Mohammed Atta, the apparent ringleader of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror plot, aroused enough suspicion at the border with his polished appearance and a suspicious student visa that he should have been refused entry into the U.S., says a federal border agent. The Baltimore Sun reports that in testimony to the commission investigating the attacks, agent Jose Melendez-Perez, who in a separate encounter barred an alleged al-Qaida operative from entering the country, said Atta was trying to use the wrong kind of student visa at Miami’s airport.
Melendez-Perez said that Atta should have raised other red flags as well. He was older, traveling alone, and was too well-dressed to be coming to the country as a student.
The Sun cited a series of new facts to emerge that appear contrary to top administration officials’ assertions that the 19 hijackers were “clean. Investigators found that several hijackers used passports that had been partially forged and carried visas that might have been obtained fraudulently. Investigators asked how three hijackers who submitted visa applications with false statements were granted visas when the lies could have been easily detected.
The hearing was the first of two that continue today focusing on border and aviation security before the attacks. The commission was created by Congress and President Bush to investigate the attacks and to make recommendations to prevent a recurrence. Its report is due May 27.
Top immigration and State Department officials defended their efforts at stopping terrorists from entering the country. But they said the focus of the entry system at the time was on preventing illegal immigration.