Three handwritten copies of a five-page Arabic document were found by the FBI after the September 11 attack: one in a car used by the hijackers and left outside Dulles International Airport, one in a piece of Mohammad Atta’s luggage that, by accident, did not get on the plane from Logan Airport, one in the wreckage of the plane that crashed in Pennsylvania. Only a part of this document—pages two through five—is publicly available; it was posted on the FBI Web site on September 28, 2001.
We don’t know who wrote this document. From everything in it, the author seems to have been an organizer of the attacks. But the text contains a valuable record of the ideas that the hijackers would have been expected to accept. One of its underlying assumptions is that all its intended readers were going to die. It seems clearly intended for the eyes of the hijackers and no one else, and reads as if it were written to stiffen their resolve. One would expect each person to have studied his copy very carefully beforehand, reading it over many times before the mission.
The document is in effect an exacting guide for achieving the unity of body and spirit necessary for success. It is not a training manual of procedures, applicable to different situations; most of the sentences seem tailored to the particulars of the Septem- ber 11 operation. There are no technical instructions or operational instructions in the four pages, only a fairly obvious list of practical precautions:
[Check] the suitcase, the clothes, the knife, your tools, your ticket, …your passport, all your papers. Inspect your weapon before you leave…. Tighten your clothes well as you wear them. This is the way of the righteous predecessors, may God’s blessings be upon them. They tightened their clothes as they wore them prior to battle. And tighten your shoes well, and wear socks that hold in the shoes and do not come out of them.
In fact, it seems that an effort has been made to eliminate clues about the intended target should the document happen to fall into the wrong hands before the raid was carried out. No mention of the target is made throughout the document, and letters substitute for names or places. For example, “M” is used for matar, or airport, and “T” is used for ta’irah, or plane.
Page two begins abruptly, without the …
This article is available to subscribers only.
Please choose from one of the options below to access this article:
Purchase a print premium subscription (20 issues per year) and also receive online access to all all content on nybooks.com.
Purchase an Online Edition subscription and receive full access to all articles published by the Review since 1963.