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date: 26 March 2017

Religious Foundations of the Last Instructions of 9/11

Summary and Keywords

An instruction manual consisting of four sheets in Arabic was found with three of the four teams that performed the terror attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001. The writing conceived of the action as a raid (ghazwa), as we know it from early Islamic history. It instructed the teams how to perform the ghazwa correctly. Purifying their intentions by recitals, rituals, and bodily cleaning, they turn their attack into an act of worship. A part called the “second stage” anticipates the issue of assuring divine protection at the airport. Finally “a third stage” urges the teams to act in the plane according the practice of the Prophet and to achieve martyrdom.

To understand the manual and its framing of the violence, six dimensions will be analyzed: (1) Arguments for and against the authenticity of the document are discussed. (2) The attack happened in the wake of a declaration of war by the “World Islamic Front for the Jihad against Jews and Crusaders” in 1998, signed by Osama bin Laden and leaders of other jihadist groups. (3) The message spread across the Internet and was accepted by various groups that regarded the situation of Islam as threatened, among them a group of young Muslim men in Hamburg. A network called al-Qaeda emerged. (4) The present world is dominated by the power of ignorance and hubris (jahiliyya). The manual prescribed an attack in terms of the raids (ghazwa) of the Prophet in Medina. (5) The manual presumes a particular communal form of organizing militant Muslims. (6) It celebrated militancy of Muslims and presupposed a fighter’s ethos in the diaspora. An argument is made that the American concept of terrorism as a manifestation of evil and immorality destined to be eradicated militarily by the United States and their allies ignores the secular character of conflict and accelerates the cycle of violence.

Keywords: jihad, jihadism, ghazwa, martyrdom, September 11, suicide attacks, Osama bin Laden, terrorism, Islam, Quran, sword verse, crusade, Afghanistan

The Writing and Its Authenticity

On September 28, 2001, the FBI distributed four pages of an Arabic document at a press conference and also published them on its website.1 The headline was spectacular: “Hijacking Letter Found at Three Locations.” Beneath the four pages of Arabic text, the website displayed three photos, surrounded by information about the hijackers, their flights, and the places where the documents were found. Mohamed Atta is connected with American Airlines #11 that crashed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center at 8:45 a.m.; underneath his photo appears: “Found in Atta’s suitcase.” The next photo shows Nawaf al-Hazmi; the text connects him with American Airlines #77, which crashed at 9:39 a.m. into the Pentagon, and the document is said to be “Found in Vehicle at Dulles International Airport.” Finally, a photo of the crash site of United Airlines #93 at Stony Creek Township is accompanied by the remark, “Found at Crime Scene.”

Religious Foundations of the Last Instructions of 9/11Click to view larger

Figure 1. The Spiritual Manual as it was published by the FBI on its website on September 28, 2001.

Mohamed Atta, who navigated the first plane into the North Tower of the World Trade Center, originated his journey on September 11 in Portland, Maine, and changed planes in Boston. One piece of his luggage did not make it onto the plane from Logan Airport, whether by chance or not we do not know. When his suitcase was found, two documents were discovered. In a last will, written in English and laid down in 1996, Atta prescribed how his body should be handled after his death in order to prevent pollution. Much more spectacular is the handwritten Arabic text published by the FBI; English extracts were distributed during a FBI press conference on September 28. The text anticipates the stages of the attack and prescribes for each stage recitations of the Quran, prayers, and rituals. The British journal The Observer published an English translation of the four pages on September 30.2 An improved translation was later made by Hassan Mneimneh for The New York Review of Books.3

On September 28, The Washington Post published a leading article on the discovery, “In Hijacker’s Bags, a Call to Planning, Prayer and Death.” The article spoke about five pages instead of four, and later the same issue (p. A18) published two extracts in English:

In the name of God, the most merciful, the most compassionate … In the name of God, of myself and of my family … I pray to you God to forgive me from all my sins, to allow me to glorify you in every possible way.

Remember the battle of the prophet … against the infidels, as he went on building the Islamic state.

Since neither extract is found in the four pages previously published, the authenticity of both is disputed. The second quotation perfectly fits the manual, since it conceives of the attacks in terms of the Prophet Muhammad’s ghazwa when the Islamic polity was established in Medina. But the first of the sentences elicited serious doubts about its authenticity. What pious Muslim would dare to say: “In the name of God, of myself and of my family”? Since the Arabic original of this text has never been published, a mistranslation cannot be ruled out. It may have its roots in “family” (usra), referring not to kinship but to a religious brotherhood, small section of the Muslim Brotherhood.

The writing found in Mohamed Atta’s bag was not the only one. A second copy was found in the car used by Nawaf al-Hazmi and left at Dulles International Airport. CBS News published an English translation of it on October 1, 2001.4 It likewise consists of four pages, and the translation accords widely with that of Mohamed Atta’s text. Yet all scans available on the Internet reproduce one original, not two. Perhaps the CBS journalist misunderstood the law enforcement agents when they distributed copies during the press conference. The remnants of a third copy have not been published.

The document and all information about it derive from U.S. Secret Service sources—a fact that has given rise to speculations about a forgery. It is worthwhile to note, therefore, that independent evidence exists about the manual. This evidence derives from Yosri Fouda, reporter for Al Jazeera, who under conspiratorial circumstances met Khalid Sheikh Muhammad and Ramzi bin al-Shibh (Binalshibh) in Karachi.5 Binal-Shibh was the intermediary between the Hamburg group and the chief of the military committee of al-Qaeda, Khalid Sheikh Muhammad. Fouda had an extensive interview with both men. He was told how the attacks were prepared. Bin al-Shibh showed him a suitcase with “souvenirs” from his stay in Hamburg, among them a booklet containing handwritten notes by Mohamed Atta in the margin. Since the handwriting differed from the document published by the FBI, bin al-Shibh explained to Fouda that “The Manual for a Raid” in Atta’s luggage had been written by Abdul Aziz al-Umari, who was highly respected in the group for his profound knowledge of Islam and his beautiful handwriting.6 A video produced by the media outlet of al-Qaeda confirms this information. Osama bin Laden praised “Sheikh Abu al-‘Abbas, ‘Abd al-‘Aziz al-‘Umari al-Zahrani: an example for contemporary scholars and a vestige of the pious predecessors. The active scholar. He protected knowledge from the employ of the tyrants and prevented this knowledge from captivity to their salaries.”7

Though the find was spectacular, the manual had no major impact on the examination of the events and was widely ignored. What are the reasons for that? Immediately after its release, the well-known Middle East scholar Robert Fisk drew attention to statements in the document he found suspicious in the mouth of a Muslim. “What Muslim would write: ‘The time of fun and waste is gone’?” he asked in The Independent on September 29, 2001. As additional evidence he cited the expressions “100 per cent” and “optimistic,” too modern for Arabic theological language. Fisk, who at that time had seen only the English translation, drew a cautious conclusion about a possible Christian translator: “The translation, as it stands, suggests an almost Christian view of what the hijackers might have felt.”8

Fisk’s remark is ambiguous, since it refers to the translation. It gained additional weight in conjunction with conspiracy theories that started circulating soon after the events. Michael Barkun, who has studied the American culture of conspiracy for many years, pointed to certain American groups that did not attribute the attacks to Osama bin Laden and his organization but to the interests of the U.S. government in restricting the freedom of the citizens under the pretext of counterterrorism.9 Other conspiracy theories originated outside the United States. Rumors swept across the Muslim world that the attacks were perpetrated by the Secret Service of Israel and that four thousand Jews who normally worked in the WTC did not show up for work on September 11 because they had been tipped off by Mossad.10

Forgery is a common phenomenon in the history of religions. Well-known documents are ascribed to authorities who cannot have written them. Only after careful investigation and discussion can the suspicion of forgery become a plausible thesis. In the case of our document, no serious attempts have been made to prove it a forgery. It is an unfounded suggestion. Instead, despite all the doubts and uncertainties, qualified attempts have been made to take the document seriously. Hassan Mneimneh und Kanan Makiya published in January 2002, in The New York Review of Books, an examination of the “Manual for a ‘Raid,’” followed by the translation mentioned above.11 The authors explained the contents of the document in terms of Islamic literature, theology, theology, and history. In December 2002, the Martin Marty Center of the University of Chicago, a research institution for the study of religions, started on its website a debate about the document. Bruce Lincoln, following up on Mneimneh and Makiya, attempted to specify the worldview of the perpetrators by pointing to the Egyptian intellectual Sayyid Qutb, a spokesman for the militant wing of the Muslim Brotherhood in the 1960s. Sayyid Qutb denounced the westernization of Egypt’s culture and society as a new era of ignorance (jahiliyya). He called upon the faithful Muslim to do the same as the Prophet had once done: to fight to overthrow the power of paganism along with a few dedicated men. Sayyid Qutb paid for his subversive version of Islam with his life and was executed by the Egyptian government in 1966.12 Bruce Lawrence and Mark Juergensmeyer also joined the debate on the Chicago website and by and large supported Lincoln’s approach.13 In 2006 David Cook published an extensive investigation of the document in the light of Islamic apocalypticism and jihad and added at the end a new English translation of “The Last Night,” as he called the document.14 We owe a comprehensive analysis of the attack to Stephen Holmes, who put together all bits and pieces of evidence relating to the perpetrators and the organization of the attack.15 A critical edition, translation, and analysis of the Arabic text was published in 2006.16

The more the document has been studied, the more it has turned out to be representative of a specific current in contemporary Islamic activism and the suspicion of forgery has lost credibility. The most recent and extensive critical reconstruction of 9/11 by Anthony Summers and Robbyn Swan integrated the manual and its ritual instructions into the series of events preceding the attack. Yet, astonishingly, something else has become utterly incomprehensible.

Seventeen days after the attacks, the FBI released four pages of Arabic script that had also been found in Atta’s bag … Neither the 9/11 Commission Report nor a Commission staff document … even mentions the find … The omission is extraordinary, unconscionable, for the telltale pages were important evidence.17

The Commission Report reconstructs with extreme precision the chain of events preceding the attack but ignores the manual and even seems intentionally to contradict its relevance to the attacks. The manual required that during the last night, all fighters should perform rituals, recitations, and prayers. According to the Commission Report, however, Mohamed Atta and Abdul Aziz al-Umari that night pursued “ordinary activities: making ATM withdrawals, eating pizza, and shopping at a convenience store.”18 As we will see, this depiction was due to a political decision to portray the attackers as people devoid of any religious faith.

