y MICHAEL ELLIOTT
It was the worst crime in American history, and it has triggered the greatest dragnet ever known. The investigation into the atrocities of Sept. 11 has involved police forces across the U.S. and around the world. From Michigan to Malaysia, from San Diego to Ciudad del Este, Paraguay, law-enforcement agencies have been trying to figure out how the terrorists carried out their attacks, who helped them-and what they might do next. Along the way, the American public has been introduced to a confusing mass of names and faces and has learned of more links between them than any but the most nimble fingered could ever untangle. After nearly two months, there is much that we know about the global terrorist network that goes by the name of al-Qaeda-but an awful lot that is still hunch. Still, an international investigation by Time into al-Qaeda's structure reveals that it is more global in its range, and more ruthless in its ideology, than all but its most dedicated students could have ever imagined.
The essential story of Sept. 11 is straightforward. A group of 19 men spent months in the U.S. preparing for the hijackings. The cell had earlier been headquartered in Hamburg, Germany, where its alleged ringleader, an Egyptian named Mohamed Atta, 33, had lived off and on for eight years. Atta is thought to have piloted Flight 11, the first to make impact; two of the other suspected pilots, Marwan Al-Shehhi and Ziad Samir Jarrah, were also residents of the Hamburg region. The Hamburg cell, in turn, is thought to have been an operating unit of a worldwide network of terrorists called al-Qaeda, the name of whose reclusive leader is now known all over the world: Osama bin Laden.
Al-Qaeda had its origins in the long war against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. After Soviet troops invaded the country in 1979, Muslims flocked to join the local mujahedin in fighting them. In Peshawar, Pakistan, which acted as the effective headquarters of the resistance, a group whose spiritual leader was a Palestinian academic called Abdallah Azzam established a service organization to provide logistics and religious instruction to the fighters. The operation came to be known as al-Qaeda al-Sulbah—the "solid base." Much of its financing came from bin Laden, an acolyte of Azzam's who was one of the many heirs to a huge Saudi fortune derived from a family construction business. Also in Peshawar was Ayman Al-Zawahiri, an Egyptian doctor who had been a constant figure in the bewildering mosaic of radical Islamic groups since the late 1970s. Al-Zawahiri, who acted primarily as a physician in Peshawar, led a group usually called Al Jihad; by 1998, his organization was effectively merged into al-Qaeda.
In 1989, while on his way with his two sons to Friday prayers in Peshawar, Azzam was killed by a massive explosion. His killers have never been identified; Azzam had many enemies. But by the time of his death, the group around al-Qaeda were debating what to do with the skills and resources that they had acquired. The decision was taken to keep the organization intact and use it to fight for a purer form of Islam. The initial target was not the U.S. but the governments of Saudi Arabia and Egypt, which al-Qaeda claimed were corrupt and too beholden to the U.S. It was only after the Gulf War, by which time bin Laden had moved his operations to Sudan (he would later be forced to shift back to Afghanistan), that he started to target Americans. To all but insiders, he first became notorious in 1998, when al-Qaeda operatives exploded truck bombs at the American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, killing 12 Americans and hundreds of locals. Since then there has been a steady drumbeat of attacks linked to al-Qaeda—some successful, some not—on American targets and those of U.S. allies around the world.
Al-Qaeda has its headquarters in training camps in Afghanistan. In addition to directing its own attacks, it acts as an umbrella group, financing and subcontracting operations to local networks like Algeria's Armed Islamic Group (gia), a terrorist organization active throughout Europe. The camps in Afghanistan play a vital role. Whatever network they may originally have been aligned with, visitors to the camps meet men from other groups, forge relationships and acquire the stature of soldiers in a holy war. The high command of the group includes bin Laden, al-Zawahiri and Abu Zubaydah, a Saudi-born Palestinian who was identified in an American court case in July as the organizer of the camps and who investigators believe may be al-Qaeda's director of international operations.
