Born in Balkh province, Atta Mohammed joined the mujahideen fighting the Soviet presence in Afghanistan in the 1980s and became affiliated with the Jamiat-e Islami party. By 1992, he had become one of the most powerful Mujahideen commanders in Northern Afghanistan.
Following the fall of Mohammed Najibullah's Democratic Republic of Afghanistan, while remaining a Jamiat commander, he also joined Abdul Rashid Dostum's National Islamic Movement of Afghanistan, becoming a deputy leader of that movement during its first congress on June 1, 1992. However, ideological differences with Dostum soon emerged, and in 1993, he split from Dostum. In January 1994, Atta Noor fought to consolidate the Islamic State of Afghanistan's control over the capital of Balkh, Mazar-i-Sharif, against Dostum's Junbish milita. But Dostum struck first, mobilizing 10,000 men and defeating Atta's forces.
When the Taliban took power in late 1997, Atta Noor served as a commander in the anti-Taliban United Front (Northern Alliance) under Ahmad Shah Massoud. Atta Noor led operations in the Balkh area. Dostum had turned into an ally against the Taliban. On November 9, 2001 Atta Noor's forces and those of Dostum drove the Taliban from Mazar-i-Sharif.
After the establishment of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan under the Hamid Karzai administration, Ustad Atta's forces clashed with those of Dostum several times. From 2002 onwards, with the support of Jamiat-e Islami allies occupying key positions in the Afghan Transitional Administration and the support of the international community which tried to marginalize Dostum for his dubious record, Atta Noor expanded his influence in Northern Afghanistan. He managed to seize Mazar-i-Sharif using little force, only the Khulmi District was taken by force. Atta subsequently attempted to buy the loyalty of local leaders in Faryab, Jowzjan, and Balkh provinces. In October 2003, Dostum launched an offensive, and managed to retake many of the positions he had lost since 2002. Near Mazar, Dostum outmaneuvred Atta's armoured forces, and captured all the key positions around the city. The fighting initiated by Dostum around Mazar involved tanks and artillery, and resulted in the death of approximately 60 people. Both Dostum and Atta were, however, coming under increasing pressure from the international community and the central government in Kabul to stop the fighting. Atta and Dostum worked out a power-sharing agreement in which Dostum conceded Mazar and most of Balkh province to Atta, who in turn renounced his intention of contesting Dostum's influence elsewhere in Northern Afghanistan.
Noor has married once and has five sons and two daughters. His eldest son, Khalid Noor, graduated from Royal Military Academy Sandhurst of London in 2014. Tariq Noor is studying Public Administration at the American university of Dubai. His other children are Belal Noor, Suhaib Noor, and Seyar Noor.
In late 2004, Atta was appointed governor of Balkh Province by Hamid Karzai. By installing commanders with whom he had fought in the 1980s and 1990s in local government positions, thus turning them away from destabilizing activities, he created a loyal and disciplined local administration. As a result, he acquired a monopoly on violence, and achieved relative security and stability even in the most remote districts, at the cost of authoritarian methods. The security in Balkh Province permitted significant reconstruction and the development of considerable economic activity. Atta Noor is credited for maintaining political control and economic development and security for Balkh province including its largest city, Mazar-i-Sharif. Governor Atta's opium poppy eradication program between 2005 and 2007, advised by consultants from Adam Smith International, successfully reduced poppy cultivation in Balkh Province from 7,200 hectares in 2005 to zero by 2007.
Governor Atta Mohammad Noor supported Karzai’s main challenger, Abdullah Abdullah, in the August 2009 presidential election.
Atta Mohammad Noor, is widely recognized as the main source of political power in the Province, and has exercised a high degree of control over politics in Balkh. He has used that influence to grow rich through business deals during his time in power. No meaningful business in the Province is transacted without his approval and major real estate in the provincial capital, Mazar-e Sharif, is in the hands of companies Atta owns or controls. He is a key player in the transport industry in Afghanistan's north, including the development of the rail line from Uzbekistan to Mazar-e Sharif. Having transplanted his militia leaders into powerful positions throughout the provincial administration, he maintains a monopoly over violence as well as control over illicit activity. Atta exercises near-complete control over the security organizations and political operations of the Province.
Regardless of his tactics, Governor Atta maintains great support by the populace. Atta is credited with bringing peace and stability to the Province, where there are few police checkpoints and people safely walk around at night. There are also streets named after Afghan Airlines, which have helped finance the city's development. One of the features of Mazar-e Sharif is its smooth paved roads, unusual in Afghanistan, and representative of the progress that Governor Atta has been able to achieve.
Nationally, the Province’s administration is well regarded. Consequently, it received additional funding and positions through the civil service priority restructuring program and some payments from the Ministry of Counter-Narcotics through the U.S.-funded Good Performance Initiative. Also, by embracing certain aspects of public administration reforms and participating in donor sponsored technical assistance programs, Governor Atta has an established reputation as an effective formal leader. Historically, his local political strategy has been to dominate the Province using informal power, rules, and networks. His reputation as a strongman who doesn't tolerate opposition in any form has made him very influential in the area. While his power base does not lend itself to a rule based democracy, given Afghanistan’s history of weak central power and its limited resources, the form of governance represented by Governor Atta may be the best compromise at present in Afghanistan.
Opponents of Governor Atta view him as a corrupt power figure whose loyalty from the populace is motivated more by fear than adoration. The President appoints the country's 34 governors, but many believed that President Karzai was too weak to remove Governor Atta. Karzai's opposition raised concerns of violence and rebellion from the populace if the central government were to attempt to reign in Atta’s power. Governor Atta Mohammad Noor himself boldly asserts that he will decide whether he remains governor of Balkh Province, not Kabul. Indeed, in 2014 the current Afghan president, Ashraf Ghani, fired all 34 Afghan provincial governors, but Governor Atta refused to give up the role.
Although largely supported by the U.S., Governor Atta has publicly spoken out against the U.S. exit strategy from Afghanistan. Understandably, Governor Atta is vehemently opposed to bringing the Taliban back into negotiations and opposes reconciliation with his former archenemies. Governor Atta’s anxieties over the situation represent a general consensus among former Northern Alliance leaders and may complicate the U.S. exit strategy if they are unwilling to cooperate with the plan. Additionally, Governor Atta does not support any permanent American bases in Afghanistan, and reiterates his regional loyalty. Speculation exists that Governor Atta’s colorful rhetoric may be linked to the possibility of him running for president, or at the least seeking the leadership of his local political party.