The Declaration of War by the “World Islamic Front for the Jihad Against Jews and Crusaders” in 1998

The attack on the United States and its justification were part of a chain of events that started with the inroad of the Soviet Army in Afghanistan in 1979 and the successful resistance against it in the decade that followed. The Afghan fighters were supported by Arabic mujahidin. When the Soviet Army withdrew from Afghanistan in 1989, Osama bin Laden and his closest advisors and followers, numbering scarcely more than a dozen at that time, left Pakistan and moved first to Saudi Arabia, then to Sudan, and finally in 1996 to Afghanistan, where the Taliban had come to power in the same year. There he wrote a long letter to “the brothers” throughout the world, and especially to those in the Arabian Peninsula, in which he summoned all Muslims to a jihad against the Americans in Arabia and against Israel in Palestine.19 Osama’s letter, dubbed the “Ladenese Epistle,” came as a juridical edict authorizing defensive war (jihad) against the Americans. He accused the “Judeo-Christian alliance” of being responsible for massacres in Palestine, Iraq, Lebanon, Tajikistan, Burma, and Kashmir. He claimed an alliance of aggression against the land of the two holy places, Mecca and Medina. According to bin Laden, in many countries Muslims were suffering, their blood was the cheapest anywhere in the world, but it was the absolute height of arrogance to invade the house of Islam (dar al-Islam). The two holy places of Islam were debased by the presence of crusader troops. The establishment of American military bases in Saudi Arabia during the first Gulf War (1990–1991) was sacrilege, which all Muslims were called upon to expiate. In an allusion to the early Islamic traditions about the Mahdi, bin Laden wrote that he was issuing this declaration from Khorazan, a region in the East from where early Muslims expected the Mahdi (the guided one) to come.

Two years later, in 1998, a similar declaration was issued, this time by the “World Islamic Front for the Jihad against Jews and Crusaders.”20 The summons to the jihad was signed not only by Osama bin Laden, but also by Aiman az-Zawahiri as the emir of Egyptian Jihad, Rifa’i Ahmad Taha on behalf of the Egyptian Jama‘a al-Islamiyya,21 and a Pakistani and a Bangladeshi on behalf of their groups. This declaration, which is briefer and more concise than the text two years earlier, begins with the so-called “sword verse” (Sura 9:5): “Then, when the sacred months are drawn away, slay the idolaters wherever you find them, and take them, and confine them, and lie in wait for them at every place of ambush.”It adds that the Arabian Peninsula is infested with the crusaders, who are like locusts that devour its riches. The declaration mentions three circumstances as evidence of the conspiracy against Islam and of the threat facing the Muslims:

  • The United States has occupied the most sacred places on the Arabian Peninsula in order to steal the natural resources, to humiliate the Muslims, and to use military means to oppress the Muslim peoples.

  • The United States has inflicted grave damage on the Iraqi people and continues to do so by means of the embargo, although this has already cost the lives of a million people.

  • The United States is destroying Iraq and wants to break up all the other states in the region into defenseless mini-states in order to guarantee Israel’s superiority over the neighboring Arab states.22

On the surface, these reasons for declaring war are social and political; they do not require a dedicated Muslim perspective to understand them. Yet the Muslim spokesmen defined the conflict in terms of religious concepts and actions. The violent and partisan interventions by the United States in the Middle East are regarded as a declaration of war against God. Hence a binding legal instruction (hukm) affirms that the highest obligation of all the believers is now to fight against the unbelievers:

To kill the Americans and their allies—civilian and military—is an individual duty incumbent upon every Muslim in all countries, in order to liberate the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Holy Mosque [in Jerusalem] from their grip, so that their armies leave all the territory of Islam, defeated, broken, and unable to threaten any Muslim.23

The scope of the declaration goes far beyond the duty of the believers to liberate Islamic territories. It proclaims that the killing of Americans and their allies, whether soldiers or civilians, is a duty. The declaration also exhorts Muslims, in view of the inevitability of war, not to be attached to their lives—are they really going to prefer life in this world to life in the world to come? At stake is not only the common good of the Islamic community but also the salvation of each individual.

The emirs of the jihad groups wanted to expand the scope of war into the wider world after the liberation of Afghanistan. They saw the victory over the Soviet Union as a sign from God that it would be possible to defeat the other superpower too. However, they failed to recognize that the fighters owed their victory over the Soviet Army above all to the hundreds of Stinger anti-aircraft missiles that the United States had supplied them—and with which they had shot down 269 Soviet aircraft and helicopters. The reason for the military fight had become a matter of principle. In addition to the collective endeavor to liberate Islamic territory from infidel aggressors, there is now a religious ethic that sees the struggle as a means to attain personal salvation. This is a further development of the idea of an Islamic umma, which is linked primarily to a religious ethic and lifestyle and only secondarily to a specific territory.

Al-Qaeda: Nodal Point of Worldwide Networks

Shortly before the withdrawal of the Soviet forces, bin Laden and his fellows in arms compiled a database of all who had fought in Afghanistan against the Soviet Union, so that the volunteers who were registered could provide a base for violent Islam in the future. When shortly before the declaration of 1998 the Egyptian jihad, under the leadership of the physician Aimanaz-Zawahiri (b. 1953), amalgamated with the followers of bin Laden, and members of the Egyptian Jamā‘a al-Islāmiyya likewise joined them, bin Laden’s “basis” (English translation of “al-Qaeda”) began to take on the character of a social community. The Egyptian doctrine of the jihad, Saudi money, and the motivation of simple Muslims from the Arabian Peninsula formed a powerful brew.24 Even after this, however, the name al-Qaeda remained more a description of function than the name of a group.25 Bin Laden employed it only when others used it in speaking with him, and even then he employed it reluctantly. He and his followers referred to themselves instead as the “World Islamic Front for the Jihad against Jews and Crusaders.” Scholars have proposed the terms “militant Islamists with a link to Afghanistan” or “transnational militant Islamism”; some use the title “Bin Laden Brotherhood.” This variation in names is typical of the fluid borders of this social entity, a fluidity that has caused problems for the Americans who have suffered under its attacks. In 1995, a report by the U.S. State Department spoke of transnational terrorists who were much harder to track down than the members of groups known by name. President Bill Clinton called it bin Laden’s “network.” It was only after bin Laden’s declaration of war and the attacks on the embassies in Nairobi and Dar-es-Salaam and on the warship USS Cole in 1998 that the secret services and politicians disregarded the nebulous identity and boundaries of the group and declared al-Qaeda to be an international organization that must be militarily destroyed, along with the rogue states that support it. Fictions have the power to create new realities, and this is what happened in this instance. Governments that had long clashed with violent Islamic opposition groups in their own countries (e.g., Russia, India, China, the Philippines, Thailand, and Israel) felt that this opportunity was too good to miss and declared their opponents to be branches of al-Qaeda in the hope that the United States would support them in their fight. In fact the organization wasn’t top down, but bottom up.

Jason Burke has investigated the various kinds of membership in this network. First, in the center, are bin Laden and his closest advisers. Second, in addition to the inner circle, there is the group of those who have sworn the oath of loyalty to bin Laden as their emir. Peter L. Bergen published documents relevant to the oath; they were found in Bosnia, in a computer file called tārīkh Usāma (the history of Osama) containing letters, minutes, and other documents from the beginnings of al-Qaeda in Afghanistan in 1988. The minutes of one of the meetings at which al-Qaeda was founded contain the formula of the oath with which a member solemnly swears to obey his superiors, with God’s Word as the highest authority.26 According to another source, after the Soviet forces had left Afghanistan and bin Laden had formed a group of his own, the members swore an oath of personal loyalty (bay‘a) to him.27

This sworn community was not closed but open to new adherents from anywhere in the world. A study of the biographies of 172 members of al-Qaeda by Marc Sageman has shown that in many instances, the initiative to join came from various ethnic and national groups who sought contact with bin Laden via men who had previously fought in Afghanistan:

The process of joining the jihad … is more of a bottom-up than a top-down activity. A lot of Muslim young men want to join the jihad but do not know how. Joining the jihad is more akin to the process of applying to a highly selective college. Many try to get in but only few succeed.… I did not detect any active top-down organizational push to increase al Qaeda’s membership. The pressure came from the bottom up. Prospective Mujahedin were eager to join the movement.28

Bin Laden’s followers were recruited primarily from below and more rarely from above. Factors encouraging young men to join included already-existing social ties such as friendship, family, teacher–pupil relationships, or membership in a mosque.29 In this context, Marc Sageman writes that real recruiters for al-Qaeda existed only in training camps of the Tablighi in Pakistan and nowhere else. Other accounts call this into question. For example, Roland Jacquard has collected pieces of information that point to a deliberate recruitment in North Africa and Europe by bin Laden’s closest associates.30 There is some evidence to support the thesis of the organizational sociologist Renate Mayntz that al-Qaeda is based on a combination of traits of a hierarchical organization and vertical network structures. This hybrid form explains something that is typical of al-Qaeda, namely, that the lowest units are autonomous and at the same time subject to a central ideology. Their members are isolated from one another, but they are guided in their activities by a common core idea, and the leaders of each group are in contact with the innermost circle.31 This confirms the rule that it is precisely the weak and informal relationships that construct especially strong and lasting networks.32 In general, cells that act with a large measure of autonomy, supported by shared convictions and commitment, are more successful than hierarchical structures of command.

Dale F. Eickelman has pointed to an important additional factor.33 Muslims belong to different national, ethnic, political, and economic communities. Mosque communities reflect these differences. These ties are strong, but not the strongest. The most firm is the one linking the believer to God and his messenger; it precedes the other ones, but does not replace them. Due to rising levels of education, greater ease of traveling, and the increasing accessibility of new media, the dominance of the religious tie has further increased. In particular the new media are fostering this shift. This shift explains how it is that, for instance, Muslims in Germany or in Great Britain independent of any prior social link feel an obligation to assist their brothers in other places of the world wherever they suffer. The success of a violent Islam in the global network society is premised on this hierarchy of ties.

The Hamburg Cell and the Preparations for 9/11

The planning of the 9/11 attacks began in 1998, when bin Laden with the other emirs declared war on the United States. He now planned raids according the early Islamic model. In his military defense of the emerging Islamic state in Medina against external enemies, the Prophet had recourse to the form of surprise attacks, or raids, practiced by the Bedouins, called ghazwa in Arabic. As early as August 7, 1998, in keeping with this pattern, the first bomb attacks were carried out against the U.S. embassies in Dar-es-Salaam and Nairobi in East Africa.