Some of the best leads on al-Qaeda's directorate now seem to be coming from Djamel Beghal, a French-Algerian who is suspected of being an al-Qaeda ringleader and who was arrested in Dubai in July on his way from Pakistan to Europe. After being convinced by Islamic scholars in Dubai of the evils of terrorism, Beghal started talking. (He is now back in France and has attempted to retract his confession.) Beghal has said that while in Afghanistan in March, he received instructions from Abu Zubaydah on a bombing campaign against American interests in Europe, including the Paris embassy. "He's talking about very important figures in the al-Qaeda structure, right up to bin Laden's inner circle," a European official told Time. "He's mentioned names, responsibilities and functions—people we weren't even aware of before. This is important stuff."
Though al-Qaeda has its roots in Afghanistan, investigators now think that the "Afghan" nature of the group is subtly changing. The war against the Soviets ended in 1991. Increasingly, al-Qaeda's captains in the field are too young ever to have fought in Afghanistan, though some may have joined Islamic brigades in Chechnya—or in Bosnia, as Abu Zubaydah did. Many of the new fighters were born and raised not in the Arab lands but in the Muslim communities of Europe, around which they travel with ease. And there is a growing sense that a number of them are "Takfiris," followers of an extremist Islamic ideology called Takfir wal Hijra (Anathema and Exile). That's bad news: by blending into host communities, Takfiris attempt to avoid suspicion. A French official says they come across as "regular, fun-loving guys—but they'd slit your throat or bomb your building in a second."
In addition to the ruthless nature of al-Qaeda's soldiers, investigators now also appreciate just how extensive are its tentacles. In mid-October, for example, nato forces in Bosnia foiled a plot to attack U.S. and British targets there. Bensayah Belkacem, an Algerian thought to be at the center of a Bosnia-based terror group, had the number of Abu Zubaydah on a chit of paper in his apartment. On Oct. 28, Abu Sayyaf, a terrorist group in the Philippines that authorities believe has been supported in the past by al-Qaeda, bombed a food market, killing six people. And the Ugandan government announced that it had detained eight men on suspicion of belonging to al-Qaeda. How did one organization with an extremist ideology manage to acquire a reach that trembles governments from Bosnia to the Philippines to Uganda?
THE BORDERLESS WORLD
"Globalization means interdependence," says Edmund Hull, U.S. ambassador to Yemen and former State Department counterterrorism chief. "We have previously seen the benefits of this interdependence. Now we are seeing its risks." That goes to the heart of any attempt to understand al-Qaeda. For the past decade, globalization has been understood as an economic process, rooted in the trade of goods and services. But the defining characteristic of our new world is not the movement of products or money but of people. Cheap air transport, the effects of decolonization and a population explosion in the poorer parts of the world have combined to create an unprecedented movement of humanity from one nation to another. Travel and emigration have broadened the mind and brought unparalleled opportunities to countless families. But they have also helped create havens for those seduced by the romance of terrorism.
French investigators believe Kamel Daoudi is one such recruit; his tale illuminates both the nature of modern terrorist cells and their global reach. Daoudi was the kind of child that immigrant parents dream of having. The son of Algerians who had immigrated to France, he took the tough posthigh school exams a year early and started to study computer sciences at a university in Paris. But he found the courses difficult, and according to reports, a family row exploded in 1999 when Daoudi's father found evidence of his son's appointments with psychiatrists. Daoudi left for Britain, his pockets bulging with the $11,000 his family had saved for his education.
On Sept. 21, he made the same trip; this time, running not from his family but from the law. Daoudi slipped away from his apartment on the Boulevard John F. Kennedy after police across Europe started to round up the network that Beghal had assembled for his operations. (French investigators think Daoudi was the computer-and-communications whiz kid of the group.) Daoudi knew Britain well. He and Beghal had hung out there with Jerome Courtailler, one of two French brothers who had converted to Islam. For a while, Courtailler lived in south London with Zacarias Moussaoui, another French child of disappointed immigrant parents. Moussaoui grew up in the southern French town of Narbonne but left for Britain in 1992 and took a degree at London's South Bank University. Earlier this year, he enrolled in an Oklahoma flight school that had been visited by two of the Sept. 11 hijackers, and German authorities say he had called the house in Hamburg used by Atta. In August, after suspicious behavior at another flight school in Minnesota, Moussaoui was arrested on immigration charges. Today he is incarcerated in the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Manhattan, refusing to speak to investigators. Daoudi, who was picked up in the British town of Leicester, sits silent in a French jail. "He isn't giving an inch," says a French official. His lawyer denies that Daoudi has ever been involved in plotting terrorist attacks.
