May 3rd, 2011
02:08 PM ET

Agent who checked in 9/11 hijackers: Bin Laden death brought 'great joy'

At 5 a.m. Monday, Michael Tuohey turned on his television and saw video of President Obama announcing that Osama bin Laden had been killed.

He pumped his fist in the air and shouted "Yes!" like many Americans had upon hearing the news. Like his countrymen, it took him back to September 11, 2001 - but not to the images of the twin towers or the Pentagon. Instead, he recalled the glaring eyes of Mohamed Atta, the leader of the group of hijackers, staring back at him at the US Airways counter at Portland (Maine) International Jetport before a flight to Boston about 5 a.m. September 11.

"I see his eyes all too often," Tuohey told CNN. "And of course I pictured them again (Monday). Unfortunately, I still get flashbacks."

Despite a gut feeling about Atta and traveling companion Abdulaziz Alomari, the ticket agent checked in the two men who would help bring al Qaeda international infamy on September 11. Tuohey said there was nothing the pair did that could elevate his concerns to the point where he wouldn't be able to issue a ticket: There wasn't a one-way ticket bought in cash or anything else actionable.

"They didn't walk up there green and try and pull this off," Tuohey told CNN affiliate WCSH. "They knew what I would be looking for. They knew what they wanted to hear. This was not a fly-by-night, 'let's walk up and see if we can do this.' "

So nearly 10 years later, the death of the man who indirectly sent the hijackers to his counter was met with happiness and a "sense of satisfaction."

"I was fist-pumping at 5 in the morning," Tuohey told CNN. "It brought me great joy."

Tuohey said that though he tries not to let the past get to him, he couldn't help but have strong emotions.

"I got a little choked up, because just knowing, you can't help but reflect back," he told CNN. "I thought about things that happened; it ran through my mind again: those people on the roof of the building, the terror and the horror that was in their mind at the time."Especially because in the immediate aftermath of September 11 and in the years following, Tuohey felt a great deal of guilt that, in a way, he had allowed two terrorists to take the lives of Americans.

"It was guilt only because, you know, tangentially, I was involved," Tuohey said. "Was there something that he said, either one of them? Should I have picked up on something?"

In 2005, Tuohey told CNN that he "felt ashamed that I did not react to my instincts."

"I was right. I was right," he said, adding that he knew something was off about the two men. "I don't know how you describe it, how your stomach twists and turns. You get sick to your stomach."

That personal connection makes bin Laden's death an especially sensitive topic for Tuohey.

"It doesn't help me. It makes me feel good," he said. "It's nice. It's a great feeling - he's dead."

Although he said there will never be closure, he was thrilled that the U.S. was finally able to bring the al Qaeda leader to justice.

"The way it happened made it even better," he said. "It was an American operation run by Americans, using American bullets, shooting into his Arabic head."

Hearing of how bin Laden had been killed, Tuohey said, he knows that even though he shouldn't think this way, he hoped the al Qaeda leader experienced some of the stinging emotions of those who lost loved ones on September 11.

"I hope he saw his son get killed. I hope he saw a soldier aiming a bullet at him," he said. "I wanted him to feel that sinking, awful, terrible feeling, even if it was just for a split second, that you saw your son lose your head, maybe.

"I just wanted him to be fearful and watching someone close to him die and turn and face a bullet, knowing he's going to die, to feel that fear that he inflicted on others and the pain he inflicted on thousands of people."

Today, he knows that he did practically everything he could September 11 - that he saw how the purchase date of the ticket and type weren't out of the norm - but he'll still bear the emotional scars for not stopping the hijackers. It's why he can't watch any video or see images of the attacks.

"I can't see it knowing that a person who I had standing in front of me several hours earlier was the leader of that whole (hijacking plan)," he told WSCH.

Perhaps it was coincidence that Tuohey went to bed Sunday unaware of the events, that he woke up about the same time he met the hijackers whose faces he can never forget and learned of their leader's death.

If nothing else, Tuohey said, it's why with those images in mind, he can celebrate revenge, even if it's not the right thing to do.

"I suffered anguish, and I still do," he said, making sure to note that it was not about closure for him. "But maybe, even just in a fleeting moment, I wanted him to feel that he was losing something precious to him, like a son, a life, like all the lives we lost that day."

soundoff (131 Responses)
  1. Jason

    Good read. Real emotions from a real American. I too hoped he felt the feeling of loss before death. It would be nice if he bled for a while before the head shot.

    May 3, 2011 at 6:18 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Erika

    LOVE THAT!!! Allah SWTA is with the patient!

    May 3, 2011 at 6:28 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Mr Rosewater

    I hope he saw his son get killed. I hope he saw a soldier aiming a bullet at him," he said. "I wanted him to feel that sinking, awful, terrible feeling, even if it was just for a split second, that you saw your son lose your head, maybe.

    "I just wanted him to be fearful and watching someone close to him die and turn and face a bullet, knowing he's going to die, to feel that fear that he inflicted on others and the pain he inflicted on thousands of people."

    WHAT HAVE WE BECOME?!?!?!?!

    May 3, 2011 at 6:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jen

      This is a guy who, for the rest of his life, is going to think of himself as being the guy who could have stopped 9/11, but didn't. You really need to excuse him for thinking from a place of emotion, rather than ethics, at this point.

      May 3, 2011 at 6:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • Joey

      What's wrong with you,Mr Rosewater? Are you truly that full of hate for the Muslims? Going around filled with that kind of hatred is bad for eveybody and cold-blooded murder is never justified.

