The document offers a step-by-step outline of the spiritual and religious steps the terrorists were instructed to perform in the last hours of preparation for their suicide mission, authorities familiar with the document told The Dallas Morning News. "There's great detail for steeling oneself: what to think about, what to pray . at each stage," said one official who has seen the document. "It takes them from the hotel to the taxi to the airport and into the airplane."
Another source described the several-pages-long document as an "almost hypnotic, very religious, very prayerful" set of instructions. "Here is the state of mind you need to have. . This is how you need to connect yourself," the official said in describing the writings. The instructions include the exhortation to "strik(e) your enemy above his neck," one official said. "The purpose of all of this appears to be achieving a sense of holy mission."
Two photocopies of the document were found in separate locations, directly linked to some of the 19 hijackers who commandeered four planes Sept. 11 and crashed them into the World Trade Center towers, the Pentagon and the field outside Pittsburgh, one official said. "We don't know who the author is," one source said. All of the officials discussed the document on condition they not be identified.
While that official would not specify where the two documents were found, other officials said one document was recovered from the site outside Pittsburgh within a week of the crash where federal authorities have said a plane headed for a Washington target but apparently crashed after heroic passengers foiled the plot by attacking the hijackers.
The FBI, which had experts translate and analyze the document, is expected to make parts of it public in the coming days.
Followers of Osama bin Laden, the fugitive identified as the prime suspect in the Sept. 11 attacks, carried out similar religious preparations before the 1998 U.S. Embassy bombings, according to testimony in last spring's bombing trial in New York. An FBI agent who interviewed surviving truck bomber Mohamed Rashed Daoud Al-'Owali testified that the Saudi recounted "mentally preparing himself to become a martyr" in the final days before the August 1998 attack.
Al-'Owali also described listening to a cassette tape of "chanting poems for motivation in preparing to die" as he and another bin Laden follower drove the bomb-laden truck toward the U.S. Embassy in Kenya. Al-`Owali was sentenced to life in prison.
Another bin Laden follower testified for the government in that trial that he and another bin Laden follower once discussed how killing innocents was not only acceptable but justified. Jamal Ahmed Al-Fadl, formerly one of bin Laden's top lieutenants, said he was told, "You don't have to worry about that. If he's a good person, he goes to paradise. And if he's a bad person, he goes to hell."
In his August 1996 fatwa, or declaration of war, against the United States, bin Laden made repeated references to his followers' zeal for martyrdom. Citing medieval Arabic poets and Koranic passages promising instant paradise for those who die in righteous battle, bin Laden wrote that the youths who followed him "know that their rewards in fighting you, the USA, is double than their rewards in fighting someone else not from the people of the book. They have no intention except to enter paradise by killing you."
Traditional Islamic scholars have condemned as heresy bin Laden's 1996 fatwa and subsequent 1998 declaration that all Muslims have a duty to kill Americans wherever they find them, with no distinction between military and civilian. In a statement Tuesday, al-Qaida called on Muslims worldwide to join a jihad against Americans and Jews everywhere.
Religious preparations before a suicide mission are not unique to al-Qaida, counterterrorism and religious experts say, pointing to the rituals followed by the Palestinian suicide bombers who have hit Israeli targets. The rituals are used by terror groups to unite believers, said Mark Juergensmeyer, director of the Global and International Studies Program at the University of California, Santa Barbara. "There is a lot of religion in the sense of collectively undergoing a sacred journey or sacred quest in the case of some of the suicide bombers or self-martyrs," said Juergensmeyer, author of "Terror in the Mind of God: The Global Rise of Religious Violence," who interviewed participants in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and studied Palestinian suicide bombers.
In the case of the U.S. hijackers, Juergensmeyer said, "it's certainly likely that there were some sort of intensive moments of religious bonding and commitment." But he, like Islamic experts, say the religious beliefs and practices of terrorists have less to do with Islam and more to do with bending religious precepts to serve a political goal. "Osama bin Laden is to Islam like Timothy McVeigh is to Christianity," Juergensmeyer said.
While unfamiliar with the hijackers' document, an Islamic history and religious studies expert at Washington University in St. Louis said a series of preparatory religious steps could be expected. Dr. Ahmet Karamustafa, who heads the university's religious studies program, said he suspects the hijackers or their leaders cobbled together a spiritual manual using existing prayers. "They would probably just . salt and pepper this with all sorts of steps about other kinds of beliefs (such as) when you are starting out on this act to make sure, I don't know, to step into the building with your right foot first, if they believe that is an auspicious thing to do, and as you do so, utter the following prayer," he said.
The terrorists' religious beliefs and actions are sharply at odds with Islam's precepts, Karamustafa and others said. "The Islam that I know does not prepare anybody for suicide bombings and hijackings," said Shireen Hunter, director of the Islam program at the Washington-based Center Strategic and International Studies. "Suicide in Islam is like in Christianity - it's a moral sin."