Children of immigrants, Muslims in Europe, highly skilled, Daoudi and Moussaoui epitomize the kind of person investigators now think provides some of al-Qaeda's key recruits. Above all, both men were true global citizens; Moussaoui, a child of the warm south, ended up in the state where ice fishing is a favorite sport. As they dig deeper, law-enforcement agencies are beginning to understand just how effectively globalization has spread terrorism around the planet.
Consider two countries half a world apart and far from the Islamic heartlands: the Philippines and Britain. It was in Manila, that most Catholic of cities, that Mohammed Sadeek Odeh found his vocation. Sentenced to life imprisonment on Oct. 18 for his part in the 1998 bombings of the American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, Odeh seemed to have lived the predictable life of an al-Qaeda operative—he was born to exiled Palestinians in Saudi Arabia and grew up in Jordan. Yet he turned to radical Islam while studying engineering in the Philippines. It was there that Odeh first saw and heard videos and taped messages from Abdallah Azzam. In 1990 Odeh moved to Pakistan, and from there to the camps in Afghanistan and a new life as a soldier in al-Qaeda.
Other Muslims who had studied in the Philippines maintained links there. It was from Manila that Ramzi Yousef, the convicted mastermind behind the first World Trade Center bombing, hatched a plan to blow up 12 American airliners as they flew over the Pacific. In the mid-1990s, Mohammed Jamal Khalifa, married to one of bin Laden's sisters, allegedly funded Islamic schools in the south of the country, where Muslim insurgents have been fighting for years. The Filipino government has long claimed that Abu Sayyaf, the most bloodthirsty of the groups—its specialty is beheadings—has been supported by al-Qaeda. Abdurajak Janjalani, the group's late founder, fought in Afghanistan, reportedly with bin Laden and Yousef. The links may be a thing of the past; these days Abu Sayyaf's style runs more to kidnapping and ransom than to jihad. Still, Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo recently said Khalifa had offered to secure the release by Abu Sayyaf of 18 hostages, including an American missionary couple.
About the only thing that Manila has in common with London is damp—that and a reputation for giving succor to terrorist supporters. Britain has always had a habit of providing safe haven to political refugees; that's why Karl Marx is buried in Highgate cemetery. But in the past 20 years, says Neil Partrick, a Middle East analyst at the Royal United Services Institute, London has become "the capital of the Arab world." As they used to say in Britain: Whoever lost the Lebanese civil war, London won it. With Beirut in ruins, banks relocated from Lebanon; they were followed by Arabs from Saudi Arabia and the gulf who summered in Kensington Gardens, journalists, members of opposition groups—and radical Islamic clerics.
One such preacher, Abu Hamza al-Masri, arrived in 1981, having left one eye and both hands in Afghanistan. He was granted British citizenship in 1985, and his mosque in Finsbury Park, tucked among Victorian row houses one tube stop from Arsenal's soccer stadium, has become famous worldwide for preaching jihad. Moussaoui, the Courtailler brothers and Beghal all attended prayers there. Beghal is said also to be a follower of Abu Qatada, a radical who preached jihad from a community center on Baker Street and whose bank account, allegedly with $270,000 in it, was frozen by the Bank of England in mid-October.
London's dirty secret is that it has long been a recruiting ground for terrorists. French authorities moan with frustration at the lack of British cooperation. For years the French were unable to get London to extradite suspected members of the Algeria-based gia, responsible for a wave of bombings in Paris in the mid-1990s. The U.S. hasn't always had better luck; Americans have been trying to get their hands on Khalid al-Fawwaz, a London-based Saudi alleged to have set up an office for bin Laden in 1994 and now wanted for trial in relation to the African embassy bombings. (Al-Fawwaz's legal maneuverings have just reached Britain's highest court.)
