Sat, Sep 11, 2004 - Page 7 News List

Father of lead terrorist blames Israel, US for 9/11

AP , CAIRO

Retired lawyer Mohammed al-Amir Atta has had three years to hone the attacking style he's adopted as a defense against what he maintains are spurious charges that his son was the lead Sept. 11 hijacker.

The attacks were a Jewish conspiracy carried out by the Israeli intelligence service, not a plot by Islamic extremists including his son, the elder Atta declared in an interview. Moreover, he added, the US deserved the devastating result because of its anti-Arab policies.

Still, Atta is unwilling to answer direct questions about his son, as became apparent when he's asked about a large photograph on his living room wall showing his son relaxed, so unlike the somber passport photo broadcast around the world after Sept. 11, 2001.

"Sons are dear," is all he will say.

Atta no longer claims his son is still alive, even though he once said his son had called him the day after the attack from an undisclosed destination.

The younger Mohammed Atta was named in FBI and congressional reports as the suicide pilot of the first plane to crash into the World Trade Center and the leader of the 19 Arabs who carried out the Sept. 11 attacks.

In a videotape months after the attacks, al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden himself described the 33-year-old Atta as being "in charge of the group" that struck the US.

Today, the elder Atta and many Arabs place the blame for terrorism on what they say are the conditions that fuel militants' anger, not on the militants themselves.

"No nation has done as much evil in the world as America did, and you do not expect God to punish it?" he asked.

"If a Palestinian flies a plane and strikes the White House and kills [US President George W.] Bush, his wife and his daughters, he will go to heaven," Atta said. "So will any Muslim who defends his faith."

Despite his religious rhetoric, Atta smokes and has decorated his apartment with statues of Buddha, actions few devout Muslims would accept.

Gamal Sultan, a former leader of Egypt's militant Islamic Jihad group and editor of the Cairo-based Islamic weekly al-Manar, said Sept. 11 could be attributed to the grievances built up by US backing for Israel and for despotic Arab regimes.

"Arabs and Muslims are angry at America because of its unflinching support to the Zionist entity and to their own dictators," he said, adding the wars on Afghanistan and Iraq launched after Sept. 11 proved that the US had not absorbed this lesson.

Other Arab opinion-makers, though, have said it is Arabs and Muslims who need to draw lessons from terrorism.

One official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said he discovered in studying the younger Atta's life that when the future terrorist was studying engineering at Cairo University in the late 1980s, he was dating and drinking alcohol, activities devout Muslims avoid. The official said the younger Atta was either brainwashed later by bin Laden, or he pulled off an extraordinary deception.

The elder Atta refused to discuss his son's background except to insist that he had raised him to be a good Muslim.

"Muslims should not accept injustice and half solutions," he said. "Islam said fight those who fight you."

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