The American journalist from The New Yorker Lawrence Wright wrote this in 2006: “On his own initiative, [Jamal] al Fadl started talking about an organization called Al Qaeda. It was the first time the men in the room had heard this term. He described training grounds and sleeper cells. He spoke of the interest of [Osama] Bin Laden in acquiring chemical and nuclear weapons. He said al Qaeda had been responsible for a 1992 bombing in Yemen and for training the insurgents who shot down US helicopters that same year in Somalia. He gave names and drew up the organization chart. Investigators were stunned by his story. For two weeks, six or seven hours a day, they went back to the details to see if it was consistent. Never varied [su testimonio]. When [el agente Dan] Coleman returned to the bureau [el FBI]Nobody found it interesting (…) There were other more urgent investigations ”.
This that Wright relates in the essay The Towering Tower: Al Qaeda and the Origins of 9/11 (Debate), a Pulitzer Prize winner, happened five years before the September 11 attacks. It is the interrogation of FBI agents, including Coleman, stationed at the famous Alec Station in Virginia (the post of the bureau that started the investigation into Bin Laden), a Sudanese linked to the terrorist network. Wright’s narration, brought to the screen in a series of 10 episodes, is a fundamental journalistic and literary exercise to understand the first investigations into Al Qaeda, the mistakes made, the confrontation between the CIA and the FBI and, finally, the attacks 9/11, which could not be foreseen.
Video | Timeline in images of the 9/11 attacks
9/11: Sensitive material for fiction
The global impact of the 9/11 attacks has gone hand in hand in the last two decades with an explosion of titles in the genre of the essay with perhaps little parallel except the production about the great wars of the last century. A year before the attacks in New York, Virginia (Pentagon) and Pennsylvania, veteran Pakistani reporter Ahmed Rashid published The Taliban: Islam, Oil and Fundamentalism in Central Asia (Peninsula Editions). After the attacks, the book became, needless to say, a best seller. Rashid keeps track of the Taliban, but also Bin Laden and the United States’ attempts to hunt him down in Afghanistan. The last one he manages to narrate before the publication of the book occurs in 1999. The Taliban refuse to hand him over and the Saudi disappears from the radar.
Shortly before that, according to Rashid, on February 23, 1998, “all the groups associated with Al Qaeda signed a manifesto” against “Jews and crusaders,” with the United States being the target for its presence in Saudi Arabia. “Bin Laden”, continues the reporter and today Pakistani columnist, “had formulated an action plan that not only had its sights set on the Saudi royal family or the Americans, but also called for the liberation of the entire Muslim Middle East.”
A few months after that, on August 7 of that same year, a double attack against the US embassies in Dar es Salam (Tanzania) and Nairobi (Kenya) caused the death of more than 200 people. They had the signature of Al Qaeda. The British correspondent for The Guardian Jason Burke, stationed today in Johannesburg (South Africa), talks about these attacks and the terrorist network commanded by Bin Laden in the title published in 2003 Al Qaeda: The True Story of Radical Islamism (RBA). “For Islamist activists around the world,” Burke writes, “the bombings showed that Bin Laden was not, as many had believed, just a boastful, dilettante rich young man living safely in Afghanistan … For aspiring activists across the Islamic world, Bin Laden, who many of them had not heard of before, became the focus of their ambitions. “
But let’s rewind a bit. The popular argument that Bin Laden was armed by the CIA to drive the USSR out of Afghanistan and that it ended up turning against the Americans themselves is undoubtedly well founded. Although it is not that simple. The journalist Max Blumenthal makes one of the best reconstructions of what preceded the war of the Mujahideen against the Soviets and the appearance on the scene of Bin Laden. He calls it “the Afghan trap”, one of the episodes in his book Managing Brutality: How America’s National Security State Powered the Rise of Al Qaeda, ISIS, and Donald Trump (Verse), published in 2019. “Thanks to Saudi support,” Blumenthal notes, “local mujahideen in Afghanistan were joined by tens of thousands of foreign fighters known as the ‘Afghan Arabs’. Many of these foreign fighters sent to the battlefield were attracted by the sermon of the Palestinian theologian Abdullah Azzam (…). In Yedá [Arabia Saudí], Azzam instructed a young Osama Bin Laden … ”.
French expert Gilles Kepel tells in the book Jihad. Expansion and decline of Islamism (Peninsula Atalaya) that back in 1990, Bin Laden proposed to Saudi Arabia “the services of his jihadists from ‘the base’ to defend the border [frente al Irak de Sadam Husein]”. “As soon as King Fahd … asked the troops of the US-led international coalition for help,” Kepel continues in his essay, written like Rashid’s shortly before 9/11, “Bin Laden went on to form part of the circles hostile to the king (…). At this time there was the great turn in the life of the one who was to become the public enemy number one of the US government ”.
A decade after that, on September 11, 2001, the hijacking of four commercial aircraft by an Al Qaeda commando allowed an attack on the Americans. More than 3,000 people died. The reconstruction of these brutal attacks would be incomplete without the victims. Mitchell Zuckoff was working that 9/11 for the Boston Globe. After years of research into the thousands of families affected by the attacks, Zuckoff published in 2019 Fall and Rise: The Story of 9/11 (Harper Perennial).
Among the stories, serve as an example, the journalist and professor recovers that of the captain of American Airlines John Ogonowski, from Massachusetts, a day before taking command of one of the aircraft that crashed into the Twin Towers: “After dinner John went to his desktop computer in the television room. He logged into the American Airlines planning system with the wish that some other pilot would want an extra trip. That would turn John’s on-screen schedule green, allowing him to stay on the farm on September 11. ” It wasn’t like that and he had to fly American Airlines Flight 11 one more time, the last one.