One in this documentary series. In this edition, correspondent Hedrick Smith traces the personal histories of three men who piloted the hijacked planes of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks -- Mohamed Atta, Marwan al-Shehhi, and Ziad Jarrah -- through interviews with friends, relatives, classmates, and acquaintances. The program begins in Hamburg, Germany, where Atta attended a graduate program in urban planning; Atta's academic advisor Dittmar Machule, architectural designer Jorg Lewin, and fellow student Volker Hauth discuss their impressions of Atta as a serious student. In Cairo, Atta's father, Mohamed Al-Amir Atta, Sr., talks through a translator, describing Atta as "gentle, unassuming, sensitive," but also stating that "America is a filthy thug who wants to hit the Islamic nations." Two of Atta's fellow students, Hauth and Ralph Bodenstein, discuss Atta's "rage and frustration" about the situation in his Egyptian homeland. The program then gives some background on Jarrah and al-Shehhi, whom Atta met at the Al Quds mosque in Hamburg; German intelligence Islamic expert Herbert Mueller discusses how extremists search for recruits at mosques. Sheik Abdullah bin Zayed, the Minister of Information for the United Arab Emigrates, claims that al-Shehhi was a "normal individual until he went to Germany"; Jarrah's uncle Jamal Jarrah says his nephew was a "lovely, gentle boy" who dreamed of being a pilot. Next, the program traces the radicalization of the three men, beginning in the summer of 1997 when they went to Al Qaeda camps in Afghanistan. The program explains that the men attended the camps during the period when Osama bin Laden declared all Americans to be legitimate targets of terror and when two U.S. embassies were bombed in east Africa (footage included). The program traces the months leading up to the terrorist attacks, covering the following activities: the establishment of an Al Qaeda terrorist cell in an apartment in Hamburg; the three men applying for new passports to obscure evidence that they attended the Al Qaeda camps; Atta's graduation with the highest possible grade from the urban planning program; and the arrival of all three men in the United States on tourist visas in the summer of 2000. Two people from Huffman Aviation, Ann Greaves and Thierry Leklou, discuss their impressions of Atta and al-Shehhi who took flying lessons there; George Henry, flight simulator instructor, discusses their interest in familiarizing themselves with jet airplanes. Several warning signs and close calls are reviewed: Sen. Bob Graham (D-Fla.) criticizes the way immigration officials handled Atta when they found that his tourist visa had expired, as well as the FAA's handling of an unusual incident where Atta abandoned a Huffman Aviation airplane on the runway at Miami International Airport after a mechanical failure; Robert Blitzer and Lew Shiliro, both from the FBI, comment on how most of the Saudi "foot soldiers" in the plan were particularly invisible to law enforcement and how Atta's numerous trips abroad in the months leading up to the attacks were key to the plan's success. The arrest a month before the attacks of Zacarias Moussaoui, a French Moroccan student who was seeking advanced jet simulator training in Minnesota, is also covered, as is the role of Mustafa Ahmed, who apparently sent large sums of money to the hijackers and is still at large. Lastly, the program traces the final hours leading up to the attacks: reading excerpts from a document entitled "The Last Night" left by the hijackers; showing final footage of Atta going through security to board the plane; delineating the final moments of Atta and Al-Shehhi as each of the planes they piloted hit the World Trade Center towers; and summarizing the final known events of flight 93, the flight hijacked by Jarrah that crashed in Pennsylvania. No end credits.

(This program is a press preview copy. It contains video, narration, and mix that are not final.)

Cataloging of this program was made possible by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, 2003.


  • DATE: January 17, 2002 Thursday 9:00 PM
  • RUNNING TIME: 0:53:38
  • COLOR/B&W: Color
  • CATALOG ID: T:74693
  • GENRE: Public affairs/Documentaries
  • SUBJECT HEADING: September 11 Terrorist Attacks, 2001
  • SERIES RUN: PBS - TV series, 1983-


    • Aidan Laverty … Producer
    • Laura Longsworth … Producer
    • Thea Guest … Producer
    • John Thynne … Producer
    • Bob Loeterman … Producer, Director, Writer
    • Jane Corbin … Associate Producer
    • Tom Jennings … Field Producer
    • Sandra Velvel … Researcher
    • Hedrick Smith … Writer, Reporter
    • Michael McNally … Voice
    • Margret Guillemin … Voice
    • Mustafa Ahmed
    • Al-Amir Atta, Mohamed, Sr.
    • Marwan Al-Shehhi
    • Mohamed Atta
    • bin Laden, Osama
    • bin Zayed, Abdullah
    • Robert Blitzer
    • Ralph Bodenstein
    • Henry George
    • Bob Graham
    • Anne Greaves
    • Volker Hauth
    • Jamal Jarrah
    • Ziad Jarrah
    • Thierry Leklou
    • Jorg Lewin
    • Dittmar Machule
    • Zacarias Moussaoui
    • Herbert Mueller
    • Lew Schiliro