      May 3, 2011 at 7:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • Joey

      Sorry Mr Rosewater,I missread your post above. The answer to you question "what have we become?" appears that we became a nation of right-wing fanatics spewing hatred and ignorance,sadly enough. The same thing happened to Germany.

      May 3, 2011 at 7:31 pm | Report abuse |
    • kasey

      Joey, lighten up. You'd probably feel the same way if you'd an opportunity to perhaps stop the whole thing from happening and was unable to do so. Think from this guy's point of view for a minute.

      May 3, 2011 at 9:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • j

      Um HELLO! He flew planes into our buildings on top of numerous attempts against the US. We have been doing this for some hundred years now. Your an idiot if your surprised of his comment, and your just a part of it. Go back to history class. We are all crazies because its our nature an we can be.

      May 3, 2011 at 10:51 pm | Report abuse |
    • j

      Oh and dont forget that this is one of the top most wanted terrorists worldwide, and you feel bad for what dude said of him suffering? He got what he had coming to him, he made that decision. And as far as im concerned, you would be feeling the same way if you had a family member or friend in those towers.

      May 3, 2011 at 10:54 pm | Report abuse |
  4. da funkee 1

    Shhhhhh....be careful...there are idiots among us!

    May 3, 2011 at 6:43 pm | Report abuse |
    • Scar

      And they multiply

      May 4, 2011 at 12:51 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Jazzzzzzzz

    God didn't say "thou shall not kill UNLESS". God said "thou shall not kill" and pls don't give me any of that "eye for an eye" crap. Just refer back to the previous statement GOD SAID not me.

    May 3, 2011 at 6:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • kiko

      Thou shall not murder..it's different

      May 3, 2011 at 8:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jake

      Reason says: Thou shalt not believe in fairytales.

      May 3, 2011 at 8:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • Roofa

      Then said Jesus unto him, Put up again thy sword into his place: for all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword.

      May 3, 2011 at 10:07 pm | Report abuse |
    • Frank

      Translated hundreds of times over for political purposes, and you ACTUALLY believe that Jesus said this, or anything like it? Proof is just by this newstory, first he used his wife as a shield, then he didn't, then she was dead, then she wasn't, he had a gun, then he didn't, he was asleep, he was awake, he was tossed from a copter, he was tossed from a boat. And that is just 36 hours. You're quoting something from 2,000 years ago.

      May 3, 2011 at 10:42 pm | Report abuse |
    • j

      Dont bring that religious crap into this. The protestants came over here to avoid being prosecuted and we still fought wars to do so. Hypocrits. The many religions that seem to exist are THE reason all of this keeps happening.

      May 3, 2011 at 11:05 pm | Report abuse |
    • j

      Excuse me, persecution*

      May 3, 2011 at 11:13 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Nora

    Dear Mr. Tuohey

    When you say,"I see his eyes all too often," Tuohey told CNN. "And of course I pictured them again (Monday). Unfortunately, I still get flashbacks," I understand completely. For months after the attacks, I had nightmares, and in every dream, I saw the face of Atta and his piercing, evil eyes staring at me. I can't imagine your nightmares.
    I hope now that Bin Laden is dead, you have some peace of mind. God bless and keep you.

    May 3, 2011 at 6:52 pm | Report abuse |
    • LW

      Yes, I agree. Know that you are not to blame, Mr. Tuohey. That's a horrible burden to carry.

      (Don't know why most of the comments here are not about this article, but then again.....I shouldn't be surprised. DUH!)

      May 3, 2011 at 8:20 pm | Report abuse |
  7. j

    "The way it happened made it even better," he said. "It was an American operation run by Americans, using American bullets, shooting into his Arabic head."

    four pages of comments. anybody?

    May 3, 2011 at 7:07 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Proud2bamerican

    Proud to be the servant of someone that caused so much pain and destruction? We are talking about thousands! If you take pride being associated with a mass terrorist I pitty you, your childhood must have been a horrible one! God may change your ways!

    May 3, 2011 at 7:07 pm | Report abuse |
  9. rebecca

    Get behind me you Satan

    May 3, 2011 at 7:09 pm | Report abuse |
  10. CT

    This is a lesson to always follow our instincts!!

    May 3, 2011 at 7:22 pm | Report abuse |
  11. John R

    Right now Osama's butt is being roasted like a pig in a special hell for non-humans, one floor below that of regular hell. Then he'll be sprinkled with bacon bits and served to the hungry condemned. Osama you bad.

    May 3, 2011 at 7:39 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jsizzle

      Ooooh, that is good!

      May 3, 2011 at 9:57 pm | Report abuse |
  12. truerepublic

    Hey Ben Dover – worship my proud American a$$

    May 3, 2011 at 7:54 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Cesar

    M. Tuohey: I'm with you big guy. And death to ALL TERRORISTS.

    May 3, 2011 at 8:25 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Shannon

    "Shooting into his Arabic head"?? You crossed the line from traumatized to just plain racist, sir. I am kind of freaked out by this article.

    May 3, 2011 at 9:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • Tim

      Bin Laden was Saudi Arabian by nationality...therefore making him an Arab, and likewise, Arabian.

      May 3, 2011 at 10:11 pm | Report abuse |
  15. matt

    You are all idiots

    May 3, 2011 at 9:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dr. Lecter

      matt, did you expect different from a CNN comment board?

      May 3, 2011 at 10:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • Scar

      I agree with the good Dr – never expect anything intelligent in these forums. Remember half of the people responding never read the entire article and the other half can't read.

      May 4, 2011 at 12:55 pm | Report abuse |
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