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When Atta brought hell to the north tower of the World Trade Center, when he perished in the flames and had his picture beamed around the world, friends back in Egypt were dumbfounded. They looked and looked again at the photos, trying to find the kid they once knew. "To fly a plane, what a joke! Mohamed could hardly ride a bike," says classmate Osama Abul Enein. "He came from an average middle-class background. Mohamed no way could have done that," agrees Ibrahim Salah, 33, a Cairo engineer who knew him in college.
But he did. How does someone change so much? Experts point out that extremist groups in the Muslim world have been attracting an increasing number of recruits who grew up comfortably. "Just because you are educated and travel does not mean that you cannot join a militant organization," says Hala Mostafa, an authority on militant groups at al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies in Cairo. "Terrorists should be illiterate or primitive? Not so."
Which still doesn't explain what happened to Mohamed Atta. "Let each find his blade for the prey to be slaughtered," reads a passage of the letter found in Atta's luggage. How Atta found his blade may never be known.
--Reported by Scott MacLeod and Amany Radwan/Cairo; Jeanne DeQuine, Kathie Klarreich, Broward Liston, Siobhan Morrissey, Tim Padgett, Michael Peltier and Mary Sutter/Florida; Jane Walker/Madrid; and Regine Wosnitza/Berlin