NEW YORK: As the world marks 20 years of the horrific 9/11 terror attacks, a ticket agent at the Washington area airport who checked-in two of the al-Qaeda hijackers says he has blamed himself all these years and lived the thought of what could have happened "if I had done something different."
A report by ABC News said that Vaughn Allex, an American Airlines ticket agent at Dulles International Airport on September 11, 2001, "will never forget the faces of two of the 9/11 hijackers.'
He looked them in the eye that morning and asked who packed their luggage.
Salem and Nawa Al-Hazmi had run into the terminal and appeared lost as they approached Allex's counter.
Even though they were late, Allex ensured they boarded Flight 77 since they had two full-fare, first-class tickets.
Later that day, Flight 77 crashed into the western side of the Pentagon.
Allex says he has lived with his decision for the last 20 years.
The report said guilt has tortured Allex for years.
"I blame myself, I thought, you know, if I had done something different, if I'd not let them on, if I just said to the agents, these two guys are late, let them get the next flight. We have one at noon. It's no big deal," Allex said.
He recalls that the check-in for the two brothers "was odd. The two that I checked in, two brothers, one was kind of gruff and the other one was standing a couple of paces behind him. And this sounds odd, but this is what caught my attention."
He was almost dancing, he was moving from foot to foot and grinning and looking around, and my thought was, here's somebody that's never been on an airplane and boy is this guy excited," Allex said in the interview to ABC News.
"And I kind of watched him for a couple of minutes as we went through the whole check. And he was totally unresponsive as far as whatever we asked him to read, to look verbally. He just smiled and danced and was oblivious to what was going on," he said in the report.
"That's the image I have, is the two of them standing there and the one just dancing, it was the oddest thing," he said.
He said it was only until mid-morning of September 12, when FBI officials were talking to him that he found that the last two passengers he checked in were two of the hijackers.
"I had no idea until that moment that I had been involved in it," Allex said.
Up until that moment he was "dealing like everybody else was with what happened with losing friends, losing passengers, losing the crew. I knew all of the crew on the flight deck and I knew all of the cabin crew, I'd worked with them for years."
Allex, who retired from American Airlines in 2008 and now works for the Transportation Security Administration, recalled that as he looked at the passenger list and saw the names of the two hijackers, he looked at the FBI official and said "I did it, didn't I?" The officials asked him, 'what did you do?' And I go, 'these were the two that I put in,'" Allex said.
"The rest is history" I didn't know all of September 11th until that moment on September 12th -- I did not realise that I had checked-in two of the hijackers."
While his decision on the fateful day haunted him, Allex says, the "turning point" for him came when he saw the 9/11 Commission report and saw his name mentioned in the report.
"I'm on page three. I have a little paragraph and a footnote, footnote number 12."
"That's when it started to get better. That's when I went -- oh my gosh. There were so many other people involved, there were so many innocent people that just touched on this. And I had just such a small, tiny five-minute part of it. But before that, it was -- it was terrible," he added.
A total of 2,977 people died in the terror attacks in New York and Washington on September 11, 2001.
The attacks, which were planned by al-Qaeda from Afghanistan, saw four US passenger jets seized by suicide attackers, two of which were flown into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York.
Another plane crashed into the Pentagon, just outside the US capital, Washington DC, and a fourth plane crashed in a field in Pennsylvania.