Old Wives' Tales
Radio & TV
Toxin du jour
Claim: A convicted terrorist released by Israel at the insistence of the United States participated in the
Example: [Collected on the Internet, 2001]
Origins: What we can say is that someone needs a more reliable 'reliable source.'
On 12 April 1986, Mahmoud Mahmoud Atta (also known as Mahmoud Abad Ahmad), a 33-year-old Jordanian native, ambushed a passenger bus in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. Atta (working with an accomplice) stopped the bus with a firebomb, then opened fire on it with an Uzi, killing the driver and seriously wounding three passengers.
Atta was arrested in Venezuela a year later, but because Venezuela had no extradition treaty with Israel, Venezuelan officials deported him for immigration violations to his country of origin, the United States.
Fast forward ten years. As the U.S. tries to piece together the terrorist plot that resulted in four hijacked airliners and the destruction of both World Trade Center towers, they discover that the mastermind was apparently one Mohamad Atta, who had entered into the U.S. unnoticed and spent well over a year here receiving training at more than one American flight school. Newspapers (both domestic and foreign) begin to criticize U.S. intelligence and law enforcement agencies for allowing a known terrorist to slip into the country so easily:
[The Australian, 2001]Finally, the Boston Globe, at least, caught onto the error and realized that the bus bomber and the hijacker were two different people with the same name:
Much was made about Osama bin Laden's network and how difficult these people are to find. Yet Mohammed Atta, who piloted one of the planes that crashed into the World Trade Centre, was a prime suspect in the 1986 terrorist bombing of a bus in Israel. How does someone like that — none of the hijackers used aliases — get into the US?
[San Francisco Chronicle, 2001]
According to a number of published reports, though most chillingly detailed in the Los Angeles Times, at least one of the suicidal hijackers, Mohamed Atta, managed to travel in and out of the United States on an expired visa. This despite the fact that Atta was on the government's watch list of suspected terrorists and had been since 1986 when he was implicated in a bus bombing attack in Israel.
[Boston Globe, 2001]
At least one of the Boston hijackers, Mohamed Atta, was able to enter the United States despite having been implicated in a 1986 bus bombing in Israel, according to federal sources. In interviews with the Globe yesterday, flight instructors in Florida said that it was common for students with Saudi affiliations to enter the United States with only cursory background checks, and sometimes none.
Last week, many news organizations, including The Boston Globe, reported that US authorities believed Atta had attacked a commercial bus in Israel in 1986. But Second Circuit US Court of Appeals records show that was a case of mistaken identity. Another man, a naturalized US citizen who used the alias of Mahmoud Atta, was arrested in that attack.Clearly, the message quoted at the head of this article is wrong in its facts. The Atta who attacked a bus was arrested by the FBI and extradited to Israel, not "captured by Israelis," and his extradition didn't take place until two years after Reagan left office. In fact, the Oslo Agreement itself wasn't signed until nearly five years after Reagan left office. All of this makes it rather difficult to support the claim that Atta was released under the terms of the Oslo Agreement at the insistence of "President Ronald Reagan and Secretary of State George Schultz" (which explains why this information "was missing from later reports").
What's puzzling to us is why newspapers — much less "US authorities" — should have been confused as to whether the two Attas were the same man (especially since one was fourteen years older than the other) or describing Atta as someone "suspected of" or "implicated in" a bus attack for which he had already been convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment ten years earlier.
(According to The Jerusalem Post, Atta the bus bomber "was eventually freed after the Supreme Court ruled there were faults in the extradition process," but the article did not state when this reversal occurred. Newspaper accounts as late as 1993 still described Atta as "serving a life sentence in an Israeli prison.")
What we have here appears to be a case of mistaken identity. The mystery we can't solve is why the mistake was made in the first place.
In mid-2002 the "We freed Atta" claim was twinned in
WTC Bomber Was Never Held in Israel (The Jerusalem Post)
Last updated: 7 March 2008
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