FBI Agent Finds Prayers and a Checklist of Practical Terrorism
WASHINGTON Mohamed Atta, one of the key organizers among the 19 hijackers who
carried out the Sept. 11 attacks, left behind a five-page handwritten document
in Arabic that includes Islamic prayers, instructions for a last night of life
and practical reminders to bring "knives, your will, IDs, your passport" and,
finally, "to make sure that nobody is following you."
FBI investigators, who found the writings in Mr. Atta's luggage, which did not
make it onto his flight, are not sure of the author's identity - whether it
was Mr. Atta, another hijacker or someone else.
The document is a cross between a chilling spiritual exhortation aimed at the
hijackers and an operational mission checklist. With the hijackers all dead,
the pages may turn out to provide the most vivid and penetrating glimpse into
their mental states and final hours before they embarked on the deadliest act
of terrorism in U.S. history.
The haunting writings urge the hijackers to crave death and "be optimistic."
At the same time, the document starkly addresses fear on the eve of their
"Everybody hates death, fears death," according to a translation of highlights
of the document obtained by The Washington Post. "But only those, the
believers who know the life after death and the reward after death, would be
the ones who will be seeking death."
This appears in a section of the document beneath the words "The last night."
That section begins this way: "Remind yourself that in this night you will
face many challenges. But you have to face them and understand it 100 percent.
... Obey God, his messenger, and don't fight among yourself where you become
weak, and stand fast, God will stand with those who stood fast."
The translated version of the document instructs the hijackers to steel their
will with prayer before embarking on their mission:
"You should pray, you should fast. You should ask God for guidance, you should
ask God for help. ... Continue to pray throughout this night. Continue to
recite the Koran."
It continues: "Purify your heart and clean it from all earthly matters. The
time of fun and waste has gone. The time of judgment has arrived. Hence we
need to utilize those few hours to ask God for forgiveness. You have to be
convinced that those few hours that are left you in your life are very few.
>From there you will begin to live the happy life, the infinite paradise. Be
optimistic. The prophet was always optimistic."
The document offers eerie practical advice for the hijackers: "Check all of
your items - your bag, your clothes, knives, your will, your IDs, your
passport, all your papers. Check your safety before you leave. ... Make sure
that nobody is following you."
Interwoven throughout is spiritual guidance on purifying one's mental and
physical state. The document says, "Make sure that you are clean, your clothes
are clean, including your shoes."
A recurring theme is the promise of eternal life: "Keep a very open mind, keep
a very open heart of what you are to face. You will be entering paradise. You
will be entering the happiest life, everlasting life."
Mr. Atta, 33, and Abdulaziz Alomari spent the night of Sept. 10 in Room 232 of
the South Portland Comfort Inn in Portland, Maine. Early on Sept. 11, they
boarded a flight from Portland to Logan Airport, in Boston, where they
connected to American Airlines Flight 11, the plane that was commandeered and
flown into the north tower of the World Trade Center.
Mr. Atta's luggage did not make it onto Flight 11. The FBI found another copy
of essentially the same document in the wreckage of United Flight 93, a
government source said. Flight 93 was also hijacked and crashed into a field
in Pennsylvania. The multiple copies suggest that the document was shared
among at least some of the hijackers.
After the attacks, several published reports said that Mr. Atta had left a
"suicide note," which is what the FBI initially called it in a document sent
to police investigators in Europe. Other reports called it a will written by
Mr. Atta, an Egyptian who joined radical Islamic circles while studying urban
planning in Germany.
The first four pages of the document are handwritten on large paper and recite
some basic Islamic history about the Prophet fighting infidels with 100 men
against 1,000. They also include prayers such as "I pray to you, God, to
forgive me from all my sins, to allow me to glorify you in every possible
The fifth and last page is on standard stenographic paper that had apparently
been ripped from a pad and is headed, "When you enter the plane."
It includes a series of prayers or exhortations:
"O God, open all doors for me. O God, who answers prayers and answers those
who ask you, I am asking you for your help. I am asking you for forgiveness. I
am asking you to lighten my way. I am asking you to lift the burden I feel. O
God, you who open all doors, please open all doors for me, open all venues for
me, open all avenues for me."
The author doodled on the paper, drawing a small, arrowhead-like sword. Two
circles entwine the shaft, which also has serpentine swirls drawn onto it. The
doodle also resembles a key.
The word ROOM is written vertically in large double-block letters at the end.
The document continues: "God, I trust in you. God, I lay myself in your
It closes: "There is no God but God, I being a sinner. We are of God, and to
God we return."
The document, several scholars of Islam said, draws on traditional Islamic
prayers and alludes to Koranic verses. It begins with the universal Islamic
benediction recalling God's mercy and compassion. And the last two paragraphs
repeat the basic Muslim belief that "there is no God but God."
But some scholars noted that words like "100 percent" and "optimistic" are
modern vocabulary not found in ancient prayers.
"Except for the section that talks about going into a plane and the knives,
virtually everything else you could find in some medieval devotional manuals,"
said John Voll of the Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding at Georgetown
It seems to have been written, Mr. Voll added, "by a person who lives in a
devotional environment that involves a significant amount of memorized
"It is embedded in a broad Islamic devotional discourse," he added.
Other scholars noted the document's use of Islamic language to clothe a call
"The jargon is authentic Islamic jargon," said Imad ad Dean Ahmad, the
president of the Minaret of Freedom Institute in Bethesda, Maryland. "It's
obviously phrased to make it sound like it's part of a message to people going
on a mission from which they will not return."
Richard Martin, professor of Islamic studies at Emory University, said that
the document appeared to refer to "the purification that martyrdom represents"
before it gets to "the quotidian matters of entering the airplane and gives
Mr. Martin added, "This is a kind of spiritual preparation as I read it, or so
But two scholars said they found "incongruous" the opening line that refers to
praying "in the name of God, of myself and my family" because Muslims do not
pray in their name or their families' names.
Jonathan Brockopp, assistant professor of Islamic studies at Bard College,
noted another incongruity in the statement about seeking death.
In mainstream Muslim tradition, Mr. Brockopp said, "there is an important
distinction between suicide and martyrdom in that martyrs don't seek death."
"A martyr seeks to glorify God and be God's instrument," he said, "and is not
necessarily seeking death."
The idea "of not seeking death," Mr. Brockopp added, "is tremendously
important in Muslim tradition."
But he noted that Islamic extremists had recently arrived at their own
interpretations of these early Muslim teachings and that the document's author
appeared to follow the extremist view.
Finally, Mr. Brockopp said that he found certain phrases like "lighten my way"
and "lift the burden" typical of self-exhortations made by "a person who joins
a charismatic community or cult" and then tries "to do something beyond
--- --- --- --- ---
Useless hypotheses, etc.:
consciousness, phlogiston, philosophy, vitalism, mind, free will, qualia,
analog computing, cultural relativism, GAC, Cyc, Eliza, cryonics, individual
uniqueness, ego, human values, scientific relinquishment
We move into a better future in proportion as science displaces superstition.
"Socialism was scary. It claimed the lives of tens of millions of innocent
people. But this religious mass socio-genic illness promises to murder
everyone, even its own zombie minions, to fulfill prophecies of Armageddon
and Judgment Day myths."
"Hey Mr. Taliban --
tally me banana."
This archive was generated by hypermail 2b30 : Fri Oct 12 2001 - 14:41:00 MDT