Mohamed Atta, the man believed to have been the ringleader of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, asked a Department of Agriculture official in Florida for a loan in April or May 2000 to buy a crop-duster and questioned her about security at the World Trade Center and buildings in Washington, the official said in an interview that appeared last night on ABC News.
He also spoke to her about al-Qaida and praised Osama bin Laden.
Johnell Bryant, a USDA loan manager in Florida City, said she told Atta that he could not have a loan of $650,000 to buy a twin-engine, six-passenger plane, which he wanted to equip with a very large tank. He then became agitated, Bryant said, and asked her what was to keep him from slitting her throat.
"He started accusing me of discriminating against him because he was not a United States citizen," Bryant said.
When she told him that there was no money in the safe and that she was trained in martial arts, he asked how he could get such training. Later, she said, he told her he wanted to buy an aerial picture of Washington that hung in her office. He pulled out a wad of cash and threw money on her desk, even after she said she would not sell it. He asked about the White House and Pentagon, and she pointed them out.
He said al-Qaida could use someone with her qualifications, and mentioned bin Laden, Bryant said. "He mentioned that this man would someday be known as the world's greatest leader," she said. "I didn't know who he was talking about."
He also asked her about other cities, including Phoenix, Los Angeles, Seattle and Chicago.
Bryant said she thought she was simply helping a new immigrant learn about this country.
"Should I have picked up the telephone and called someone?" she said. "You can't ask me that more often than I have asked myself that."