Terrorist's Cookbook

A manual tells terrorist recruits how--and why--they should wage unholy war

The book tells how to make bombs and invisible ink, how to mix filth and food to make poison. More basically, it retells an older and uglier lesson: How to mix bad theology and twisted history with rage to create a terrorist.

As with so many descriptions of real terror in recent years, the photocopied pages once would have seemed too ludicrous to be taken seriously, like the idea of killing hundreds of people with poisoned Kool-Aid or that of children bringing arsenals to school to kill teachers and students. In fact, one of its opening pages displays a crude drawing--a sword plunged through a globe--that looks like something a junior-high boy would scrawl on a book cover.

The manual, with its innocent-looking cover image of flowers, didn't draw much attention when it first came to light last spring. The New York Times published a story about it but ran it inside the paper, not on the front page. The Times reporters called it a combination terrorism training guide and Mad Magazine spy cartoon. Few other papers picked up the story.

Wadih el Hage, a former Arlington resident, was convicted in the bombing of U.S. embassies in Africa.
Wadih el Hage, a former Arlington resident, was convicted in the bombing of U.S. embassies in Africa.
The cover of the terror manual looks benign--not so the image of a sword plunged through a globe found inside.
The cover of the terror manual looks benign--not so the image of a sword plunged through a globe found inside.

Those who used the literature, however, apparently took it seriously. In 1998, the U.S. government alleges, they blew up two U.S. embassies in Africa. Wadih el Hage, a former Arlington resident and secretary to Osama bin Laden, was convicted earlier this year of taking part in that plot. As the last page of the manual directed, the conspirators in that incident worked in closely coordinated teams, putting "the right man in the right place."

No close inspection of the manual, introduced last April in a courtroom a few blocks from the World Trade Center, could have prevented the events of September 11. Its pages, however, help explain the meticulous planning and the sources of the hatred that led 19 other men, working in precisely coordinated teams, to change the skyline of New York City and the history of the world. Middle Eastern scholars suggest that governments all around the world might learn from its pages some unintended lessons--not how to commit terrorism, but how to uproot it in the future.


Federal prosecutors called it the jihad manual.

"Military Studies in the Jihad Against the Tyrants" was seized in Manchester, England, from the home of another suspected terrorist, Anas Al-Liby. Still a fugitive, Al-Liby has also been indicted in the embassy bombings. According to testimony, he was a computer expert for bin Laden's group, Al Qaeda ("the base"). With another man who has since pleaded guilty to terrorism-related charges, Al-Liby allegedly did surveillance of the U.S. embassy in Nairobi in advance of the bombing, converting a room in a confederate's apartment into a darkroom for developing pictures of the embassy and its surroundings.

The manual's approximately 180 pages are largely taken up with detailed explanations on subjects such as how to prepare explosives, how to assassinate people in various ways, and how to maintain secrecy and avoid detection. There are drawings of guns and graphs showing how to use various codes to encrypt messages. Many details from its 18 "lessons," or chapters, could have been followed not only by the embassy terrorists but also by the suicide bombers who commandeered four U.S. airliners on September 11.

Equally important, it offers initiates--those who might, for instance, wonder about the religious implications of targeting non-military structures and large numbers of civilians--justifications for such actions, based on skewed history and a perversion of mainstream Islamic beliefs.

The text alternates between the white-hot anger of dogma and the cold-blooded calculations of killing. In the first lesson, for instance, the author lists the missions for which the military organization--that is, the terrorist group--is responsible in attaining the ultimate goal of overthrowing the "godless regimes." In addition to kidnapping enemy personnel and gathering information and destroying bridges, the missions include assassinating foreign tourists, blasting and destroying embassies, economic centers and "the places of amusement, immorality and sin." The lesson also includes a section on the importance of "removing those personalities who block a cell's path [including] all types of military and civilian intellectuals and thinkers for the state."

Another entry suggests that, when seeking people to carry out "special operations," planners choose agents who have, among other qualities, calm personalities "that allow coping with psychological trauma such as those of the operation of mass murder." In Lesson 11, trainees are told that religious scholars permit the beating and torturing of hostages, and that a hostage may be killed "if he insists on withholding information from Moslems." In a section in which various espionage and terrorist incidents are critiqued, a positive point listed for one mission was that "the assassins killed an Israeli they found on the way back."

In the embassy bombings case, the manual was the literary equivalent of a smoking gun. In the final stages of that trial last spring, government lawyers dumped load after load of evidence on the beleaguered jury, so much and so fast that jurors asked the judge to tell them to slow down. Much of the evidence was obscure: stacks of records showing who called whom on what date; wiretap transcripts full of seemingly irrelevant conversations; lists of alleged code words. Defendants had to remember pages of supposed aliases in order to identify the callers and callees. Notebooks full of handwritten names and numbers seemed important to prosecutors, but who knew if jurors grasped the connection between the scribbles and the bombs that killed 224 people?

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