From the end of 1998, Islamist students with Arab origins shared a rented apartment in Marienstrasse 54 in the Harburg district of Hamburg. They gave their little community the eloquent name dār al-ansār, “House of the Helpers”—the same name as bin Laden’s guesthouse in Peshawar. In their minds, the three men who lived there, Mohamed Atta, Ramzi bin al-Shib, and Marwan al-Shehhi, were living in the time of Medina, when the Prophet was in urgent need of helpers in order to achieve recognition and power for Islam. The jihad was at the center of their conversations, although it was as yet undecided whether this would be in Kosovo, Chechnya, Afghanistan, or Bosnia.34 Ziad Jarreh had joined their group in 1997, but he did not himself move into the apartment with them. Other young Muslims moved in, while some moved out. In the course of two years, more than a dozen men were registered with the municipal authorities under this address, as Terry McDermott discovered in his research into the Hamburg cell. Most of them had met in the al-Quds mosque in the center of Hamburg, where young Arab Muslims prayed together, listened to sermons, and attended—or themselves gave—courses in Islam. Their principal theme was the jihad as an obligation that most Muslims neglected to shoulder. Muhammad Haydar Zammer, a veteran of the Afghan war, had preached this doctrine in the al-Quds mosque, but it is not probable that he had intentionally recruited the students on the orders of al-Qaeda. This is suggested by the 9/11 Commission Report, which calls him a possible recruiter, but the report itself indicates that his influence was apparently limited to questions of religious conviction.35 Abu Musab, a Mauritanian whose real name was Mohamedou Ould Slahi, probably played a more important organizational role. He was an active member of al-Qaeda and lived in Duisburg; today, he is a prisoner in Guantánamo. Ramzi bin al-Shib heard of him by chance and then visited him in Duisburg together with Ziad Jarreh and Marwan al-Shehhi. Slahi told his visitors, who wanted to go to Chechnya, how difficult it was to get there directly and suggested instead that they should first train in Afghanistan before traveling further and get visas for Pakistan and then await further instructions from him.

In the fall of 1999, the four men left Hamburg for Pakistan, each taking a separate route in order not to attract attention. From Quetta in Pakistan, they went to an Afghan training camp near Kandahar, where they were brought to bin Laden. At that time, bin Laden and his closest advisers were contemplating an attack with airplanes in the United States, and the technically skilled Arab students from Hamburg, who spoke English, arrived just at the right moment. It was in the interests of both sides to have them swear the oath of loyalty to bin Laden and to be informed by him about the plan. In Kandahar, the first fighters had already been chosen to carry out the plan. These included the Saudis Khalid al-Mihdhar and Nawaf al-Hazmi, who entered the United States by way of California in January 2000. The al-Qaeda propaganda video The Nineteen Martyrs: ‘Abd al-Aziz al-Umari showed how the fighters were preparing themselves for the operation.36 Ahmed al-Haznawi al-Ghamidi made a farewell video, subsequently transmitted by Al Jazeera, in which he declared that he and the others wanted to die as martyrs. It claimed that the time of humiliation was past, the power of the United States was based merely on propaganda, and that, now, Americans were to be killed on their own soil. As a “living martyr,” al-Umari beseeched God to let the Islamic umma come to life again through “our” deaths.37

The kind of organization is also demonstrated by the fact that the 9/11 attacks were carried out by nineteen perpetrators who came from different circles. Three of the four pilots (Mohamed Atta, Ziad Jarrah, and Marwan al-Shehhi) belonged to the Hamburg cell. After Ramzi bin al-Shib was refused permission to enter the United States from Yemen, he worked as a coordinator between the Hamburg group and the chief of the al-Qaeda military committee, Khalid Sheikh Muhammad, and his representative, Atef. Hani Hanjour entered the United States as the fourth pilot. Two close personal associates of bin Laden, Khalid al-Mihdhar and Nawaf al-Hazmi, were on board American Airlines #77, which crashed into the Pentagon. Finally, there was another group of twelve men from Saudi Arabia who were known as the “muscles,” since it was their task to restrain the crew and passengers in the hijacked planes.

In addition to their civil names, all nineteen perpetrators bore an additional name, a kunya. In the traditional Islamic bestowal of names, such an additional name could be given to a person in the course of his life, for example, when he became a father (“Abu”) and thus bore the name of his son. The kunyas of the perpetrators of 9/11 are names of exemplary fighters or steadfast believers from the history of Islam. The source does not state when they adopted these names; this may have been when they obligated themselves (as documented by the video) to die as martyrs. In that case, the kunyas would have been their names as “living martyrs.”38

Preparing for the 9/11 ghazwa: The Instructions

The participants in the attacks were given the manual published by the FBI. It is clear that the author was knowledgeable in Islam but not a top Islamic scholar. This, at any rate, is indicated by his remark when he recommends the recitation of the Quran: “Know that the best way of recitation is reciting the Noble Qur’an according to a consensus of the scholars, as far as I know” (page 1/paragraph 6); similar phrases are found at 3/1 and 3/14. Only one who is not wholly certain of his own scholarship would speak in this manner. This is not uncommon, since in Islam it is often the laymen who preach; only the knowledge of the legal tradition is professionalized. All this would fit Mohamed Atta, the commander (emir) of the 9/11 attacks, were it not for information by Yasri Fouda that argues against this. Bin al-Shib told him that the manuscript that was in Atta’s possession had been composed and written out not by Atta but by Abdul Aziz al-Umari,39 who had been greatly admired by the others because of his knowledge of Islam and his handwriting. Al-Umariwas heavily involved in the production of the video The Nineteen Martyrs: Abd al-Aziz al-Umari. His part—his farewell message explaining why he wants to die—was completed before he traveled to the United States on June 29, 2001. The 9/11 Commission Report contains information about al-Umari that accords well with Fouda’s suggestion that he was the author of the Spiritual Manual. After graduating with distinction from high school and taking his degree at the Islamic Imam Muhammad ibn Saud University, al-Umari served as prayer leader in a mosque in Saudi Arabia and studied under the radical Saudi clergyman Sulaiman al-Alwan, whose mosque in the province of Qassim was known to other clerics as the “terrorist factory.”40

In the Spiritual Manual, the words “airport” and “airplane” are not written out but are abbreviated, doubtless for reasons of caution—lest a copy fall into the wrong hands. But the participants were not all equally informed of all the details of the plan. A remark by bin Laden himself suggests that only the four pilots and his own close associates were fully informed.41 Nevertheless, all knew that they were setting out on a mission that—if it succeeded—would end in their certain deaths.

Renewal of Intention

The Spiritual Manual prescribes a prelude to the violent attack. In the night before, the “brethren” should take a “pledge of allegiance of death and of renewal of intent.” In the history of the formation of Islamic communities, bay‘a designates the solemn act with which believers are confirmed in their loyalty to a legitimate leader, their emir. Associations of men (futuwwa) had long been founded according to this principle. The Egyptian Muslim Brethren too knew this practice and were united by means of an “oath of allegiance.” But an oath of allegiance unto death, which was sworn here, is a different matter. In The Neglected Duty, Faraj took up the question whether an oath of allegiance unto death could be made to anyone other than the Prophet. He answered in the affirmative: such an oath is owed to every legitimate leader in a jihad (§§ 95–97),42 in the present case, to bin Laden.

The first task of the team is the “renewal of intention” (niyya). “Intention” is a fundamental category in Islamic law. An act of worship without niyya is invalid, just as a niyya without action.43 Both Sayyid Qutb and his brother Mohammed (one of bin Laden’s teachers in Jidda) held the view that the identity of Muslims depends on intention, not on external actions.44 The issue of the right intention played a major part in the discussions among Muslims about the permissibility of the suicide attacks. Muslims regarded them not as suicide that is strictly forbidden in Islam but as martyrdom operations. Since both actions are essentially identical (in that they result in willing death), only the intention of the actors makes the difference, as David Cook has shown.45

A host of information for this reasoning includes a document called “The Islamic Ruling on the Permissibility of Martyrdom Operations,” written by an unknown Arabic Scholar in defense of a suicide attack by a female Mujahid in Chechnya in 2000.46 According to an anonymous blog, Hawaa’ Barayev

drove a car laden with explosives through the streets of Alkhan Kala and into a building that was used by the leadership of Russian Special Forces in Chechnya. Russian troops unleashed a hail of fire in an attempt to stop sister Hawaa,’ but Allah had chosen to give victory to her and to her message. She drove the car through the gates and into the center of the building. The explosives detonated ripping through the structure and causing heavy damage. After the dust settled, 27 Russian soldiers, many of them senior Special Forces officers, lay dead. The building used by the Russian Special Forces was severely damaged, and a Russian army of 270,000 Russians watched helplessly as a female warrior of Allah drove a knife through the heart of the leadership of Russia's elite forces.47

There were Muslims who rejected the deed as forbidden suicide; the author acknowledged that it resembled suicide, but the Sharia “gives a different verdict about two actions that externally appear the same, but differ in the intentions behind them.” The author quotes a Hadith: “Verily, actions are only according to intentions.”48 While the intention behind suicide is unbelief, the intention behind martyrdom is the dignity of the umma. An act of that kind must answer four conditions in order to qualify as martyrdom. Martyrdom operations should not be carried out unless certain conditions are met:

  1. 1. One’s intention is sincere and pure—to raise the Word of Allah.

  2. 2. One is reasonably sure that the desired effect cannot be achieved by any other means which would guarantee preservation of his life.

  3. 3. One is reasonably sure that loss will be inflicted on the enemy, or they will be frightened, or the Muslims will be emboldened.

  4. 4. One should consult with war strategy experts, and especially with the amber (sic!?) of war, for otherwise he may upset plan and alert the enemy to their presence.

If the first condition is absent, the deed is worthless, but if it is satisfied while some others are lacking, then it is not the best thing, but this does not necessarily mean the Mujahid is not shaheed.49

The same reasoning inspired the attacks of 9/11. Since the only criterion for the admission of a martyr to paradise is his intention at the moment of his death, the perpetrators of 9/11 felt no hesitation of any kind about leading an un-Islamic lifestyle before the attacks, with the conscious aim of misleading their enemies. Martyrdom wipes out all one’s earlier sins.50

The Spiritual Manual transmits an illustration for an instance of exemplary preparation for an act of martial violence, performed by Ali, Muhammad’s nephew and son-in-law, in the Battle of the Trench (627 ce). The choice of this particular model sheds an eloquent light on the aim of the author of the manual:

Do not take vengeance for yourself, but make your strike and everything else for the sake of God. Take for example Ali ibn Abi Talib. When he once fought against an unbeliever, the unbeliever spat on him. Ali then let his sword pause and did not strike him. Only afterwards, he struck him. After the battle, one of the companions asked him why he had done so, why he had not struck the unbeliever, and first left and only later struck him. Ali answered: “When he spat on me, I feared I would strike him in vengeance. Therefore I held my sword,” or how he said. When he had called the intention to mind, he turned to him and struck and killed him. All this means, that the human being should prepare his soul in a very short time, and then all he does is for the sake of God. (3/13–15)

The insult to Ali demands punishment, but it is the inner preparation that determines whether this is merely a personal revenge or genuinely a military act carried out in the name of God.

