Listen to the archived recording of Maine Things Considered the day after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, as we first learned about the mysterious role Portland played in igniting the deadly chain of events that sparked a war and changed the world.
Tuesday September 11, 2001. It started off as a beautiful late summer day in southern Maine. Deep blue sky. Puffy white clouds and no clue anything was wrong at the Portland Jetport where two men, one with a small bag, boarded a 6am commuter plane bound for Boston .
Within hours, they and 17 other terrorists linked to Al Qaeda would hijack four planes and use them to carry out suicide attacks. Among the nearly 3,000 people killed that day, there were 6 Mainers.
Robert and Jackie Norton from Lubec, both retired, were on Flight 11 to their son’s west coast wedding. Robert Schlegel de Gray was celebrating his recent promotion to the rank of Commander of the United States Navy and moving to a new office at the Pentagon. Stephen Ward from Gorham worked for a bond company on the 101st floor of the North Tower of the World Trade Center. And Portland lawyer James Roux, a military veteran and family man, was heading to a business meeting in California on United Airlines Flight 175, the second plane to hit the World Trade Center.
We now know that the two men who left Portland were Mohammed Atta, 33, and Adul Azziz al Omari, 22, and that they did not enter Maine from Canada. They came from Boston in a rental car for reasons as yet unknown.
Born in Egypt, Atta is considered the mastermind of terrorist attacks. He was brought up in a modern, middle-class Muslim family, attended the University of Cairo and later that of Hamburg, Germany. This is where authorities believe he was introduced to several radical Islamists who formed a terrorist cell which was later recruited and trained by Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan. Since 2001, more than 2,000 American soldiers have been killed in the war in Afghanistan, including more than 20 Mainers.