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. Alex

    The Saudi Monarchy next!

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

    If anyone believes that the end of Bin Laden means the end of Al Queda, you had better WAKE UP! Those terrorists will cowardly continue to hurt the innocent, because they are not MEN! They are cowardly animalistic bandits, that do what they do for the sheer pleasure of their evil! These are but a waste of life! Life they do not deserve to have!

    May 3, 2011 at 3:40 pm | Report abuse |
    • rebecca

      you are so right, and he used a woman as a shield. I am wondering what he thought when he stood for the judgement seat of Jesus Christ. I bet he was shocked

      May 3, 2011 at 7:13 pm | Report abuse |
  3. raw70

    That should be "butt", with two "t"s. If you're going to take the time to insult someone, please take the time to spell it correctly.

    May 3, 2011 at 3:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • el slimmo

      Ah, I see that the Gestypo is out in full force...

      May 3, 2011 at 6:09 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Nate

    I like the bit in another story about American Forces using sophisticated equipment to prevent their helicopters from showing up on Pakastani radar. Hmm...let me guess. That referenced sophisticated equipment was a Pakistani radar operator, an envelope, and $10,000 dollars.

    May 3, 2011 at 3:48 pm | Report abuse |
  5. 2/8

    An eye for an eye.....isn't that how they do it?

    May 3, 2011 at 3:49 pm | Report abuse |
    • Frankly Speaking..

      Yup, save us tax money and give the criminals what they deserve..Not life for killing

      May 3, 2011 at 4:40 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Scar

    Someone needs to check Osama's body. I heard the USS Carl Vinson is missing two pork links. I hope it's really three or four. Pack them in baby.

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

      Odd that someone would immediately think of something like that. Are you a male?

      May 3, 2011 at 6:04 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Gloria

    I certainly hope and pray that Mr. Tuohey will eventually have some peace in his heart and mind.

    May 3, 2011 at 4:01 pm | Report abuse |
  8. sharon

    Here's the thing: in order to do a good job at whatever, MUST there always be hard evidence to guide us to do the right thing? So what if he had had the gumption to pay attention to his gut and not sell the hijackers their tickets? People who are dead would still be alive. No wonder he is fist pumping. Somebody else "fixed" the problem he helped to create. Taa boy, Mickey!

    May 3, 2011 at 4:07 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jud

      Sharon...Tuohey didn't sell the tickets, he was just checking them in. They went by the book, everything they did until they boarded the plane in Boston was totally legal. He couldn't have prevented them from getting on the plane without risking his job, and not on hard facts, but a 'gut feeling'. What if someone didn't like the way you acted, or looked, and didn't let you on a plane because of a gut feeling? Bet you would have yourself surrounded by lawyers in a minute.

      May 3, 2011 at 11:53 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Brad

    It's amazing how many stupid people are out there thinking this a hoax.

    May 3, 2011 at 4:13 pm | Report abuse |
  10. CAR

    What a terrible thing to live with and beat yourself up about. How many times do we encounter someone crazy in our lives and have gut feelings about. He is a normal guy, doing his normal job...there was nothing he could have done.

    May 3, 2011 at 4:23 pm | Report abuse |
  11. obsthetimes

    I don't know why Bin Laden's wives and children were left alive?
    Letting them live exemplifies the humanity of the united states, but this man did not care how many sons, daughter, fathers he killed or how many families he destroyed.

    May 3, 2011 at 4:32 pm | Report abuse |
  12. nur amabo nur

    Troll or not manny is 100% correct about obl had zero to do with 9/11. I have read the 911 commission report it dose not mention obl anywhere. That's a fact. He has not been charged, or even listed as wanted by fbi for 911. Read the report for yourself, get a page and paragraph where he is mentioned and I will humbly apologize. Obl is dead, he was a bad guy, but when you start saying things that have nothing but evidence to the contrary you just look un educated.

    May 3, 2011 at 4:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • joybean

      >> I have read the 911 commission report it dose not mention obl anywhere. That's a fact.

      Try again:

      May 3, 2011 at 5:34 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Manny

    @Diane, sometimes the truth hurts, don't believe all you hear, you will never know what's going on, its true that he's dead, but the Americans had little to do on this, remember that American soldiers are not well trained as the Israelis, these people (Israelis) can handle any situation and finish it the right way, Americans always trip on something or someone.

    May 3, 2011 at 4:33 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Bishop Walter Dixon

    Archbishop Walter Dixon Congratulates President Barack Obama on the success of the death of Osama Bin Laden.

    cc: President Barack Obama and media outlets.

    I want to congratulate President Barack Obama and his administration on the success of the death of Osama Bin Laden. Families can now close this chapter of America's worst tragedy involving "911" where some four thousand, (plus) innocent people were killed and now justice has been brought to Ground Zero. Today, we honor the memory of our citizens that lost their lives on the attack of the World Trade Center, the attack on the Pentagon and those brave passengers that overcame the hijackers that prevented the plane from crashing into another target, possibly the White House.

    Over six thousand men and women in our military Armed Forces that have lost their lives in protecting America from terrorist attacks, both here and abroad. While I do not condone murder of any kind, the death of Osama Bin Laden was truly caused by his own actions and President Barack Obama made a timely decision to conduct this operation to bring this terrorist leader to justice.

    While victims' families can now have a peace in their hearts, America and its citizens must remain focus knowing there maybe others like Osama Bin Laden who may continue to carry out his legacy on bringing terrorist attacks against America.

    May God continue to bless this great nation we call America and Osama Bin Laden will now have to face the vigorous and senseless actions of his sins with God. I pray that all Americans and those around the world that felt America's pain will now join in America's victory and unite together to fight terrorism.

    Thanks to the leadership of our Commander and Chief , President Barack Obama and may God bless America.

    Baptist Archbishop Walter Dixon
    Forgiveness Missionary Church of Christ
    P.O. Box 832161
    Stone Mountain, GA 30083
    678.948.8747 (Prayer Line)

    May 3, 2011 at 4:37 pm | Report abuse |
    • Umm

      I'm pretty sure a real archbishop of a real church wouldn't have a yahoo e-mail address. lol

      May 3, 2011 at 6:15 pm | Report abuse |
  15. nur amabo nur

    Your welcome Walter (the checks in the mail)

    May 3, 2011 at 4:39 pm | Report abuse |
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