Perfect soldiers The hijackers : who they were, why they did it

Terry McDermott

Book - 2005

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New York : HarperCollins c2005.
1st ed
Physical Description
xvii, 330 p. : ill. ; 24 cm
Includes bibliographical references (p. [309]-310) and index.
Main Author
Terry McDermott (author)
Review by Booklist Reviews

Although Americans might like to believe that the 19 hijackers behind the 9/11 terrorist attack on the U.S. were evil or demented, McDermott reveals portraits of very ordinary, well-educated men with unexceptional backgrounds. Based on research of confidential files and interviews with friends and relatives of the hijackers across four continents, McDermott, an investigative reporter for the Los Angeles Times, traces the path the men took to develop from only moderately religious backgrounds to a vision of themselves as soldiers of God. Coming from various regions and ethnic groups, several of the men found commonality in religion and language as they struggled with feelings of alienation in Hamburg, Germany. McDermott details their transformation to fundamentalist Islam and their struggle to fulfill their commitment to their religion, ultimately by striking at a nation they considered--along with Israel--at the root of the evil wrought upon the world by the West. McDermott puts a human face on the hijackers and offers riveting accounts of the final weeks and days as the plotters prepared to carry out their horrific mission. ((Reviewed May 15, 2005)) Copyright 2005 Booklist Reviews.

Review by Library Journal Reviews

McDermott, an investigative reporter for the Los Angeles Times, here takes on the gargantuan task of giving the 9/11 hijackers a human face. He traces their stories from childhood in countries such as Egypt and Lebanon to higher education in Hamburg, Germany, where they first met. McDermott also traces the religious journeys of these men and explains the circumstances that led them to their radical views. Finally, he follows the hijackers through to their deaths on September 11, 2001. His research, which spanned 20 countries on four continents, is very detailed. Much of the information comes from personal interviews with acquaintances of the hijackers; other information is from sources such as FBI records, testimony before the 9/11 Commission, and the commission's final report. McDermott also includes some interesting supplemental information, such as a list of key figures, the last will and testament of one of the hijackers, and a portion of the written instructions given to the hijackers. Recommended for public and academic libraries.-Sarah Jent, Univ. of Louisville, KY Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.

Review by Publishers Weekly Reviews

It's taken three-plus years for a serious study of the hijackers, but the wait was worth it. L.A. Times reporter McDermott has dug deep, interviewing scores of friends, relatives and officials worldwide and trawling through troves of documents. Engrossing and deeply disturbing from the start, the book begins with two events Americans rarely connect: Russia's retreat from Afghanistan in 1989, followed in 1990 by Western troops pouring into Saudi Arabia after Iraq's invasion of Kuwait. McDermott shows victory in Afghanistan electrifying Islamic warriors who hated Christianity as much as communism; a new "infidel" army to fight proved an irresistible challenge. For McDermott, this moment marks the beginning of organized, nonstate-supported terrorism. Not very organized, he adds, describing half a dozen plots cobbled together by clumsy enthusiasts who were often caught-though often too late. Despite the media attention paid to bin Laden, McDermott paints him not as the fhrer of terrorism, but as a rich leader with the most aggressive P.R. Bin Laden, for example had nothing to do with the first attack on the World Trade Center in 1993-but he was inspired by it. McDermott's detailed biographies of the hijackers go far beyond the characterizations of the 9/11 report, and he is skeptical of accounts that portray them as deeply disturbed: all came from intact families, most were middle-class, few were deeply religious, none were abused or estranged. Recruited for the hijackings and informed they would die, they thought it over and agreed. McDermott's clear rendering of that decision is just one of this book's strengths. (May 3) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.

Review by Publisher Summary 1

An investigation into the lives of the terrorists responsible for the September 11 attacks traces the twenty-year plot of acknowledged mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, documenting how he recruited and trained a band of apolitical and mildly religious men to become fundamentalist "holy warriors." 40,000 first printing.

Review by Publisher Summary 2

Investigates the lives of the terrorists responsible for the September 11 attacks and traces the twenty-year plot of acknowledged mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.

Review by Publisher Summary 3

In this journalistic account of the origins of the September 11th attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, McDermott (a reporter for the Los Angeles Times) profiles the major actors in the plot, from the hijackers to the planners, offering biographical details on how they came to be involved in the plan, analyzing their motivations, and describing their activities in the years and months leading up to that fateful day. He also explores the social and political context in which the attacks took place in discussion of the place of Islamist movements across the Muslim world and in Europe and the growth of Osama Bin Laden's Al Qaeda in the wake of Western funding of Islamist Jihad in Afghanistan against the Soviet Union. Annotation ©2006 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (

Review by Publisher Summary 4

From an award&;winning L.A. Times reporter, a brilliantly researched investigation of the lives of the men responsible for September 11 attacks &; how they lived, what they thought, and how they changed into the sort of men who could do what they did. Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the acknowledged mastermind of the September 11 attacks, had been to the United States before; as a bright young man, he had come here from his native Kuwait to study science. He had returned home appalled, telling people Americans hated Muslims, and spent the next 20 years plotting to get even, developing for this purpose an unusual weapon: a group of young men from Hamburg, the agents of a seismic shift in modern history but in many respects utterly normal. The Sept. 11 attackers have largely been depicted with a series of caricatures that run from evil genius on one end to deluded fanatics on the other, but most of Mohammed's protegees came from apolitical and only mildly religious backgrounds. Under his watch, though, they evolved into devout, pious Muslims who debated endlessly on how best to serve, to fulfil what they came to regard as their religious obligations. In fundamentalist Islam, religion and politics are inseparable; the Hamburg men saw themselves as soldiers of God.