An affidavit filed by FBI agent James K. Lechner in federal district court in Portland reported that two bags checked by Atta were recovered at Logan Airport Sept. 11. They were never placed on Flight 11 before it departed from Boston, Lechner said, but there was no explanation of why they had not been loaded. Lechner described them as "a green Travel Gear bag" and "a black Travelpro bag."
A former FBI agent and a former federal prosecutor who helped direct the New England investigation of the Sept. 11 attacks told Newsday that one bag found in Boston contained far more than what the commission report cited, including the names of the hijackers, their assignments and their al-Qaida connections.
"It had all these Arab-language papers that amounted to the Rosetta stone of the investigation," former FBI agent Warren Flagg said. The former federal prosecutor, who declined to be identified publicly, supported Flagg's account.
"How do you think the government was able to identify all 19 hijackers almost immediately after the attacks?" Flagg asked. "They were identified through those papers in the luggage. And that's how it was known so soon that al-Qaida was behind the hijackings.
The former prosecutor agreed that papers from the luggage helped identify suspects. "I can't speak on the record about that evidence," he said. "This evidence was gathered under grand jury subpoenas and I can't discuss grand jury matters."
The papers discovered in the hijackers' luggage were bolstered by other evidence gathered against the conspirators by the FBI, the former federal prosecutor said. "These guys left behind a paper trail," he said. "They had bank accounts. They rented cars. They had to show what they were doing in the United States. We investigated 9/11 from day one on the assumption that there might be a criminal prosecution."
But when it seemed clear that all 19 hijackers had been killed in the attacks, jurisdiction transferred from various federal prosecutors' offices around the country to Justice Department headquarters in Washington.
Flagg, an FBI agent for 22 years, worked on terrorism cases, among others. Now president of Flaggman Inc., a Manhattan-based investigative firm, he was retired by Sept. 11 but stayed in close touch with former FBI colleagues and prosecutors.
He said he first heard the account of the luggage's significance in the investigation on Sept. 28, 2001, after attending the funeral for John O'Neill, a former top FBI antiterrorism official who died helping others to safety Sept. 11 in his new job as director of security at the World Trade Center.
After the funeral, he said, he fell into conversation with a young FBI agent he had helped train in the New York office. The agent, working on the Sept. 11 investigation, told him about the luggage. The agent said the New England prosecutor helping direct the investigation - whom Flagg also knew - was familiar with the evidence. Flagg said he telephoned the prosecutor that same day and received confirmation of the agent's account.
"I was devastated because word had already leaked out of the hijackers' identities," Flagg said. "But I was also excited that the FBI had so much evidence so quickly."
The young FBI agent, who has since left the agency, works in private industry and is reportedly in Dubai. He could not be reached for comment.
News reports published in late September and early October 2001 described a piece of luggage apparently belonging to Atta that had been discovered at Logan Airport after the attacks.
That piece of luggage was said to contain Arab-language papers amounting to Atta's last will and testament, along with instructions to the other hijackers to prepare themselves physically and spiritually for death. The papers also admonished them: "Check all of your items - your bag, your clothes, knives, your will, your IDs, your passport, your papers. ... Make sure that nobody is following you." Similar papers were also found in the wreckage of another crashed airliner.
A mix-up in Boston prevented the luggage from connecting with the plane that hijackers crashed into the north tower of the World Trade Center.
An airport that was the starting point for one of the Sept. 11 hijackers was evacuated for several hours after receiving a bomb threat signed under the alleged terrorist's name.
Mayo was to appear in federal court later Thursday on a charge of interfering with a flight crew after disrupting United 923 as it flew from London to Washington, D.C., on Wednesday.
Instructor testified that instructors at the school breathed "a collective sigh of relief" when Atta and al-Shehhi completed their training and left the school