The Manual says nothing about the injustice that the World Islamic Front adduced in 1998 as the reason for the declaration of war on the United States, although we know that Mohamed Atta was personally indignant at this.51 The deed must speak entirely for itself. The targets of the attacks were the arrogant seats of power of contemporary “paganism”: Wall Street’s capital, residing in the World Trade Center; the military power that dwelt in the Pentagon; and the political power of the United States, which was located in the U.S. Capitol, the goal of the fourth plane, which crashed in Pennsylvania.52

Spiritual techniques accompanied the militant action, as we see in the subdivision of the attack into three phases, in a manner similar to the subdivision in The Neglected Duty, where the true jihad consists of three different endeavors, which are aspects of one and the same action: the jihad against one’s own soul, against Satan, and against the unbelievers and hypocrites (§§ 88–89). The tripartite division of the action in the Spiritual Manual presupposes a similar view, namely, that the jihad is an endeavor that must be directed against one’s own soul, against Satan, and against the unbelievers, if it is to be pleasing to God.

The First Phase: Attaining Purity

The renewal of the intention begins on the night before the attack, when the men purify their bodies and prepare themselves for the action step by step, through recitations, prayers, meditations, and ritual ablutions. The Arabic word for “recitation,” dhikr, which is used frequently in the Manual, never means only “reciting a text.” It always also means “remembering” and “representation.” The recitation brings one to participate today in the supernatural power of the Prophet.

The fighters are to recite Suras 8 and 9 and to reflect on what they mean (1/3). The Prophet himself commanded that these Suras should be recited before the raid (ghazwa), with the result that they captured much booty. The choice of the Suras 8, “The Spoils,” and 9, “The Repentance,” is significant, since both come from the period when Muhammad left Mecca and founded a state in Medina, and then went to war against Mecca. Muhammad the persecuted Prophet became Muhammad the warlord and founder of a state. The principal example that provided orientation for the perpetrators’ action was the Battle of the Trench in 627 ce, which was fought against both external and internal enemies. In the years before this, Muhammad had had peaceful relations with the unbelievers in Mecca, but this changed in Medina, and the “sword verse” documents this new attitude:

Then, when the sacred months are drawn away, slay the idolaters wherever you find them, and take them, and confine them, and lie in wait for them at every place of ambush. But if they repent, and perform the prayer, and pay the alms, then let them go their way: God is All-forgiving, All-compassionate. (Sura 9:5)

The change from toleration of the unbelievers to violence against them is a central theme of Islamic theology. Some Muslim scholars hold that the “sword verse” has replaced other revelations that sound a different note. They appeal for support to Sura 2:106, which admits such a possibility: “And for whatever verse We abrogate or cast into oblivion, We bring a better or the like of it.” In The Neglected Duty (§§ 76–79), Faraj appeals to scholars in support of his affirmation that the “sword verse,” probably the last one Muhammad has received, abrogates no less than 114 other verses in 54 Suras that presuppose a peaceful coexistence with unbelievers, replacing these with the requirement: “Prescribed for you is fighting, though it be hateful to you” (Sura 2:216). Other scholars disagree with such an interpretation of Sura 2:106 and have called into question the whole principle of the abrogation (Arabic naskh) of revelations made to the Prophet.53 In his rebuttal of The Neglected Duty, the Egyptian mufti Sheikh Jadd al-Haqq simply quoted the second part of the “sword verse” in order to dismiss the martial interpretation: “But if they repent, and perform the prayer, and pay the alms, then let them go their way: God is All-forgiving, All-compassionate.”

The recitation of the martial Sura in the Spiritual Manual is followed by meditations (1/4):

Reminding oneself of unconditional obedience that night, as you will encounter decisive situations that require 100 percent unconditional obedience. Pull yourself together, make yourself understand, convince yourself and incite yourself to this action.

This is how the perpetrator is to overcome his natural self, which wants to go on living. He is to remain awake in the night and to pray that he may later remain “undetected” (1/5). He must then break strictly with the world:

Purify your heart and cleanse it from stains and forget or ignore that thing named “World.” The time for playing is over, and the true appointment has come. How much of our lifetime here did we waste! Why don’t we use these hours profitably by offering acts pleasing to God and pious deeds? (1/7)

It is vital now to liberate the intention from all those emotions that are foreign to it. In his mind, the fighter should tell himself that his wedding day (symbol for the state of spiritual fulfillment of life)54 is approaching and that any difficulties that may occur are tests by God, designed to give him a higher rank. If God truly so desires, even a little band is capable of beating an entire army. All this, however, presupposes that the fighter recites prayers together with his brethren, without forgetting all the practical details. The morning prayer in the fellowship of the brethren (jamā‘a) at the end of the night puts the seal on their purity. The angels will pray that he be forgiven, as long as he is ritually pure (1/15).

The Second Phase, in the Airport: Overcoming the Fear of the Satanic Western Civilization

In the airport, which is under the rule of the pagan powers, the believing Muslim needs one thing above all else, namely, protection, and he obtains this through recitation and prayer.

Wherever you go and whatever you do, always perform the prayers. God grants his pious servants protection, facilitation, success, strengthening, assistance, and everything else. (2/15)

Thanks to his recitation and prayer, the angels protect the fighter, although he himself does not notice this (2/2). He has nothing to fear from the technology of the airport; one who is afraid of this is in reality a friend of Satan (2/6–7).

Those who are enchanted by Western civilization are people who have drunk their love and reverence with cold water. They feared their [own] weak fragile devices. “Therefore do not fear them; but fear you Me, if you are believers” [Sura 3:175]. Fear is a great act of worship. The followers of God and the believers offer it only to the One and only God in whose hand are all things. Be sure that God will frustrate the guile of the unbelievers. (2/8)

This is the only passage in the entire document that names the jihadists’ enemy by name: Western civilization in general. One cannot exclude the possibility of an allusion to Samuel Huntington’s assertion about the irreconcilable conflict between the Western and the Islamic cultures, but this theory is amplified by means of a spiritual aspect: Western civilization inspires terror in people, and only the Muslim fighter is a match for this. Others do not perceive what he is doing when he speaks the first part of the creed in the airport building: lā ilāha illā llāhu, “There is no God but God.” These words are heavier than heaven and earth together and make the fighter miraculously unassailable (2/9–11). This is why he remains unrecognized, despite the power of paganism: it is God who protects him by hiding him from his foes.

The theology of the overcoming of the fear of Western superiority is connected to one specific diagnosis of the present day. In an age in which weakness has taken root in the hearts of the faithful and Islam is threatened with extinction, an avant-garde of Muslims rises up and demonstrates a superhuman fearlessness.55 This theology of the overcoming of fear likewise finds expression in statements by bin Laden. The 1996 letter in which he issued the summons to the jihad begins with quotations from the Quran that make the fear of God the very heart of the Islamic faith. This interpretation of the situation of the fighter is accompanied by an affirmation about his identity, which remains hidden from outsiders. In the kingdom of Satan, the soldier of the Highest Power remains unrecognized. In a world of falsehood, his true identity must be concealed. But secrecy on its own does not suffice to guarantee success. Only God can make this practice successful (2/3; cf. 1/5).

Behind all this lies the fundamental maxim of some sort of jihadi Islam, namely, that the external world is so thoroughly corrupted by unbelief that the only remaining dwelling place of Islam is the heart and its intention. In a world ruled by the demonic Western civilization, the true Muslims have to hide their identity; their courage gives practical proof of a superior power.

The Third Phase, on Board the Plane: Reenacting the ghazwa of the Prophet

There now follows the third part of the action: the attack. God’s warrior enters the plane unrecognized; here too, the first step is secret recitations and prayers. The theme of martyrdom takes center stage. Despite all his willingness to die, martyrdom is not his personal achievement: “Ask God to grant you martyrdom” (3/7).56 When the moment of decision comes, the young Muslim springs up like a hero who does not wish to return to human life and cries: Allāhu akbar! (“God is the greatest!”), filling the hearts of the unbelievers with fear. The unknown soldier of the Highest Power discloses his true identity and does what Sura 8:12 commands: “Smite above the necks, and smite every finger of them!” He knows that Paradise and the virgins of Paradise await him. The experience of salvation is depicted in metaphors of sexual fulfillment.57 If God grants him the favor of sacrificing someone with his knife, he is to do this for his father and his mother. Since the practice of the Prophet included plundering the enemies, this too is to be done on the plane, though it is here without any practical value, due to the imminent death of all. It is necessary in a ghazwa according to the model of the Prophet and testifies to the ritual logic of the attack.58 But it may only be performed when it does not hamper the operation. “The benefit of the action has priority, and (in general), the (interest of the) group has to be given priority over following the custom [sunna]” (3/12). Some enemies are to be taken captive and killed. If everything goes according to plan, each one is to pat his brother from the apartment on the back (3/17), and it would be good if one could recite the following verse from the Quran: “Count not those who were slain in God’s way as dead” (Sura 3:169). A small amount of booty should be taken, even if this is only a cup or a glass of water.

When the true promise and the zero hour approach, tear your suit and open your chest, welcoming death on the path of God. Always mind God, either by ending with the ritual prayer, if this is possible, starting it seconds before the target, or let your last words be: “There is no God but God, and Muhammad is his Prophet.” After that, God willing, the meeting in the highest paradise will follow through God’s mercy. (3/21–23)

When he puts this framework around the violent deed, the author of the Spiritual Manual is imitating early Islamic battles, even down to actions that are out of place, such as the plundering of the foes. The success of the operation depends on the correct recitations of Suras and on the very precise enactment of the attack: it is these that guarantee the purity of the intention.

