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. Cesar

    More sickening bravado over the bestial murder of one man who may or may not have been Usama bin Laden! Are we ever going to hear the end of it???

    May 3, 2011 at 2:20 pm | Report abuse |
    • 9-11

      He wasn't a "man"... he was a TERRORIST

      May 3, 2011 at 3:48 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mr Rosewater

      No. The sheople want bread and circus.

      May 3, 2011 at 6:34 pm | Report abuse |
  2. ldean50

    To Mr. Tuohey and author: Stupid idiot. You don't print, for the world to see, an example of an "actionable item." Whose side are you on?

    May 3, 2011 at 2:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mr Rosewater

      You are brainwashed. This isn't a football game...not Good VS Evil...this is the real world sheople..Your celebrating the death of a scapegoat while the Fukushima Plant poisons you and everyone you love. Moron.

      May 3, 2011 at 6:31 pm | Report abuse |
  3. sam

    yeah, this article started out nice enough then it quickly went downhill around the "american bullets shooting into his arabic head" part. after that it's pure malice. something you might expect a kid to say before they actually know what they're saying.

    i'm just waiting for the cnn article that reassures us that we are, in fact, better people than terrorists. it's not been good so far.

    May 3, 2011 at 2:36 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Chavez

    I understand how this man feels. He did what we are expected to do, still, which is to be correct and not act on what others may consider baseless gut feelings. And because of that, he lives daily with the guilt of the deaths of September 11. Osama bin Laden was the person who set all this evil into action, and continued to rub our noses in it and urge even more death and destruction with his obnoxious videos. It is still not a perfect world, but a better one without him.

    May 3, 2011 at 2:40 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Manny

    Osama now is a hero, thanks to the American people, we await retaliation from these people and God knows how bad is going to be.

    May 3, 2011 at 2:43 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mike Sterling

      So you would have let Osama live? Does being a little troll bring you that much joy? You must live a miserable life.

      May 3, 2011 at 3:39 pm | Report abuse |
  6. peace

    @ mammy It was either Bush or Osama. You choose from facts.

    May 3, 2011 at 2:46 pm | Report abuse |
  7. jj

    lmao the same people blogging about how its not bin laden are the same ones who were against the theory thatobamas was not born here. too funny. isnt it ironic? dont ya think

    May 3, 2011 at 2:56 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Paul

    unfortunately this cycle of hate and vengenance never ends....somebody is always looking for revenge

    May 3, 2011 at 2:57 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Lucky

    America makes me sick believing these lies the CIA tells us

    May 3, 2011 at 3:02 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Manny

    9/11 was done with help of some high ranking officials, Saudi Arabia, and Iran.

    May 3, 2011 at 3:05 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mike Sterling

      If you knew anything you would realize the governments of Iran and KSA are not exactly friends.

      May 3, 2011 at 3:41 pm | Report abuse |
    • 9-11


      May 3, 2011 at 3:46 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Manny

    Israel was behind the killing of Osama, they are the only ones capable of doing this without a mess, American soldiers are to sloppy.

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

      You obviously have no knowledge of the history of the SEALS. If you did, you wouldn't have made such an odd comment.

      May 3, 2011 at 3:37 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mike Sterling

      Trollin' way too hard today aren't we?

      May 3, 2011 at 3:37 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Aurelio Aguilar

    Look, Bin Laden is dead meat! I'm very happy he is. But it ought not end there, though I don't believe it will. However, we ought to go after, not only those responsible for 99/11, but the entire Al Queda movement! i say, "kill'em ALL!MN


    May 3, 2011 at 3:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • Lynne

      Let's just drop a big bomb over the entire region and let God sort it out!

      May 3, 2011 at 3:28 pm | Report abuse |
    • Cesar

      You two guys above are regular sickos. But then again,we do live in a very sick society as evidenced by how the public reacted to Usama bin Laden's wanton and unwarranted murder!

      May 3, 2011 at 7:22 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Aurelio Aguilar

    The depravity with which these barbarians give no thought to innocent human life, as they go about their masacres,
    should prompt the U.S. to go as far as necessary to eradicate the world of such bandits. that is all they are; BANDITS!

    May 3, 2011 at 3:24 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Mike

    Manny is really trolling hard for responses today. Good luck fella

    May 3, 2011 at 3:24 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Aurelio Aguilar

    We ought not REST, until such time when we have apprehended each & every filthy terrorist. We should flush every last one of them out from wherever they hide & even those that would hide them! We had BETTER not give up the pursuet!mn

    May 3, 2011 at 3:32 pm | Report abuse |
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