11/19/2005

Urban Legends Reference Pages: Rumors of War (Atta Boy)

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. (Atta was a naturalized U.S. citizen.) Atta was arrested by FBI agents upon arrival at Kennedy International Airport and held in prison in the U.S. for more than three years before being extradited to Israel for trial in October 1990. His extradition was controversial because the nature of the extradition treaty in effect required that the accused's offense must be of a "non-political nature," and Atta maintained that he had committed political rather than criminal offenses. Nonetheless, the U.S. courts upheld Israel's extradition request on the grounds that Atta had attacked civilian rather than military targets and had therefore committed regular criminal acts, not political acts aimed at the overthrow of a government. In October 1991, an Israeli court found Atta guilty and sentenced him to life imprisonment.

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.

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:

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 e-mail with another popular Internet canard, the "Oliver North warned us about Osama" falsity. North did speak up about a terrorist during the Iran-Contra hearings, but it was Abu Nidal he mentioned, not Osama bin Laden.

WTC Bomber Was Never Held in Israel (The Jerusalem Post)

Urban Legends Reference Pages: Rumors of War (Atta Boy)

1 Comments:

Blogger Jeff Pioquinto,SJ said...

nice articles and nice blog too. thanks

11/19/2005 03:23:00 PM  

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