This practice has a prehistory. From the early period on, war for the cause of God was a Muslim obligation. The believer had to be ready for military service when the leader ordered wars against pagans. In addition to this, however, a “stricter” religious view held that the war against the pagans was the place where faith really proved its worth. The true Muslim voluntarily gives proof of his faith in the war against the pagans. When the Prophet says that the monasticism of his community is the jihad,59 this is not only a polemic against Christianity but also a positive link between the ascetic rejection of the world and the militant ethos. The same link is found in classical Islamic sources, as Albrecht Noth has shown. The fighter prepares himself for the war with the aid of ascetic abstinence. A Christian who was taken captive by Muslims described what he had experienced there: they were “knights-at-arms by day and monks by night.” The fighters were encouraged to speak the formulas of the praise of God, to recite from the Quran, to utter prayers, to fast, and to declare the praises of God (dhikr) before going into battle.60 The model here was to be found in the Prophet’s raids (ghazwa) when he enforced the Islamic order of things from Medina, especially the Battle of the Trench in 627 ce, which oriented the fighters of 9/11 too.61 These raids integrated both spiritual and military practices. Albrecht Noth’s research led him to the conclusion “that in Islam the struggle against the unbelievers was regarded and proclaimed as a possibility of ‘worship’.”62

The Social Form of the Attacking Teams: Usar (Families) and Ashira (Clan)

The attacks of September 11 were committed by groups that understood themselves as communities re-enacting the struggle for an Islamic state. Regarding this social form, a closer look at the Lebanon and the Near East in the 1980s is illuminating. The group that took responsibility for the attacks on the barracks in Beirut in October 1983 called itself Islamic Jihad (al-jihad al-islami) and was linked to the Shi‘i “Party of God,” the Hizbollah. Hizbollah was a network of ulama with their students (taliban), bonded together by divergent religious, local, and political loyalties.63 But to describe this network as a “party” or an “organization” is certainly much too strong. Hizbollah leaders denied any direct involvement in the operations of the attackers and contended that Islamic Jihad was not the name of an organization, but a common designation for all kind of Islamic militant activities. The militant cells operated apparently independently of each other, only loosely connected by some person in the background, similar to a “brunch of grapes”64 or a “telephone organization.”65

The decentralized structure of Islamic groups was not without precedent, as the example of the Muslim Brothers shows. In Egypt in 1943, at a time of increasing pressure by government and police, the Muslim Brothers established a flexible and controllable form of organization, which provided the chief instrument for mobilizing and safeguarding the loyalty of its members. The “family” (usra) became the basic unit of the Brothers; it was limited to five members, with one of them as the head. Four of these “families” (usar) formed a “clan” (ashira), directed by one of the heads of the “families.”66 This system spread to the Muslim Brothers in Jordan, Gaza, and Syria, where the number of members of a “family” might grow to ten.67

Richard P. Mitchell and Denis Engelleder have examined the ideas and expectations related to that social form. The founder of the Muslim Brothers, Hasan al-Banna (1906–1949), expected from it a “recovery of the Islamic person.” The members would become familiar with each other and take mutual responsibility. To this end they should meet at least once a week to perform common religious duties, engage in establishing Islam in the personal sphere, have common meals, attend the Friday prayer, and contribute financially to a common till. The “family” was seen as a nucleus of Islam in a world ruled by non-Islamic values and norms.68

This social form, highly appropriate to a religion lacking hierarchical structures, became dominant among Muslims who understood the present age in the Islamic countries as a new period of ignorance and paganism (jahiliyya). A major proponent of this diagnosis was the already-mentioned Sayyid Qutb. The process through which the jahiliyya might be driven back and an Islamic polity erected depended on the existence of small, devoted communities. The restoration of Islam required a revolution lead by a vanguard that must begin by purging its own consciousness and by sweeping away the influence of the jahiliyya on the souls. The transition would unfold in two stages. From a hidden source, a person would acquire faith in the Quran. When three faithful Muslims had been touched by the faith, they would form a society (jama‘a) of their own, separate themselves from pagan society, and become a movement (haraka) struggling against it. This Islamization from below, as Kepel has called the model, was not unique to the Muslim Brothers but was independently propagated in the Islamic World by the Society for the Propagation of Islam, jama‘at al-tabligh, founded in India 1927. In a world and age in which a new paganism (jahiliyya) ruled, the faithful could preserve their faith only by forming a community (jama‘a) with others, not individually. The social form of “families” and “clans” was an integral part of a particular scenario aiming at re-establishing Islam as a moral and legal order.69

The Cultivation of a Fighter’s Ethos in the Diaspora

The religious rejection of the world generates its own practices. The means whereby believers hope to attain “otherworldly” salvation have a psychological effect, thereby creating “inner worldly” states of affairs. This difference was the basis on which Max Weber constructed the whole of his sociology of religion: “Psychologically considered, man in quest of salvation has been primarily preoccupied by attitudes of the here and now.”70 The world renouncer experiences his opposition to the world not as a flight from the world but as a victory over its temptations. “The ascetic who rejects the world sustains at least the negative inner relationship with it which is presupposed in the struggle against it,” Weber observes.71

A “negative inner relationship with the world” finds an echo among Muslims today, especially in the diaspora. Where there is no societal and cultural integration into the host countries and Muslims are marginalized, the identity of the godless enemy changes: it is no longer the corrupt regime in their countries of origin but Western culture. This means that new practices arise. In Middle Eastern countries, the goal of Islamism was a re-Islamization of society and state; in the diaspora, what Olivier Roy catchily calls “neo-Islamism” developed in the form of an Islamic lifestyle.72 An institutionalized religion turns into a personal religiosity. In this process, the imagined Islamic community (the umma) loses its geographic tie to a territory and becomes a global “faith community” based essentially on lifestyle.

The assimilation of Islam to personalized types of Western religiosity does not, however, reduce the tensions with Western culture, since the geographical boundaries are replaced by mental boundaries that are defended no less rigorously. The detachment of Islam from its tie to statehood and territoriality promotes an individualization that gives birth to new forms of communality. This is why there is an intimate link between the enormous expansion of new Islamic communality and the spread of a posttraditional individualized Islam.

Given this link, it is worth looking at the biographies of the perpetrators of 9/11 more closely. The significance of an individual personal motive for committing suicide is not the same as the significance his death has for others. The latter significance depends on specific transmitted patterns, but individual motives can vary greatly. Terry McDermott has begun this investigation of individual motives in the case of three perpetrators from the Hamburg cell—Mohamed Atta, Marwan al-Shehhi, and Ziad Jarrah—and their organizer, Ramzi bin al-Shib, and has assembled all the biographical information that he was able to find in Germany. He wanted to know who the people capable of committing such a monstrous act were, and he was deeply disturbed by what he discovered: “The men of September 11, were, regrettably, I think, fairly ordinary men.” They were young Muslims who had become believers in the diaspora—believers untroubled by even the slightest doubt about their faith. And he sees this as one cause: “It is this certainty, not the belief itself, that causes the problems.”73 Olivier Roy envisages the same state of affairs when he speaks of a detachment of the Muslims’ identity not only from the political order, but also from culture. In his study of the Muslim diaspora in Germany, Stephen Holmes reaches a similar conclusion: despite their education, young Muslims feel alienated both from their countries of origin and from German society. As migrants who are able to live a “purer” Islam than the “hypocrites” in their lands of origin, they cultivate their rage and frustration in religious coteries.74 They strike up their jihad songs even at weddings—as did the perpetrators of 9/11. Their song glorified the delights of dying as a martyr:

  1. 1. I wished life as a delight, as travel and struggle,

  2. 2. and I chose my path myself and moved forward fast on it,

  3. 3. and I became a fire and a light and … [?] and a perfume,

  4. 4. until I died as a martyr, welcoming the fate of death.

  5. 5. The light fills my eyes, and the paradise virgins sit in the grasp of my right hand,

  6. 6. and I sing like an angel amidst gardens and springs.

  7. 7. These gardens are my abode, and my wounds are its perfume;

  8. 8. enchantment, joy and wine: what a fine place of rest!

  9. 9. My fellows are the prophets and my brothers are the (other)martyrs,

  10. 10. and God bestows on us the shadows of a merciful love.

  11. 11. In God’s gardens I live in a thousand and one worlds,

  12. 12. and anything I desire is brought to me swiftly.

  13. 13. Don’t say about those who went away yesterday: We lost them!

  14. 14. If dwelling in the Garden of Eternity means being lost, then it is better that you should lose me.75

The understanding of martyrdom has taken new paths in the diaspora. The Iranian Shia, Hezbollah, and Hamas have declared freely chosen death by one’s own weapon in the fight against Israel and other powers occupying Islamic territory to be an exemplary religious action. Through the al-Qaeda network, however, another type of martyr has come into existence. This type detaches the militant ethic from the situation in which the territory of the community is under threat and links it to a personal rejection of Western civilization. The suicide attack becomes a means to liberate oneself of one’s entanglements in a culture that both fascinates and repels the perpetrator. September 11, 2001, was the date on which this new category of martyrs made its first appearance in the West.76

These martyrs in turn became objects of representation and celebration in the media. The media outlet of al-Qaeda, al-Sahab, released videos celebrating their attacks. The video The Nineteen Martyrs: Abd al-Aziz al-Umari, broadcast by Al Jazeera on September 9, 2002, was one of al-Sahab’s first martyrdom videos.77 The 64-minute video is in Arabic, with English subtitles. Pieter Nanninga published them on a CD-ROM accompanying his thesis along with a transcript of the English texts. The video combines different kinds of audiovisual material: footage of the attacks on the Pentagon and the Twin Towers (taken from international news agencies), recitations of the Quran, and Nashids (Islamic songs or chants). Against this background Quranic Suras are recited, sermons and speeches by Osama bin Laden recorded, and Abd al-Aziz al-Umari proclaims his last will.

The video starts with the recitation of Sura 9:14–15:

Fight them! God will punish them by your hands, disgrace them and give you victory over them, and He will heal the breasts of a believing people and remove the anger in their hearts. And God will turn in mercy to whom He wills. God is Knowing and Wise.

Afterwards Bin Laden recites a poem by Yusuf Abu Hilala, a friend of Abdullah Azzam:

  • Clothes of darkness have enveloped us
  • And we are bitten by the sharpest of fangs
  • Our homes overflowed with blood
  • And the aggressors continued their destruction
  • The shining of swords and the sounds of hooves
  • Have vanished from the battlefield
  • Our cries are drowned out
  • By the noise of string and percussion
  • Suddenly, they rose like a storm
  • And demolished their towers
  • Telling them: We will not stop our raids
  • Until you abandon our lands

Osama bin Laden then praises the nineteen men who performed the raids on New York and Washington (1:47). They purified the umma from the filth of the treacherous rulers and their followers; they destroyed the Hubal (pagan idol), guilty of murdering “our” children in Palestine, Afghanistan, Lebanon, Kashmir, and other Islamic lands:

These great men entrenched faith in the hearts of the believers, emphasized the creed of al-walawa-l-bara (loyalty and disavowal) and torpedoed the plots of the crusaders and their puppet rulers in the region after decades of ideological warfare designed to weaken this doctrine … The pen is unable to count their merits and good qualities nor the merits of the effects of their blessed raids. Yet we shall try, for even if something is not entirely attainable, it should not be omitted.

