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. Manny

    I'm not jewish but I have a trusted informant on Israel, he confirms that they commanded the operation, US will never acknowledge this and Israel will deny it, but its the truth. Americans are being trained in Israel since the first Gulf War, still not good enough.

    May 3, 2011 at 4:39 pm | Report abuse |
  2. nur amabo nur

    Sorry to repost this but I have to. The threat made is that if obl is killed they will set off a nuclear explosion. If this happens and say 50,000 people die will you still be happy we went and killed an un armed, elderly, has been terrorist ? Provoking a terrorist attack is not heroic.

    May 3, 2011 at 4:45 pm | Report abuse |
    • John Blackledge

      Yeah, right..........Al Qaeda has a nuke and the ability to set it off on foreign soil at will. They've just been waiting until Osama's killed before they use it.......... They haven't been holding back anything. When they can attack and kill Americans, they do it. They're not capable of anything more than they've already demonstrated–and bear in mind there hasn't been an Al Qaeda attack on American soil in almost 10 years.

      May 3, 2011 at 5:51 pm | Report abuse |
    • truerepublic

      Let me get this straight, they know how to arm a nuclear device but still don't know how to turn on a shower?

      May 3, 2011 at 7:57 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Manny

    Thank you nur, you are right, Osama was not mentioned, they knew they couldn't prove he was guilty.

    May 3, 2011 at 4:45 pm | Report abuse |
  4. charlie crack

    Dont speculate, exonerate, celebrate! Osamas dead! Rejoice! My brother is there 94th mountain division BSB. He never has told stories of war since Desert Storm. Respect the life and code they live by and please dont speculate. It makes you look ignorant and troll like. Dont be racist and use dumb comments. Read a book, get a job, educate yourself. Idiots!

    May 3, 2011 at 4:47 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Ian

    Wow, that's a lot to carry with you for the rest of your life. Feel bad for the guy.

    May 3, 2011 at 4:48 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Manny

    Nur your post of 445 is excellent, I want to see the americans jumping and singing when they bomb the sh!t out of them.

    May 3, 2011 at 4:48 pm | Report abuse |
    • rebecca

      You are such a slime ball it isn't funny and you're in our country. You should be given a swift kick back to where you came from

      May 3, 2011 at 7:18 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Craig

    I'm very sorry for you,Manny.Either you're truly confused,or you're sadly starved for attention.Whatever the case may be,my sympathies,go out to you,and I wish you nothing but the best.

    May 3, 2011 at 4:51 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Abigail

    "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."

    Wrong. Celebrating his death is the RIGHT thing to do. Enough with this false compassion. The man was evil and he deserved his fate; and he will continue to receive his just deserts long after his corpse gets eaten by fish.

    May 3, 2011 at 5:03 pm | Report abuse |
  9. charlie crack

    Oh B.S, israel??? Come on obama was watching the US pop his @ss based on our intelligence. Of which you all speculators have none of.

    May 3, 2011 at 5:12 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Lisa

    1. I'm glad that the United States finally killed Bin Laden. No other outcome would satisfy the American people. Although it is rather bittersweet, it does not bring back one life lost on 9/11 but it does send the message to the world that the United States of America will hunt you down no matter how long it takes. Unfortunately with these crazy people they need to know that. I think we should not worry so much about the people that will avenge his death; they were out there anyway hating Americans more every day. Just because Bin Laden is dead does not mean we are really that much safer, I'm sure their little club house will realign its members and find some other crazy person to be in charge.

    May 3, 2011 at 5:36 pm | Report abuse |
  11. charlie crack

    Yeah @ian phuck you! You carry stupidity with you everywhere you go. Typical

    May 3, 2011 at 5:48 pm | Report abuse |
  12. SurRy

    "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."

    Why would a one-way ticket bought with cash have alerted anyone prior to September 11th?

    May 3, 2011 at 5:52 pm | Report abuse |
    • el slimmo

      Paying cash for a ticket was a red flag even prior to 9/11. Same goes for one-way tickets. These things are not illegal, but they scrutinize a heck of a lot more when it's cash or one-way. And not just for security purposes but for other crime-related reasons (ie. drug trafficking).

      May 3, 2011 at 6:14 pm | Report abuse |
  13. lanjha

    Many ticketing agents may feel the same looking at me and I am no Terrorist. What do you say about that?

