds.
The tape that was acquired by the British newspaper, The Sunday Times and aired on its website portrays a different side of Atta to the well-known austere face from the infamous passport photograph that was distributed by the FBI following the attacks. In the photo, we see a shaved young Egyptian man with a dark, thin face, staring coldly. In his eyes, there is the same penetrating look that we imagine he had as he hijacked the American Airlines aircraft and flew it into the World Trade Center.
The same tape features the Lebanese national Ziad Jarrah, who is considered number two of the group, appearing with a full beard, comfortable, affectionate and joking with his friend, Mohammed Atta.
In The Sunday Times tape, Atta and Jarrah read their martyrdom wills. Despite the lack of sound in the tape, it is important to watch. Dualism is what dominated the lives of the nineteen hijackers. The suicidal individuals were able to prepare for their insane mission by utilizing the faculties of both lives and this is what the Western societies that these individuals hated had found.
Since the September 11 attacks, Arab and international press has devoted itself to following the story of the 9/11 hijackers, particularly that of Mohammed Atta and Ziad Jarrah as the two central figures of the attacks. Regardless of the conditions surrounding the broadcasting of the tape five years after the attacks and without reducing the importance of the acquiring and the leaking of the tape, we must stop and look at the timing of these images and its significance, which has not provoked a practical interest from Arab media. The story of the two hijackers reveals sharp changes in their characters after disappearing for a while, (we now know that they were in Afghanistan).
Anne Greaves, a colleague of Mohammed Atta at an aviation school in Florida where Atta had enrolled in 2000, said that Atta did not share the enthusiasm of other trainees for whom learning to fly was very exciting, fun and interesting. For Atta however, it was not. At the gym, Mohammed Atta would frequently use the weight machines to build his muscles and strength required to carry out the operation.
Atta’s story in the last few months of his life suggests that he was a cruel and disturbed individual who hated women. One of his female colleagues at university stated that she barely has any memory of him laughing and this is exactly what made the recent tape an authentication of the last “human” traits of the two hijackers before they were possessed by a sadistic will that drove them to kill people in the name of paradise.