Osama then mentions all nineteen by name: starting with Mohamed Atta, “commander of the group, from Egypt, destroyer of the first tower. Earnestness, diligence, and truthfulness. He carried the concerns of the umma. We ask God to accept him among the martyrs.”The last of the nineteen is Sheikh Abu al-‘Abbas, ‘Abd al-‘Aziz al-‘Umari al-Zahrani: “an example for contemporary scholars and a vestige of the pious predecessors. The active scholar. He protected knowledge from the employ of the tyrants and prevented this knowledge from captivity to their salaries.” Later we are told that he embarked on this operation “following a defined methodology in accordance with the religion of God.” The remainder of the video consists of al-Umari’s farewell message, interspersed with Quran recitations, voiceover statements, and comments by bin Laden. A section addressing the parents of mujahids contains an interview with the mother of Khalid Islambouli, who participated in the assassination of President Anwar al-Sadat in October 1981 in Egypt and was executed in the same year (see section 43:54of the video). The video propagates all basic elements of the belief of Mujahidin: the continuous humiliation of the believers and the duty of jihad. Embarking on martyrdom wipes away the sins and saves from the fire (section 24:16).

The American Concept of Terrorism

The reaction by the American administration to these attacks was informed by a concept of terrorism that has made its appearance in the wake of the Near East conflict. On June 8, 1977, an Additional Protocol to the Geneva Convention agreed that the rules of this Convention should apply not only to wars between states but also to a further case:

The situations referred to in the preceding paragraph include armed conflicts in which peoples are fighting against colonial domination and alien occupation and against racist regimes in the exercise of their right of self-determination, as enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations and the Declaration on Principles of International Law concerning Friendly Relations and Co-operation among States in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations. (Art, I, 3)

This meant that the Palestinian resistance organizations too had the right to have their fighters treated in accordance with the Geneva Conventions, provided that they themselves kept to these rules. The new legal position provoked vigorous negative reactions, which ultimately led to a distinction between (justified) resistance and (unjustified) terrorism. Benjamin Netanyahu, subsequently prime minister of Israel, organized two conferences on terrorism for the Jonathan Institute in 1979 and 1983, one in Jerusalem and one in Washington. The institute was named after his brother Jonathan, who died in 1976 when he was the officer in charge of liberating Jewish hostages at Entebbe Airport in Uganda. The declared intention of both conferences was to mobilize the West to fight against terrorism. The organizers were utterly opposed to the idea that one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.78 According to Netanyahu, the Western media had accepted without further ado the terrorists’ own account of their motives, with the result that terrorists had been able to present themselves as resistance fighters. That, indeed, was precisely what the terrorists wanted us to think, Netanyahu said, whereas in reality they were destroying innocent lives in an intentional and calculated manner. The 1979 conference in Jerusalem thus adopted a different definition:

“Terrorism is the deliberate and systematic murder, maiming and menacing of the innocent to inspire fear for political ends.”79

By this thinking, terrorists are criminals who use public communiqués in the attempt to help their captured comrades and secure for them the status of prisoners of war. In the background are the Soviet Union and radical Arab regimes; nor is the UN innocent, since it has justified terrorism and regarded it as a struggle for national liberation. The fight against terrorism can be won only if public opinion and the media in the West abandon their errors. Subsequently, the United States too opposed the new legal position and threw its weight behind a corresponding new definition of terror.

The concept of terrorism elaborated in Israel’s fight to crush the resistance of the Palestinians quickly became established in the United States. George P. Shultz, U.S. secretary of state from 1983 to 1989, took part in the second conference on terrorism in Washington in 1983. The participants rejected the idea that one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter. In his address, entitled “The Challenge to the Democracies,” Shultz explicitly welcomed the fact that thanks to the endeavors of the Jonathan Institute, the “free world” was at last coming to grips with the problem of terrorism. With rare exceptions, it is the goal of terrorists to impose their will on others by spreading fear. Terrorism is a form of political violence directed against “us,” against the democracies, against “our” fundamental values, and against “our” fundamental strategic interests. Shultz appealed to the words of Senator Henry Jackson in 1979 at the first conference:

The idea that one person’s “terrorist” is another’s “freedom fighter” cannot be sanctioned. Freedom fighters or revolutionaries don’t blow up buses containing non-combatants; terrorist murderers do. Freedom fighters don’t set out to capture and slaughter school-children; terrorist murderers do. Freedom fighters don’t assassinate innocent businessmen, or hijack and hold hostage innocent men, women, and children; terrorist murderers do. It is a disgrace that democracies would allow the treasured word “freedom” to be associated with acts of terrorists.80

Taking his lead from Jackson, Shultz reaffirmed that the terrorist does not fight in order to convince others of the rightness of his cause: he fights in order to kill innocent people. Once one has grasped this, it is not difficult to distinguish terrorists from freedom fighters.

This definition parts company with an understanding of terror that had arisen in the French revolution in the 18th century. Charles Townshend recalls the view of Robespierre that terror is nothing other than immediate, ungenerous, and unrelenting justice and that it therefore constitutes an expression of virtue. A similar view characterizes the violence of Anarchists in 19th-century Russia.81 Unlike the criminal (in this view), the terrorist is not acting for egoistic personal motives; he is a “criminal” with a good conscience. In his interpretation of today’s violent fundamentalism, Shmuel N. Eisenstadt takes Jacobinism as his paradigm.82 The one who breaks the law is impelled not by too little morality but by too much.

In the period at which the Jonathan Institute held its conferences, the U.S. Department of State committed itself to the definition of terrorism that had been proposed at these conferences:

The term “terrorism” means premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant (*) targets by subnational groups or clandestine agents, usually intended to influence an audience.

This definition splits off into two parts the ambivalent concept of the exemplary freedom fighter: On the one hand, there is a justified resistance against occupation of one’s land by a foreign power; on the other hand, there is a violence that despises human life and cannot in any way claim justification. One should note that the definition of the Department of State broadens the category of civilians to include the military as a footnote indicated by an asterisk. The military of an occupying power not in actual battle is regarded as civilians entitled to protection:

(*) For purposes of this definition, the term “noncombatant” is interpreted to include, in addition to civilians, military personnel who at the time of the incident are unarmed or not on duty … We also consider as acts of terrorism attacks on military installations or on armed military personnel when a state of military hostilities does not exist at the site, such as bombings against US bases in Europe, the Philippines, or elsewhere.

This means that an attack by freedom fighters on military establishments of an occupying power is classified as an act of terror. This new view gave rise to a suggestive political rhetoric, and this too demands a closer look. As soon as one speaks of “terrorists,” the audience loses all interest in learning about the reasons why the “terrorists” are acting in this way. One thus deflects attention from the possibility that one’s own politics may have contributed something to the genesis of their fury and their resistance. One suggests that it is meaningless to negotiate with such people. One detaches the act of violence from its causes. And so the only appropriate response is counterviolence. The semantics of the designation “terrorist” confront us with an almost metaphysical concept that admits of only one solution, namely, its elimination. Terrorists are moral nihilists who stand outside the legal order and must be annihilated.83

If every kind of violence of subnational groups against noncombatant targets is simply an evil act, whatever reasons the attackers may have become politically irrelevant. The war against terrorism thus becomes a war of uncertain duration against unpredictable outbursts of bestiality. Diego Gambetta has brilliantly analyzed significant comments made by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld in June 2002 during a press conference.84 Rumsfeld told the audience that he regularly read intelligence information in order to assess the threat to the United States. In the course of doing so he had found that there are things we know and there are things we know that we don’t know: “known unknowns.” But, he added, there also certain things “we don’t know we don’t know”: “unknown unknowns.” This experience justified, according to Rumsfeld, the preventive war against Iraq, as Gambetta pointed out.

A collection of articles edited by James T. Sterba, Terrorism and International Justice, envisions the possibility of a different response to 9/11. Though that alternative answer sounds like a utopia, it helps to understand the shortcomings of the answer that was actually given. The interpretation of the violence could have been different: not as a warlike attack upon the United States, but as a crime against humanity. If that interpretation had been chosen, the culprits would have had to be prosecuted and put to trial by international organizations and courts;85 the defendants would have had to declare in public why they thought they had the right to attack Americans and kill more than three thousand civilians. In a public trial for crimes against humanity, the ritualistic performance of the crime would have lost all plausibility. The militant Islamic networks would have been forced to explain their stance with regard to abrogating tolerant verses in the Quran and replacing them with violent ones. All prophetic religions dispose of a store of traditions, many of which contradict each other. It is the believer who authorizes one and rejects the validity of others. The process of vindication is that believer’s responsibility. Even the choice of an ethic of conviction instead of an ethic of responsibility has to be justified. A public trial might also have helped to find a language that acknowledges Muslim grievances about the West without diminishing the severity of the crime committed. What we need are voices that help to expand our understanding of today’s Muslims. Instead of looking upon 9/11 as an irrational massacre, we need to hear voices that counteract the temptation to ignore the conflicts from which it was born. In this regard, a metaphor used by the Lebanese Ayatollah Fadlallah in an interview may be helpful:

There is no such thing as an Islamic terrorist spirit. What exists is a situation where you corner people and close off all exits, and these people then have to react in an abnormal way.86


A cogent analysis of the “Last Instructions” of 9/11 has to discern various levels. The act itself was deliberate and instrumental. It was not innocent civilians, chosen at random, that were the main target, but selected institutions of American power: the economic power residing in the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center, the military power at home in the Pentagon, and the Capitol, the center of the political power and the destination of the plane crushed in Pennsylvania. The deed was not merely deliberate and instrumental but also an act of communication, following the declaration of war three years before. And it was a religious act, performed according to Islamic scripts.

The causes for the declaration of war were political ones, but they were conceived by the Muslim fighters as violation of the sacred Islamic order. The violent acts were legitimate since they were seen as a ghazwa, performed by the Prophet when establishing the right order in Medina and struggling against the allies of internal enemies in the battle of the trench (627 ad) The violent, criminal act against the United States was justified in terms of Islamic theology that were highly disputed among Muslims. Since every suicide in Islam is punished with a loss of salvation, it was necessary to demonstrate that it was performed with the intention to act for the benefit of the path of God and not for personal reasons. The path of God even implies dissimulation; the attackers did hide their Islamic identity. They were able to preserve their identity by forming a group of brothers and by cultivating an ethos of a rejection of the world. The concept of terrorism as formulated by the United States and their allies does not cover the moral ambivalence of the act: fighting for an understandable just cause by means that violate the right to life of innocent people.

