Muhammad Atta Sr is in
the center of the media storm
|The journalistic frenzy touched off by the 11 September attacks on America has produced no more maudlin a figure than Muhammad Al Amir Atta. The semi-retired lawyer, whose son Muhammad Atta is accused by US authorities of piloting the first hijacked plane into the World Trade Center, has spent the past 10 days in the center of a media maelstrom. A seemingly endless stream of foreign journalists, some of whom flew in just for the interview, have beat a path to Atta's home just off of Pyramids Road.
|What they have found, for the most part, is an angry,
grieving man who defends his son as a gentle soul and
speaks of a set-up by the Israel intelligence services to
turn global public opinion against the Muslim world.
"Mossad and Israel are who benefits the most from this.... They want to try to hang this on the Arab world," Atta told the Cairo Times in a 19 September interview. "When America learns that Mossad did it, they won't be able to say anything."
Interviews with the elder Atta have been chaotic affairs-spiced with red-faced rants against American foreign policy and the conspiracy of which he says his son is an innocent victim.
Mentioning the American military strikes against Iraq, Sudan and Libya, he asked, "Isn't that terrorism? America teaches the world terrorism."
But Atta also expressed his dislike for prime suspect Osama Bin Laden, and offered his sympathy to the American people and the victims of the attacks in New York and Washington DC.
"I love the American people. They're good people," he said. "I mourn for them for anyone, American, Russian or Indian, who died. These are all people."
But his affection did not extend to the American government. Asked if he had a message for the American people, Atta said, "Elect someone different than these oil millionares who want to control the Arab world. Dick Cheney is a billionare from oil. Bush, his family has been in oil for generations...America hasn't had an honorable president since Roosevelt."
A 24 September press conference, organized by the local Foreign Press Association, was equally raucous-with so many media representatives crowding into a Shepherd Hotel ballroom that one cameraman pronounced the affair "a moulid for journalists."
The younger Atta, who graduated from Cairo University with a degree in architecture, hasn't lived in Egypt since 1993. He spent most of the past decade studying urban planning in Hamburg, Germany, where colleagues described him as decent, quietly religious and soft-spoken to the point of shyness.
The father said his son was raised to be solidly apolitical and to focus on "work, home and family." He also said Muhammad had expressed his distaste for Bin Laden after the mid-90s bombing of the Egyptian embassy in Pakistan. "That was the only political opinion he ever expressed to me in his life."
The elder Atta said he had last seen his son about 18 months ago in Egypt. He had never been to visit him in Germany, and knew little of his life there. He also claimed that his son had called him two days after the attack, and described it as "a normal conversation." But he snarled when asked to give further details. Asked what country Muhammad had called from, he said, "The name of the country isn't written on the phone."
Asked where Muhammad was now, he said, "Ask Mossad."
Atta said he hadn't heard from his son since the post-attack phone call, and that he has never called his son since his departure in 1993.
"He calls us," he said. "We don't even have his number."
Prior to the press conference, Atta had promised to provide new evidence that would prove his son's innocence. But in the end, the evidence he produced (a combination of widespread conspiracy theory that 4000 Jewish World Trade Center workers had been warned to stay home and claims that the man pictured in published photos from an airport surveillance camera had a heavier build than his son) failed to convince the media pack.
Atta maintained that the evidence against the accused hijackers including an Arabic flight manual in a car in the Logan airport parking lot and his son's United Arab Emirates passport, had been faked and planted in order to create a rush to judgement against the Muslim world.
"They found a flight manual in the car," he said. "Is he going to be studying on the way?"
Volume 5, Issue 29
See also: Mohamed Atta: Terrorist, Patsy, or Scapegoat?
What Really Happened