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Atta's Father Still Insists His Son is Alive
CAIRO, Egypt — Mohammed al-Amir Atta no longer practices law, but when it comes to his son, he can still put up a spirited defense.
They are loud, long arguments that allow few interruptions and carefully evade the key questions: Was his son really the lead hijacker in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks? How does he live with the knowledge? Does he still think his son is alive?
The answers given by the snowy-haired, 68-year-old Egyptian in his apartment near the Pyramids tend to echo the anguish, defiance and inherent contradictions that have typified many Arab responses in the three years since planes crashed into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
First, the denial: The attacks weren't the work of Muslim fanatics. “Look to Mossad,” Israeli intelligence.
Next, the rationalization: “No nation has done as much evil in the world as America did, and you do not expect God to punish it?”
And then the defiance: “If a Palestinian flies a plane and strikes the White House and kills Bush, his wife and his daughters, he will go to heaven. So will any Muslim who defends his faith.”
There are Arab commentators that have urged their publics to look inward for answers, rather than put all the blame on America. Lately, following the blood bath in the Russian school seized by Chechen attackers, such thinking has grown more noticeable.
“Our terrorist sons are an end-product of our corrupted culture,” Abdulrahman al-Rashed, general manager of Al-Arabiya television, wrote in a newspaper column after the massacre in Russia.
But the urge to blame outsiders remains strong, as evidenced by paperbacks sold on Cairo's streets that explore the latest conspiracy theories, and which Atta cites as proof of Mossad involvement.
He still refuses to give direct answers to questions about his son. The likeliest sign of an acceptance of death is a photo on the living-room wall. Next to the photo are framed inscriptions — “Glory to God,” “By God's Grace.”
But if they are an expression of mourning, as is often the purpose of such displays in Egypt, the father won't acknowledge it. “Sons are dear,” is all he will say when pressed.
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