Primary Sources

Alexander, Yonah, and Michael S. Swetnam, ed. Usama bin Laden’s‚ al-Qaida’: Profile of a Terrorist Network. New Delhi: Aditya Books, 2001.

Kippenberg, Hans G., and Tilman Seidensticker, eds. The 9/11 Handbook. Annoted Translation and Interpretation of the Attackers’ Spiritual Manual. London: Equinox, 2006.

Lawrence, Bruce, ed. Messages to the World. The Statements of Osama bin Laden. Translated by James Howarth. London: Verso, 2005.

Nanninga, Pieter. Jihadism and Suicide Attacks, al-Qaeda, al-Sahab and the Meanings of Martyrdom. PhD Diss., University of Groningen, The Netherlands, 2014. With an Appendix: Al-Sahab’s Martyrdom Videos and a CD-ROM containing the video files.

Further Reading

Bergen, Peter L. Holy War, Inc. Inside the Secret World of Osama bin Laden. New York: Free Press, 2001.Find this resource:

Bergen, Peter L. The Osama bin Laden I Know. An Oral History of al Qaeda’s Leader. New York: Free Press, 2006.Find this resource:

Bonney, Richard. Jihad from Qur’an to bin Laden. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004.Find this resource:

Burke, Jason. Al-Qaeda. Casting a Shadow of Terror. London: Tauris, 2003.Find this resource:

Bush, George W. “We Will Prevail.” President George W. Bush on War, Terrorism, and Freedom. Selected and edited by National Review. New York: Continuum, 2003.Find this resource:

Cook, David. “Suicide Attacks or ‘Martyrdom Operations’ in Contemporary Jihad Literature.” Nova Religio 6 (2002): 7–44.Find this resource:

Cook, David. Understanding Jihad. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2005.Find this resource:

El Fadl, Khaled Abou. “9/11 and the Muslim Transformation.” In September 11 in History. A Watershed Moment? Edited by Mary L. Dudziak, 70–111. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2003.Find this resource:

Fouda, Yosri, and Nick Fielding. Masterminds of Terror. The Truth Behind the Most Devastating Terrorist Attack the World Has Ever Seen. New York: Arcade Publishing, 2003.Find this resource:

Gambetta, Diego, ed. Making Sense of Suicide Missions. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005.Find this resource:

Gunaratna, Rohan. Inside al Qaeda. Global Network of Terror. New York: Berkeley Books, 2002.Find this resource:

Hall, John R. “Apocalypse 9/11.” In New Religious Movements in the Twenty-First Century. Legal, Political, and Social Challenges in Global Perspective, Edited by Phillip Charles Lucas and Thomas Robbins, 265–282. Routledge: London, 2004.Find this resource:

Holmes, Stephen. “Al-Qaeda, September 11, 2001.” In Making Sense of Suicide Missions. Edited by Diego Gambetta, 131–172. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005.Find this resource:

Jacquard, Roland. In the Name of Osama Bin Laden. Global Terrorism and the Bin Laden Brotherhood. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2002.Find this resource:

Jansen, Johannes J. G. “The Creed of Sadat’s Assassins. The Context of ‘The Forgotten Duty’Analysed.” Die Welt des Islams 25 (1985): 1–30.Find this resource:

Jansen, Johannes J. G. The Neglected Duty: The Creed of Sadat’s Assassins and Islamic Resurgence in the Middle East. New York: Macmillan, 1986.Find this resource:

Kapitan, Tomis. “The Terrorism of ‘Terrorism’.” In James Sterba (Hg.), Terrorism and International Justice. Edited by James Sterba, 47–66. New York: Oxford University Press, 2003.Find this resource:

Khosrokhavar, Farhad. Suicide Bombers. Allah’s New Martyrs. London: Pluto, 2005.Find this resource:

Kitts, Margo. “The Last Night: Ritualized Violence and the Last Instruction of 9/11.” Journal of Religion 90 (2010): 283–312.Find this resource:

Lincoln, Bruce. Holy Terrors. Thinking About Religion after September 11. Chicago: Chicago University Press, 2003.Find this resource:

McDermott, Terry. Perfect Soldiers. The Hijackers: Who They Were, Why They Did It. New York: Harper Collins, 2005.Find this resource:

National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States. The 9/11 Commission Report: Final Report of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States. New York: W. W. Norton, 2004.Find this resource:

Noth, Albrecht. Heiliger Krieg und HeiligerKampf im Islam und Christentum. BeiträgezurVorgeschichte und Geschichte der Kreuzzüge. Bonn, Germany: Röhrscheid, 1966.Find this resource:

Roy, Olivier. Globalized Islam. London: Hurst, 2004.Find this resource:

Ruthven, Malise. A Fury for God: The Islamist Attack on America. London: Granada, 2002.Find this resource:

Sageman, Marc. Understanding Terror Networks. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2004.Find this resource:

Sageman, Marc. Leaderless Jihad. Terror Networks in the Twenty First Century. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2008.Find this resource:

Scheffler, Thomas. “‘Allahu Akbar’: Zur Theologie des Widerstandsgeistesim Islam.” In Religion und Gewalt: Der Islam nachdem 11 September. Edited by André Stanisavljević and Ralf Zwengel, 21–46. Potsdam, Germany: Mostar Friedensprojekte. V. 2002.Find this resource:

Seidensticker, Tilman. “Jihad Hymns (Nash Ðds) as a Means of Self-Motivation in the Hamburg Group.” In The 9/11 Handbook. Edited by Hans G. Kippenberg and Tilman Seidensticker, 71–78. London: Equinox, 2006.Find this resource:

Sivan, Emmanuel. Radical Islam. Medieval Theology and Modern Politics. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1985.Find this resource:

Steinberg, Guido. Der nahe und der ferneFeind. Die Netzwerke des islamistischen Terrorismus. Munich: C. H. Beck, 2005.Find this resource:

Sterba, James T., ed. Terrorism and International Justice. New York: Oxford University Press, 2003.Find this resource:

Wiktorowicz, Quintan. Radical Islam Rising. Extremism in the West. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2005.Find this resource:

Woodward, Bob. Bush at War. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2003.Find this resource:


(1.) The website has been removed from the World Wide Web. For the dispute about its authenticity see "Manual for a Raid" on, July 3, 2012. For the investigations, see Wikipedia s.v. Penttbom—codename for the FBI investigations’ probe into the 9/11 attacks (Pentagon Twin Towers Bombing Investigation).

(2.) "Last Words of a Terrorist." The Guardian, September 30, 2001.

(3.) Hassan Mneimneh, “Appendix,” in Robert B. Silvers and Barbara Epstein (eds.), Striking Terror: America’s New War (New York: New York Review of Books, 2002), 319–327.

(4.) “Translated Text: Hijackers’ How-To” (CBS News, October 1, 2001).

(5.) Yosri Fouda and Nick Fielding, Masterminds of Terror: The Truth Behind the Most Devastating Terrorist Attack the World Has Ever Seen (New York: Arcade Publishing 2003), 36–38; 105–122 (“Unlocking the Masterminds”).

(6.) Fouda and Fielding, Masterminds of Terror, 115.

(7.) The video appears on the CD-ROM accompanying the thesis by Pieter Nanninga, “Jihadism and Suicide Attacks, al-Qaeda, al-Sahab and the Meanings of Martyrdom.”

(8.) Robert Fisk, “What Muslim Would Write: ‘The Time of Fun and Waste Is Gone’?” The Independent, September 29, 2001.

(9.) Michael Barkun, A Culture of Conspiracy: Apocalyptic Visions in Contemporary America (Berkeley: University of California, 2003), 158–169; for other political conspiracy narratives, see Malise Ruthven, A Fury for God: The Islamist Attack on America (London: Granada, 2002), 294–298.

(10.) John L. Esposito, Unholy War: Terror in the Name of Islam (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002), 74; the Anti-Defamation League refuted these rumors: “Unraveling Anti-Semitic 9/11 Conspiracy Theories,” the Gorowitz Institute, 2003.

(11.) Hassan Mneimneh and Kanan Makiya, “Manual for a ‘Raid,’” New York Review of Books, January 17, 2002; reprinted in Robert B. Silvers and Barbara Epstein, eds., Striking Terror: America’s New War (New York: New York Review of Books 2002), 301–318.

(12.) John Calvert, Sayyid Qutb and the Origins of Radical Islamism (New York: Columbia University Press, 2010); Emmanuel Sivan, Radical Islam: Medieval Theology and Modern Politics, 2d ed. (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1990), 21–28. The concept of a modern jahiliyya derives from the Pakistan theorist Abu al-A‘la Mawdudi.

(13.) Published on a website that has been eliminated:

(14.) David Cook, “Suicide Attacks or ‘Martyrdom Operations’ in Contemporary Jihad Literature,” Nova Religio 6 (2002): 7–44.

(15.) Stephen Holmes, “Al-Qaeda, September 11, 2001,” in Making Sense of Suicide Missions, ed. Diego Gambetta (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005), 131–172.

(16.) Hans G. Kippenberg and Tilam Seidensticker, eds., The 9/11 Handbook. Annotated Translation and Interpretation of the Attackers’ Spiritual Manual (London: Equinox, 2006).

(17.) Anthony Summers and Robbyn Swan, The Eleventh Day. The Full Story of 9/11 and Osama bin Laden (New York: Ballentine Books, 2011), 161.

(18.) National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, The 9/11 Commission Report: Final Report of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks upon the United States (New York: W. W. Norton 2004), 253.

(19.) For English translations, see Yonah Alexander and Michael S. Swetnam, Usama bin Laden’s “al-Qaida”: Appendix 1A; Bruce Lawrence, ed., Messages to the World, 23–30 (statement 3).

(20.) Alexander and Swetnam, Usama bin Laden, Appendix 2; Lawrence, Messages,58–62.

(21.) Rifa’i Ahmad Taha subsequently withdrew his signature, since Jama’a al-Islamiyya changed its position on violence. On this, see Issam Fawzi und Ivesa Lübben, Die ägyptische “Jama‘a al-islamiya” und die Revision der Gewaltstrategie (Hamburg: Deutsches Orient-Institut, 2004).

(22.) Lawrence, Messages, 59–60.

(23.) Lawrence, Messages, 61.

(24.) Guido Steinberg, Der nahe und der ferne Feind. Die Netzwerke des islamistischen Terrorismus (Munich: C. H. Beck, 2005), 59–64.