The gears of British justice are starting to grind more quickly. London has detained and questioned a number of Sept. 11 suspects, including Lotfi Raissi, an Algerian alleged to have helped train the suicide pilots in the attacks. And last week Yasser al-Siri, whose bookstore and website are well known in London, was charged with conspiracy to murder Ahmed Shah Massoud, the leader of the anti-Taliban Afghan Northern Alliance. Massoud died after assassins bombed his headquarters on Sept. 9.
But al-Siri's case demonstrates the oddities of the international legal system. He is in Britain on asylum from Egypt, where he was sentenced to death for the attempted murder of the Prime Minister in 1993, a charge he denies. "That was a military court," he told Time before his arrest. "I'm a civilian." Governments across Western Europe, their feet held to the fire by strong civil-liberties groups, have been protective of the rights of refugees and asylum seekers. And while the European Union has demolished barriers to the movement of goods and people, its 15 nations have been slow to develop common institutions of criminal justice and investigation. For Atta and his cell of alleged conspirators in Hamburg, the characteristics of modern European life were a godsend. In addition to the hijackers known to have lived there, other men alleged to be part of the Hamburg cell have had arrest warrants issued for them: Said Bahaji, Zakariya Essabar and Ramzi Binalshibh. German officials believe that last spring both Essabar and Binalshibh tried to get to the U.S. to take flying lessons. The three almost certainly arrived in Pakistan from Germany on Sept. 4 and have since gone to ground—possibly in Afghanistan.
Hamburg was an ideal long-term base; 1 in 7 of the city's population is foreign, as is 1 in 5 of the students at Atta's college. (Foreign students pay no tuition in Germany.) Atta and his friends could have stayed as long as they liked—Germany invented the perpetual student—since they had legal residence, could travel freely around the E.U. or leave it for a period, without arousing suspicion. It is hard to think of a way of life that so epitomized the promise of a borderless world and then perverted globalization to such an evil end.
YOUNG AND RUTHLESS
After seven weeks of investigations there is no hard evidence that links the Hamburg cell to any other. There are fragments of a puzzle—Atta made a 10-day trip to Spain from Miami in July that continues to bother investigators, while French sources still think that Moussaoui may be connected to the Hamburg cell—but many pieces are missing.
For example: Was Mohammed Bensakhria, an Algerian arrested in June by Spanish police, bin Laden's key European lieutenant? If so, is there an American equivalent—and has he been picked up in the dragnet after the attacks? Did al-Qaeda's reputed training-camp chief Abu Zubaydah leave Afghanistan before Sept. 11, as European officials believe, and if so, where is he and what is he doing?
On one matter, however, European investigators are clear: there is something truly ruthless about the suspected terrorists they are finding. After six Algerians were picked up in Spain in September, police found videotapes in the apartment of one of the men. One tape showed four Algerian soldiers, with their throats cut, dying in a burning jeep.
For experts in terrorism, such incidents are suggestive. In Egypt in the 1960s, the Islamic ideology Takfir wal Hijra began to win adherents among extremist groups. One of them, the Society of Muslims, was led by Shukri Mustafa, an agricultural engineer. Mustafa denounced other Muslims as unbelievers and preached a "withdrawal" into a purity of the kind practiced by the Prophet Muhammad when he withdrew from Mecca to Medina. The ideology is particularly dangerous because it provides a religious justification for slaughtering not just unbelievers but also those who think of themselves as Muslim. Intensely undemocratic—for to accept the authority of anyone but God would be a blasphemy—Takfir wal Hijra is a sort of Islamic fascism.
