Investigators have pieced together most of Atta’s life from his childhood as the son of a lawyer in Giza, northern Egypt, to the moment he boarded flight 11 — except for an unexplained absence from Hamburg in early 2000. The date on the tape perfectly corresponds with this.
Those who have been closely following the story had little doubt where Atta had been. Binalshibh told me, “Afghanistan, what else?” when I asked him during a secret meeting four years ago. But in their painstaking efforts to find the proof that connected the dots, US investigators and, especially, their German counterparts, have struggled with little more than circumstantial evidence and presumed facts.
This played nicely into the hands of conspiracy theorists, both in the Muslim world and in the West. Now the investigators have the proof, and only the flakiest of anti-American fantasists can go on claiming that Bin Laden, Atta, Jarrah and co had no hand in September 11.
We can now even reveal Atta’s itinerary. On November 29, 1999 he boarded Turkish Airlines flight TK1662 from Hamburg to Istanbul, Turkey, where he changed to flight TK1056 bound for Karachi, Pakistan. From there he would have crossed into Afghanistan by road, most probably through Quetta. On the return journey, he left Karachi on February 24, 2000 by flight TK1057 to Istanbul where he changed to flight TK1661 to Hamburg. Five months later he entered the United States to start flight training.
The tape is broken down into five segments. The first two segments include UBL entering stage right to talk to a crowd gathered in a courtyard at the Tarnak Farms compound in Afghanistan. The other three segments are raw video, or let’s say, un-produced video of 9-11 pilots Ziad Jarrah and Mohammed Atta enjoying each other’s company. Evan Kholmann has put together an analysis of some of the faces in the crowd, including Ramzi bin al-shihb, Abu Faraj al-Libi, Atta, Jarrah, and Abu Jandal.
If memeorandum.com is any measure of what people are talking about, this video is not high on the list. What a shame. It’s amazing. Two young men – who exude their education and social class through their Afghan camps and beards -- are sitting for the camera. They appear strong, confident and at the peak of life. In less than two years, they’ll be driving planes (Atta) into the North Tower and (Jarrah) into the Pennsylvania landscape.
Their smiling faces are icons of the cold reality of the global jihad. Far from being a tactic used by the poor in a self-proclaimed global revolution, the global jihad is declared warfare against every country, institution, leader, and average person not in the sphere of radical Islamist control. It’s the Manichean struggle made real, with young men's souls as the ultimate weapon .
The video has generated some speculation, some of it pretty good. It has inspired more questions for me than it provides answers. For instance, who is holding the camera? The video appears to be partially edited with brief pauses. I’m not technically proficient enough to know how video cameras ca. 2000 worked, but the camera could generate the pauses when it was turned off. That would make the video more raw than it appears. If not, then someone worked on the video, and then just left it for a later date, one that never came.
Also, did the Sunday Times seek it out or were they given the video? This isn’t an idle question. If the Sunday Times sought it out, then they deserve a great big collective wet kiss from the web commentariat. It’s sad to say, but you just don’t see that kind of initiative from the American mainstream media. They’re more interested in how they can hurt the administration, then expending their vast financial and social assets to finding and exposing the global jihad network.
However, there could be more ominous implications if the Sunday Times’ “Al Qaeda contact” gave them the tape. Is this a signal for another attack? The event celebrated at the beginning of the tape is Eid ul-Fitr, the three-day holiday that celebrates the end of Ramadan. This year Eid occurs around October 24th. It’s also close enough to the US elections, that Al Qaeda may see the current political strife within the US as an opportunity to strike and get results, like Spain. Could this be a sign of an impending attack near the end of the festival?
I’m never one to see signs or triggers in these videos, but several things have changed since I was paid to do this kind of analysis. The first change has come with the emergence of ideologues and strategists as key influence on target selection and timing. Before 9-11 Al Qaeda’s focus was motivating the US to leave Saudi Arabia, and it was apparent that Al Qaeda never used “timing” as a factor in attack planning. An attack was executed when everything was operationally ready. After 9-11 -- with the influence of strategists like Abu Musab al-Suri -- Al Qaeda broadened its vision of jihad to include the entire world. It subsequently broadened its strategy. Targeting Spain just before its national elections became an option. Targeting the UK in order to force it to pull out of its alliance with the US became an option.
Second change is the omnipresence of Ayman al-Zawahiri. A steady stream of commentary on a wide range of current topics in the news, tells me that he is somewhere very safe. He can watch television and sit around enough to think a lot about Darfur and the Pope. If he has time to watch TV and think about current events, then heah s time to scheme another attack. He has time to receive people, and to plan a post-attack strategy. An idle mind is a dangerous thing; however, the idle mind of a terrorist could be catastrophic.
The most recent video appears to be a less secure place than the others. It's poorly lighted with a weak, solid backdrop.
Is he on the move again? If so, why? It’s pure speculation, I know, but as long as they’re alive, they’ll be planning an attack on US soil.
UPDATE (and correction): According to this MSNBC report, it appears the Sunday Times probably acquired this through FBI or US military channels:
The Pentagon and FBI are in possession of a videotape showing Atta together with another 9/11 hijacker, Ziad Jarrah, sources tell NBC News.
U.S. military officials obtained the tape at an al-Qaida compound in Afghanistan after the U.S. invasion of that country in the fall of 2001.