(25.) On the history of this notion its semantics and the social entity to which it refers, see Jason Burke, Al-Qaeda. Casting a Shadow of Terror (London: Tauris, 2003), 7–12.

(26.) Bergen, The Osama bin Laden I Know. An Oral History of al-Qaeda’s Leader (New York: Free Press, 2006), 74–107; formula of the oath, 81.

(27.) Ibid, 86: examples, 102, 117, 138–139, 263.

(28.) Marc Sageman, Understanding Terror Networks (Philadelphia: University of Philadelphia Press, 2004), 122–123.

(29.) Ibid., 107–120.

(30.) Roland Jacquard, In the Name of Osama Bin Laden. Global Terrorism and the Bin Laden Brotherhood (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2002), 55–72.

(31.) Renate Mayntz, “Hierarchie oder Netzwerk? Zu den Organisationsformen des Terrorismus,” Berliner Journal für Soziologie 14 (2004): 251–262.

(32.) Mark Granovetter, “The Strength of Weak Ties,” American Journal of Sociology 78 (1973): 1360–1380.

(33.) Dale F. Eickelman, “‘Muslim Ties that Bind’: New Media, Belonging, and ‘Home’ in the Network Society,” in Religious Communities on the Internet. Proceedings from a Conference, ed. Göran Larsson (Uppsala: Swedish Science Press, 2006), 47–61

(34.) Terry McDermott, Perfect Soldiers. The Hijackers: Who They Were, Why They Did It (New York: Harper Collins, 2005), 65, 85.

(35.) 9/11 Commission Report, 438; cf. 164.

(36.) The video is copied on the CD-ROM accompanying the thesis by Pieter Nanninga, “Jihadism and Suicide Attacks, al-Qaeda, al-Sahab and the Meanings of Martyrdom.”

(37.) Barry Rubinand Judith Colp Rubin, eds., Anti-American Terrorism and the Middle East: A Documentary Reader (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002), 276.

(38.) Fouda and Fielding, Masterminds of Terror, 124–128. Bin al-Shib gave Fouda a computer disk with the names. On the designation “living martyr” for one who has already confessed to a martyrdom operation on video, but has not yet carried it out, see Ami Pedahzur, Suicide Terrorism (Cambridge, MA: Polity, 2005), 179.

(39.) Fouda and Fielding, Masterminds of Terror, 161, 180.

(40.) 9/11 Commission Report, 232–233, with notes.

(41.) Bin Laden declared in Arabic in a video: “The brothers, who conducted the operation, all they knew was that they have a martyrdom operation and we asked each of them to go to America but they didn’t know anything about the operation, not even one letter. But they were trained and we did not reveal the operation to them until they are there and just before they boarded the planes” (Mneimneh and Makiya, “Manual for a ‘Raid’,” 303–304n2). The organizer of the attacks, Khalid Sheikh Muhammad, used similar language; see Fouda and Fielding, Masterminds of Terror, 155.

(42.) Johannes J. Jansen, The Neglected Duty. The Creed of Sadat’s Assassins and Ismaic Resurgence in the Middle East (New York: Macmillan, 1986), § 95, 204.

(43.) Joseph Schacht, An Introduction to Islamic Law (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1964), 116.

(44.) Steinberg, Der nahe und der ferne Feind, 41. Sabine Damir-Geilsdorf compares Muhammad Qutb’s teachings with those of his brother in Herrschaft und Gesellschaft. Der islamische Wegbereiter Sayyid Qutb und seine Rezeption (Würzburg, Germany: Ergon, 2003), 294–299.

(45.) Cook, David, “Suicide Attacks or ‘Martyrdom Operations’ in Contemporary Jihad Literature,” 27. In the video The Nineteen Martyrs Umari requests from God martyrdom, “wiping away my sins and saving me from the fire” (24:16).

(46.) "The Islamic Ruling on the Permissibility of Martyrdom Operations", Religioscope; extracts with annotations in German by Mariella Ourghi, Muslimische Positionenzur Berechtigung von Gewalt. Einzelstimmen, Revisionen, Kontroversen (Würzburg, Germany: Ergon, 2010), 99–106.

(48.) See for the hadith: "Imam Nawawi's Commentary on the Hadith", Living Islam, p. 13

(50.) Cook, “Suicide Attacks or ‘Martyrdom Operations’ in: Contemporary Jihad Literature,” 27.

(51.) On this, see Holmes, “Al-Qaeda, September 11, 2001,” 140.

(52.) Fouda’s interview with bin al-Shib disclosed that the Capitol, not the White House, was the target (Fouda and Fielding, Masterminds of Terror, 127).

(53.) Appealing to the authority of the Sudanese scholar Mahmud Mohammad Taha, Abdullah Ahmed An-Na’im rejects the principle of the abrogation of all the prescriptions from the time in Mecca that do not agree with those from Medina. By means of a historicization of traditions, similar to that carried out in the Jewish and Christian theologies of the modern period, An-Na’im establishes a basis for a legitimate Islamic legal order, which also includes non-Muslims; see Abdullahi Ahmed An-Na’im, Toward an Islamic Reformation: Civil Liberties, Human Rights, and International Law (Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 1990), 52–60.

(54.) Malise Ruthven, A Fury for God. The Islamist Attack on America (London: Granta, 2002), 102.

(55.) Cook, Understanding Jihad, 136–139; Cook, Contemporary Muslim Apocalyptic Literature (Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 2005), 180–183.

(56.) On the tension between martyrdom as one’s own deed and as God’s decree, see Ivan Strenski, “Sacrifice, Gift and the Social Logic of Muslim ‘Human Bombers’,” Terrorism and Political Violence 15 (2003):12–13.

(57.) Malise Ruthven, A Fury for God: The Islamist Attack on America (London: Granada, 2002), 102.

(58.) Margo Kitts, “The Last Night: Ritualized Violence and the Last Instructions of 9/11,” The Journal of Religion 90 (2010): 283–312.

(59.) Shorter Encyclopaedia of Islam (1974), “Rahbānīya” (Monasticism), 466–467.

(60.) Albrecht Noth, Heiliger Krieg und Heiliger Kampf im Islam und Christentum. Beiträgezur Vorgeschichte und Geschichte der Kreuzzüge (Bonn: Röhrscheid, 1966), 55–56.

(61.) On the Quranic ghazwa and its tribal prehistory, see As‘ad Abu Khalil, “Ghazw,” in Oxford Encyclopedia of the Modern Islamic World 2, 66–67; Thomas Muir Johnstone, “Ghazw,” in Encyclopedia of Islam (1991), 1055–1056; Irène Melikoff, “Ghāzāw,” ibid., 1043–1045.

(62.) Noth, Heiliger Krieg und Heiliger Kampf,61.

(63.) Stephan Rosiny, Islamismus bei den Schiiten im Libanon: Religion im Übergang von Tradition zur Moderne (Berlin: Das arabische Buch, 1996), 123–136.

(64.) Peter Waldmann, Terrorismus: Provokation der Macht (Munich: Gerling Akademie, 1998), 61–68.

(65.) Magnus Ranstorp, “Use of Cover Names and Concealment by Hizb’allah in Abduction of Foreigners,” in Hizb’allah in Lebanon—The Politics of the Western Hostage Crisis (New York: St. Martin’s, 1997), 62–65.

(66.) Richard Mitchell, The Society of the Muslim Brothers (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1969), 32 (history), 177 (diagram of the entire organization), 195–200 (function of the basic units).

(67.) Denis Engelleder, Die islamistische Bewegung in Jordanien und Palästina 1945–1989 (Wiesbaden, Germany: Harrassowitz, 2002), 108–111; Johannes Reissner, Ideologie und Politik der Muslimbrüder Syriens: Von den Wahlen 1947 bis zum Verbot unter Adib Ash-Shishakli 1952 (Freiburg, Germany: Schwarz, 1980), 103.

(68.) Mitchell, The Society of the Muslim Brothers, 195–200; Engelleder, Die islamistische Bewegung, 108–111.

(69.) Gilles Kepel, Muslim Extremism in Egypt: The Prophet and Pharaoh (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003), 52–56.

(70.) Max Weber, From Max Weber: Essays in Sociology, ed. and trans. Hans H. Gerth and C. Wright Mills (New York: Oxford University Press, 1946), 278.

(71.) Max Weber, Economy and Society: An Outline of Interpretative Sociology, eds. Gunther Roth and Claus Wittich (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1968), 544–545.

(72.) Roy, Globalized Islam, 97: “Post-Islamism Means the Privatization of Re-Islamization”

(73.) McDermott, Perfect Soldiers, xvi–xvii.

(74.) Holmes, “Al-Qaeda, September 11, 2001.”

(75.) Tilman Seidensticker, “Jihad Hymns (Nashids) as a Means of Self-Motivation in the Hamburg Group,” in The 9/11 Handbook, 74–75.

(76.) Farhad Khosrokhavar, Suicide Bombers. Allah’s New Martyrs (London: Pluto, 2005).

(77.) The video is copied on the CD-ROM accompanying the thesis by Pieter Nanninga, Jihadism and Suicide Attacks, al-Qaeda, al-Sahab and the Meanings of Martyrdom.

(78.) Benjamin Netanyahu (ed.), Terrorism: How the West Can Win (New York: Farrar Straus Giroux, 1986), 3.

(79.) Ibid., 9.

(80.) George P. Shultz, “The Challenge to Democracies,” in Netanyahu, Terrorism, 18–19.

(81.) Charles Townshend, Terrorism. A Short Introduction (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002), chapters 3 and 4.

(82.) Shmuel Eisenstadt, Fundamentalism, Sectarianism, and Revolution: The Jacobin Dimension of Modernity (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2000), 68.

(83.) Tomis Kapitan, “The Terrorism of ‘Terrorism’,” in Terrorism and International Justice, ed. James Sterba (New York: Oxford University Press, 2003), 47–66. There are very few studies on the ethics of terrorism. When these look at past history, they confirm that the perpetrators were often moral rigorists. On this, see David Rapoport and Yonah Alexander, eds., The Morality of Terrorism: Religious and Secular Justifications (New York: Pergamon, 1982).

(84.) Diego Gambetta, “Reason and Terror: Has 9/11 Made It Hard to Think Straight?” Boston Review (April/May 2004) (Internet version). Gambetta supplies the quotation from Rumsfeld.

(85.) Daniele Archibugi and Iris Maron Young, “Envisioning a Global Rule of Law,” in Sterba (ed.), Terrorism and International Justice, 158–170.

(86.) “11 September, Terrorism, Islam, and the Intifada,” Journal of Palestine Studies 31 (2002): 83.