Masterminds of Terror: The Truth Behind the Most Devastating Terrorist Attack the World Has Ever Seen

By McGhie, Gerald | New Zealand International Review, March-April 2004 | Go to article overview

Masterminds of Terror: The Truth Behind the Most Devastating Terrorist Attack the World Has Ever Seen


McGhie, Gerald, New Zealand International Review


MASTERMINDS OF TERROR The Truth Behind the Most Devastating Terrorist Attack the World Has Ever Seen Authors: Yosri Fouda and Nick Fielding Published by: Penguin Australia, Camberwell, Vic, 2003, 208pp, $37.95.

Masterminds of Terrorism examines three aspects of al-Qaeda terrorism. It discusses interviews with two of the leading protagonists in the 11 September 2001 bombing of the World Trade Center in Manhattan, provides information on the suicide team involved, and examines the background of a terrorist involved in the kidnap and murder of American journalist Daniel Pearl.

The authors are well qualified for the task. Yosri Fouda is the chief investigative reporter with the al-Jazeera television channel. Nick Fielding is a senior reporter with the Sunday Times.

The blurb tells us that that Fouda's were the only interviews carried out with the two main planners of the 11 September attacks: Ramzi Binalshibh and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. The information provided is well informed and detailed. The authors quickly dispel the view that 11 September was a one-off attack. Binalshibh and Khalid had been working on the grand plan for the attack for many years. Further, Khalid had connections to the 1993 truck bomb attack on the Twin Towers and was deeply involved in building up al-Qaeda's Far Eastern network. He may also have murdered Daniel Pearl, whose kidnapping had been engineered by Omar Shaikh.

But while specific events discussed are important it is really the context that dominates. How is an individual like Omar Sheikh, who went to the same fee paying London school as cricketer Nasser Hussain, and on to the London School of Economics and who was known to colleagues as 'helpful and pleasant', driven to terrorism? What sort of training was involved and what kind of organisation is required to mount an al-Qaeda style attack?

The answers are complex. Education is important for some but not others. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed came from a deeply religious background. Others did not. A reasonably common feature is that the critical leap to terrorism seems to have followed a crucial episode in their lives. For Omar Sheikh it was Bosnia-Herzegovina and the slaughter of the Islamic population. He interrupted his studies at the LSE to accompany a relief convoy to Bosnia. Others were motivated by the Shah of Iran's exile and the Soviet Union's invasion of Afghanistan in 1979. Pakistan (Khalid's father maintained strong links in Baluchistan) became a base for Afghan mujahedin in their hit and run raids on the Russians. Khalid's Pakistan links enabled him to absorb the lessons of these raids.

Formal education merged with on-ground experience. Terrorist training camps required a rigorous regime of prayers and physical exercise with the vital input of skills imparted in some cases by Pakistan's special intelligence directorate (ISI). The training camps tended to attract the fundamentalist strain in Islamic teaching. Khalid got close to warlord Abdul Rab Rasool Sayyaf, an adherent of Wahhabism, then the Salafist form of Islam. Khalid later became Sayyafs secretary. Sayyaf in turn got substantial funding from Osama bin Laden to establish a university outside Peshawar described later as a 'training ground for terrorists'. …

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