European analysts now believe that Takfir thinking has won converts among terrorist groups. Beghal is Takfiri, and Daoudi is thought to be. Roland Jacquard, one of the world's leading scholars on Islamic terrorism, says flatly, "Atta was Takfiri." It is not just soldiers of al-Qaeda who may be following the Takfir line. Mustafa was executed in 1978, but his ideas lived on; the beliefs of al-Zawahiri's Al Jihad were dominated by Takfiri themes. Azzam Tamimi, director of the Institute of Islamic Political Thought in London, says of Zawahiri, "He is their ideologue now ... His ideas negate the existence of common ground with others."
Bin Laden and al-Qaeda may have learned, by violent experience, to pre-empt and harness the new fanaticism. In late 1995, bin Laden's compound in Khartoum was attacked by gunmen believed to be Takfiri. A Sudanese friend of bin Laden's who questioned the surviving attacker said, "He was like a maniac, more or less like the students in the U.S.A. who shoot other students. They don't have very clear objectives." By the time al-Qaeda had resettled in Afghanistan, ideological training was an integral part of the curriculum, according to a former recruit who went on to bomb the U.S. embassy in Nairobi. Students were asked to learn all about demolition, artillery and light-weapon use, but they were also expected to be familiar with the fatwas of al-Qaeda, including those that called for violence against Muslim rulers who contradicted Islam—a basic Takfiri tenet. French terrorism expert Jacquard describes Takfiri indoctrination this way: "Takfir is like a sect: once you're in, you never get out. The Takfir rely on brainwashing and an extreme regime of discipline to weed out the weak links and ensure loyalty and obedience from those taken as members."
The results of the boot camps are die-hard but undetectable soldiers of the movement. "The Takfir," says Jacquard, "are the hard core of the hard core: they are the ones who will be called upon to organize and execute the really big attacks." French officials think that Takfiri beliefs have bred a distinct form of terrorism. "The goal of Takfir," says one, "is to blend into corrupt societies in order to plot attacks against them better. Members live together, will drink alcohol, eat during Ramadan, become smart dressers and ladies' men to show just how integrated they are."
For law-enforcement officials, the Takfiri connection is terrible news. By assimilating into host societies—some won't even worship with other Muslims—it's easy for Takfiris to escape detection. Those stories of the Sept. 11 hijackers drinking in bars and carousing in Las Vegas may now have an explanation. Jarrah's cousin Salim, who lives in the German town of Greifswald, claims that they "used to go to church more than to the mosque." Jarrah, says Salim, loved discos—"We didn't need veiled women and all that"—and sneaked shots of whiskey during a family wedding. He makes Jarrah sound like a normal guy, and normal guys aren't easy to catch.
BOLTING THE DOOR
Those charged with catching terrorists won't stop trying. And governments are reassessing their policies on immigration, asylum and open borders. New legislation is promised in Canada, Britain and Germany; the talks this year when Mexican and American officials seriously considered not tightening, but liberalizing, their immigration policies now bear the sad echo of a lost world.
The American refugee program, which had been responsible for bringing about 80,000 people into the U.S., is barely alive; President Bush hasn't signed its annual authorization. Last week Bush announced further measures to bolt the nation's door, including the formation of a Foreign Terrorist Tracking Task Force to coordinate federal efforts to keep terrorists out and hunt them down if they slip in. Authorities will now check to see that those who enter the U.S. on student visas actually attend school. But there is an air of desperation to the proposals. "This was not an immigration failure; it was an intelligence failure," says Charles Keely, professor of international migration at Georgetown University.
In Washington, the Immigration and Naturalization Service is regarded as a mess; even its spokesman, Russ Bergeron, says it has "languished for decades." In 1996 Congress told the ins to set up a computer system to track those who come into the U.S. on student visas; but with some 600,000 such people in a country with more than 22,000 educational institutions, the system is not yet up and running. Only one of the 19 hijackers entered on a student visa. Can screenings in foreign countries be tightened? Maybe, but all 19 were run through a computerized "watch list" of suspected terrorists when they applied for visas (at least six were interviewed personally). Nothing turned up. In any event, as Kathleen Newland, co-director of the Migration Policy Institute in Washington, says, "The facts remain the same." Globalization will continue to spin people around the world. The U.S. will continue to have two enormous land borders