    May 3, 2011 at 5:54 pm | Report abuse |
  14. SurRy

    This man seems to harbor much rage, hatred and bitterness – probably related to his feelings of guilt. It will likely destroy him. He should seek some professional help if he hasn't already.

    May 3, 2011 at 5:56 pm | Report abuse |
  15. dan smith

    It would be nice if there was some consistency to the accounts. First he was shot resisting then the White House says he wasn't armed. Second he was throw out of the helicopter, but then they said he was taken to Afghanistan and later onto a aircraft carrier and buried at sea. Third Obama claimed Leon Paneta found discovered where his hideout was and now we find out that the information came from Kahlid Sheik Muhammad after Bush had him water boarded. A lot of inconsistencies.

    May 3, 2011 at 5:58 pm | Report abuse |
    • Erika

      Agree with you Dan and a BIG ROUND OF APPLAUSE for the clowns at the white house! Do you really expect us to fall for that, you paraded Saddam Hussein mercilessly and even recorded his hanging but u dont have any proof this time round. Oh well I guess you gotta justify spending billions on 'the war on terror' ....p.s its common knowlege in the middle east Bin Laden died many years ago from cancer....but that aint gonna tell us that : )
      You guys are not even smart enough to make up a logical lie!!!

      May 3, 2011 at 6:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • Joey

      Are you sure about that, Erika? I thought that Usama bin Laden died from nephritis.

      May 3, 2011 at 7:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sorto Wakkanai

      Erika and Dan Smith: You realize that initial accounts ALWAYS have contradictions in news media sources. This is how it is. Be big kids and wait for the coverage to settle

      May 3, 2011 at 8:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • kasey

      Erika, stop smoking whatever you're smoking. It's not healthy.As for the accounts, this always happens because the news media tries to be the first to jump on everything and get details, but most often their "sources" have misinformation simply because the true accounts aren't available yet. Don't blame the White House, blame the new media.

      May 3, 2011 at 9:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • R.J.

      You don't have to be armed to resist.

      May 3, 2011 at 9:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • KER

      you must be illiterate. not one thing you said was from anything i read, either here on anywhere else, as being the official information from the white house.

      1) bin laden was not armed, but resisted. there was ONE false interpretation of the info that said he was armed, and that was updated within minutes.
      2) pakistan captured the al queda operatives, who *were* waterboarded, but according to BUSH officials, did NOT give up the information that led to bin laden through torture. BUSH's staff says the name of the courier - all the info they got from the AQ's at gitmo - was gotten using regular interrogation tactics.
      3) this may be the hardest for people who don't know anything about the government that they either run down or stand up for: there are MANY agencies and hundreds of people who work intel in this country and outside our borders. The information gathered represented years of work in the middle east, by many different countries including pakistan and the US, and hundreds of thousands of man-hours by the military, the CIA, and the NSA – at least.
      4) the most important information came from a wiretapped phone – through the NSA.
      5) all of the intel agencies and the military and the president's office of both Bush and Obama garnered information that led to bin laden's death.
      6) no ONE person has credit, can take credit, or should take credit, for the killing of bin laden, because no ONE person accomplished it. the people who made it happen are unknown to you. they work in offices in d.c., virginia, and maryland, as well as in foreign countries, and their names will never, ever, be made public.
      7) learn a little bit about US security agencies. and learn how to read better. the only reason YOU are confused is that YOU are confused. the information itself is straightforward and clear. it's your head that isn't.

      May 3, 2011 at 9:27 pm | Report abuse |
    • TW

      Erika, it was the Iraqis who hung Saddam. The U.S government turned his body over to them. Just thought I would clear that up for you first….. Also, you say...p.s its common knowledge in the middle east Bin Laden died many years ago from cancer. HUH? If it's SO common knowledge, we wouldn't have HAD to hear it from the U.S. gov't! Wouldn't ya think reports all over the world would have reported it? Ever heard of Al-Jazeera?

      May 3, 2011 at 9:45 pm | Report abuse |
    • chris

      What would be really nice is if Bin Laden were killed. Oh wait, President Obama took care of that.

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

      Enough is enough! Osama died because he had too many pork links shoved (you can fill out the rest). Who cares how he died – just so long as he is dead.

      May 3, 2011 at 11:43 pm | Report abuse |
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