BBC. Friday, 7 June, 2002, 13:46 GMT 14:46 UK
Twin towers hijacker ‘sought US loan’
Mohammad Atta, the suspected leader of the World Trade Center hijackers, tried to borrow money from the US Government to buy a plane, a civil servant has revealed.
Johnelle Bryant, a loan officer at the Department of Agriculture, told ABC News that Atta wanted $650,000 to buy and modify a crop-dusting plane in May 2000.
Atta asked Ms Bryant for $650,000
When Atta was rejected for the loan, al-Qaeda switched plans from crashing small planes packed with explosives into buildings to hijacking passenger jets, according to reports of the interrogation of Abu Zubaydah, one of the group’s alleged leaders.
Ms Bryant gave an extensive interview for the first time to the American TV network, hoping her story would serve as a warning, nearly nine months after some 3,000 people were killed in the attacks on New York and Washington.
She said she rejected Atta’s application because it did not make sense and because he was not a US citizen.
She directed him to other agencies and a bank and was not suspicious enough to report the contact to federal authorities.
“He wanted to finance a twin-engine, six-passenger aircraft and remove the seats,” she told the network.
“And he said he was an engineer, and he wanted to build a chemical tank that would fit inside the aircraft and take up every available square inch of the aircraft except for where the pilot would be sitting.”
Atta has been regarded as the ringleader of 19 Arab men – members of Osama Bin Laden’s al-Qaeda – who hijacked four US passenger planes and smashed three of them into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
Atta wanted an aerial photograph showing the White House and Pentagon
Ms Bryant told ABC that she and Atta discussed al-Qaeda and Bin Laden during his visit to her office in Homestead, Florida, and he asked her about security at the World Trade Center and what she knew of Chicago, Seattle and Los Angeles.
She said she thought she was just helping a new immigrant learn about her country.
“How could somebody be that evil, be that close to me and I didn’t recognise it?” she asked.
Atta spent more than an hour with Ms Bryant, though he did not wish to deal with her at first, saying she was “but a woman”.
She said he asked about US landmarks and asked to buy an aerial photograph of Washington on her office wall.
“He pulled out a wad of cash… and started throwing money on my desk. He wanted that picture really bad,” Ms Bryant told ABC.
“He asked about the Pentagon and the White House and I pointed them out.”
Atta also talked of Bin Laden. “He said this man would someday be known as the world’s greatest leader,” Ms Bryant said.
“I didn’t know who Osama Bin Laden was… he could have been a character on Star Wars for all I knew.”
She contacted authorities after recognising Atta in news reports after he piloted the first plane into the World Trade Center.