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. Joe O.

    He got what was coming to him. All the evil men in history have had a bad ending. Hitler, Pablo Escobar,Murdoff etc. You do bad things, bad things happen to you. That's just life.

    May 3, 2011 at 9:54 pm | Report abuse |
  2. donovan


    May 3, 2011 at 10:00 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Ashley

    "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."

    With all due respect, let's be clear here – this is not an anti-Arab mission. Racism is a serious, serious path to tread. Let's all be vigilant with our expressions of frustration about this whole thing. Osama does not represent Arabs, inasmuch as a pastor burning the Quran does not represent me, a fellow American.

    May 3, 2011 at 10:16 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Mochtar Marhum

    I was very happy to hear the good news. As Muslims, we have suffered from stigma and stereotype so far because of the terorism and radicalisation associted with Islam.Terorists have hijacked the teaching of Islam for their own political reasons.By the way congratulationns on the succesful killing od the World Terorist Mastermind

    May 3, 2011 at 11:38 pm | Report abuse |
  5. b27607

    To those of u who think he could have prevented 9/11, no, there were multiple planes from multiple locations, perhaps he could have prevented one hijacking but 9/11 would still have occurred anyway

    May 4, 2011 at 1:26 am | Report abuse |
  6. maykat18

    I for one was proud and over come by emotion when I found out that Osama was killed. I have lost many friends during this war. Not all of them have bee killed in the line of duty. One friend served in the gulf war and he suffer from ptsd. He often had flash backs from when he served. The flash back became so awful he had to be hospitalized. This war is hurting people in many ways. I am extremely proud that our commander in chief had the guts to stand up for this great nation of ours and make such a gutsy call. As for the Seals who were invloved in the shooting of Osama; I am thankful for the service you have provided for our country. Thank you to all our service men and women past present and future fallen alive or injured I give you all my thanks for your services. God bless the USA!!!!

    May 4, 2011 at 1:40 am | Report abuse |
  7. GGEProudAmerican

    You know how much the guy who pulled the trigger must wanna brag. I kno i would. Osama was an evil person who got what he had coming to him.

    May 4, 2011 at 9:26 am | Report abuse |
  8. Psyclops

    I see this whole episode as a surgery to remove a cancer, nothing more. I am grateful that I live in a country protected by service members that are truly top notch, but I will not celebrate anyone's death, because it's a shame that we live in such a messed up world. I hope one day everyone can learn to solve problems without blowing each other up. If Muslims have a problem with their governments selling them out then revolt against your corrupt government. Americans are equally angry with our government over the same issues. Politicians lie to all of us and we're caught in the middle when bullets start flying. Sad.

    May 4, 2011 at 10:05 am | Report abuse |
  9. sheenas

    There is a solution for the Bin Laden photos being shown to the families and get closure.
    If the families of 9/11 were all assembled (making sure that no personal cameras were allowed) and shown the photographs, then 1) there would be closure for them 2) a large number of civilians would have witnessed it 3) it would put an end to the conspiracy theories 4) we would avoid aggravating the Osama sympathisers. That would be the end of drama and speculation. Thank you.

    May 4, 2011 at 10:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • not drinking his coolaid

      and you would know this because...? and as for the "drama and speculation" its people like you who create them...Osama is dead. Get over the fact that he was killed under a liberal Democrat President. For the closure part do you really think there can be a closure over this incident?

      September 12, 2011 at 12:38 am | Report abuse |
  10. Paul Hager

    I am very proud of the American forces for doing there job. It is not a job any body can do, but their special training makes them very valuable, just as the workers at the Chernobyl site gave their lives to protect people. Not everyone can do it and it is stories like these that make us thankful for the work of the tireless professionals in many industries and organizations. If you think about the police officers that are involved day to day with keeping us safe to the millions of soldiers that are helping to propmote democracy and freedom all over the world. We should be thankful to everyone who does a good job of keeping our countries safe. Thanks to the Navy Seals and thanks to all those who played a role in this event. God Bless the USA, a beacon of light.

    May 7, 2011 at 11:09 am | Report abuse |
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