“… the characteristic features of terrorism are anonymity and the violation of established norms.”
––Walter Laqueur, Terrorism (1977)
It wasn’t really a shock. The group — we were only three — had already accepted that Sheikh Osama bin Laden was either dead or far too ill to continue to fight. It was a natural thing. It had been a long time. Ten years. That’s a long time. We knew that there were others to lead. But in a way we felt cheated. Yes, cheated. If we had known he was still alive, well, we would have worked harder. Yes, maybe if we could have, I mean. But now he was really dead.
What to do? It seemed that everyone must be running around. No one would work with us before. We understood. It was all part of security. And, of course, whether we were needed. And we really weren’t that important. When something came up that fit us — they would call on us then. Ali said that. He said it every chance he had.
We weren’t kids anymore. We could meet only on rare occasions — holidays mostly — that was the most secure time. Ali would say, “They’ll call us.” We agreed, Fouad and I. Fouad never said much anyhow. It was far easier just to agree. Certainly they would contact us.
And now? What if they did call us? Would we still have the will? No one really asked that question. But it was there — hidden. Maybe just hidden from ourselves. It’s a terrible question. It’s the same as asking if you have the courage to do the job — the job as a jihadi. The courage would come, in-sha’Allah — if we deserved it.
We had another problem. This one we had to talk about. For several years we had some very good connections. Our original guide, Anwar, had provided us with alternative contacts. At first there were two, but that was reduced to one. Except that we never had contact with Anwar again. I don’t know what happened. It wasn’t right to ask our contact. Anyhow he was just a child — maybe fifteen — really only a courier. But he could carry a message. That’s all that was needed.
It was really too long a time to wait now. We’d had no message from Anwar. Our guidance was different now. It must come from the radio and TV. We should strike out on our own. Don’t wait for the big plan. Independent action. But be careful — do not waste resources. Choose targets with maximum effect. We had to talk about that, too.
Ali had always been the one who favored the grand gesture. He always wanted to destroy the biggest possible symbol. Fouad naturally always agreed with Ali. They were cousins. We had all known each other since school — a long time ago. Ali played midfield for the school football team. Fouad and I weren’t much as players, but we were very good rooters. When the jihad came along we still carried on as we did in school except I became a little more important than before.
I was the one who first met Anwar after Friday prayers. He told me to pick two more true believers and make a cell. Naturally I chose my friends. But now I was the leader, not Ali. I think that was always a problem for Ali and maybe that’s why he always argued for the big action. He wanted that prize, the prize of doing the most for the cause. I’ve always been for the more considered act, small or large. It seems the prudent way.
We had collected all the necessary implements for whatever we were called on to do. It hadn’t been that difficult. We would construct a detonator by connecting a car battery to an explosive package we put together with fertilizer just the way it was explained on TV. Ali said we all could ride together in an auto we would steal. How we would do that we hadn’t yet worked out. In any case it would be a true martyr’s death for all of us.
The obvious target choice was the large international hotel. It was either that or a foreign bank. Just drive up to the front door and that was that. Ali liked the hotel and I liked the bank. Either would work, but we still had to talk some more about it. This was the sort of thing we needed Anwar for — somebody who had experience.
It was all well and good to say we should be independent and strike out at the infidels, but it’s much harder than you think to actually do it. We really needed to talk about our plan more — to get it right. At our last meeting Fouad had said he had a big problem. He had met a girl. At least that’s what he said. I reminded him of our priorities. I’m not sure he fully understood.
In the end we never really got mad at Ali. Neither Fouad nor I actually saw him again except for the trial. They tried to disguise him with a hood, but we knew who he was. Ali just couldn’t stand not being the big guy. The police most likely had been encouraging him along that line all the way. Perhaps it was all for the good. I never was too sure about stealing that automobile.
It’s not too bad in prison if you’re a convicted terrorist — even if you never really did anything. And there we (Fouad and me) have a lot of people to talk to about how to do things and when to do it when we get out. Too bad about Fouad’s girl. He says he never got a chance to ask her to wait for him.
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