Ahmad Dallah, 18, a soft-spoken student of religion, admits he has never picked up a rifle and has spent only two weeks of his life in Afghanistan, visiting the ruins of his family home in Kabul. But when school ends in two weeks, he will pack away his books and hike across Pakistan's porous border to prepare for war. "I will go to Afghanistan," he says in halting English, "and if the Americans attack, I will join the jihad."
Like many Muslim fundamentalists, Dallah genuinely believes Osama bin Laden did not direct the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon; he blames Israelis bent on destroying Islam. This belief has diverted him from scholarship to militancy. He was born and grew up in an Afghan refugee camp 20 miles from Peshawar, in northern Pakistan. His father is a former mujahed who now works as a truckdriver. Dallah says his father isn't religious but "admires Islamic teaching" and is deeply rooted in rural Pashtun traditions. Disgusted by Peshawar, with its cinemas and unveiled women, he limited his children's entertainment to videos celebrating Palestinian revolutionaries. Like many Pashtun parents, Dallah's father considered it an honor to send one of his sons to a madrasa, a fundamentalist academy. He picked Ahmad, his second son, because he was the most studious.
Ahmad's school, called Zubiria, is a modest brick building on the edge of Peshawar, where the teeming city gives way to open fields and muddy roads filled with ox carts and motorized rickshaws. Rising before dawn in the room he shares with 16 other students, Dallah prays in the mosque, then, seated on the floor beside his white-turbaned teacher, known as a maulvi, he studies Arabic grammar, Islamic philosophy, the Quran and the speeches of the Holy Prophet. …