The following letters I share with you after almost 12 years and on the 8th anniversary of the 09/11/2001 terrorist attacks. In late 1997, as a study away student at the American University in Cairo, we found ourselves riding a wave of terrorism which was not to crash upon the shores of New York and Washington for another 4 years. This is part of the story…
On September 19th, 1997 explosions could be heard in our classrooms near Tahrir square. From the roof of the university we could see the commotion and the smoke. As I made my way via taxi from school and through the rotary traffic by the museum, a burnt black and shattered bus was still smoking. A bus load of German tourists had been machine gunned and firebombed just outside the Egyptian Museum moments before. Back at the dormitories across the bridge in Zamalek we sat around in various states of shock, disbelief, and panic. A fellow student came back that evening white as a ghost and described what he had saw. He was at the dorms at the time and had heard of the attack. As an aspiring journalist he took a taxi to the square and with his camera pushed his way toward the bus. The way he told it with his voice trembling, he made his way to the front of the police barricade and pulled out his school ID and picture which he kept on a chain and shouted “Time Magazine, Time Magazine!” and was quickly ushered past the officers. He entered to a stench of burnt flesh emenating from the corpses of the recently dead melted into the seats of the bus before him. He took photos of the scene, however after nightmares and sleepless nights he destroyed the photos after turning down offers of thousands of dollars for their purchase.
On November 17th 1997, a week before we were to travel down to the valley of the kings in Luxor, a group self-proclaimed “The Battalion of Havoc and Destruction” carried out a massacre outside the Hapshetsut temple. Shortly after, I obtained a copy from a fellow student of U.S. embassy translations of two letters left at the scene. Reading these letters in our dorm rooms shortly after the attack, we wondered out loud to each other what references such as the “regime in the Scaffolds” might mean; Whether the repetition of the certain phrases had some meaning; Whether the mention of Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman, the so called “blind sheikh” had special meaning as he was in prison in New York for the bombing of the World Trade Center on Feb. 26 1993.
We could not know at that time what the these letters were to forshaddow. On the crystal clear morning of September 11th, 2001 I stood watching the second plane hit the World Trade Center from televisions in the John Hancock Tower in Boston from where it was said the plane’s had taken off. The following letters, and my experiences in Egypt four years before flooded back to mind. Latter I questioned why, if a group of students with so little prior knowledge could see four years ago that there was some terrible attack being planned couldn’t the United Stated Intelligence services connect the dots and prevent this? Little did I know that the same group of Egyptian terrorists had become part of a larger network of Al Qaeda in order to make good on their promise to “undermine the economy of every atheistic and profligate regime … destroy its establishments… burn its entity; and… bring down with God’s might its foundation.”
The following is the full transcripts of the two letters with Embassy commentary:
1) Subject: “The Islamic Group in Egypt” leaflet found at the sight of Luxor terrorist attack. Egyptian State security sources have given Embassy a copy of a leaflet found at the site of the terrorist attack at the Hatshepsut temple in Luxor November 17 (1997). According to the leaflet, the “Islamic Group in Egypt” (IG) claims responsibility for the attack. Mustafa Hamza, mentioned at the beginning of the leaflet is one of the IG leaders living outside Egypt. Informal Embassy translation of the leaflet follows: Begin text:
“There is no God but God
Mohammed is the prophet of God.
The Islamic Group in Egypt.
The Battalion of Havoc and
Destruction responds to the call and
Submits an apology.
Here we are, Mustafa Hamza. Here we are at your service s a strong leader of Al-Muja Heddin. Here we are at your service, and here we are at your service, and here we are at your service. We, the Muslims in the Egyptian Armed forces have responded to the call and followed your command. Your command is always obeyed. Our souls are a sacrifice for this great religion. We will revenge our brothers who were killed by the regime in the Scaffolds. We will undermine the economy of every atheistic and profligate regime that has diverted from God’s sound law. We will destroy its establishments; we will burn its entity; and we will bring down with God’s might its foundation. (A grave in) the depth of the earth is better for us than its surface, if we live to see our sister’s lying in prisons and our brothers and families in police stations. We here see our sanctities desecrated, and our honor violated, and disloyal rulers oppressing us. What life is this? Yes, death is better for us. Yes, our patience has run thin. Yes, our patience has run thin.
We will not let an atheist desecrate our land and spread atrocity and vice. We had warned all foreigners against coming to Egypt, but they are people who do not listen. They thought the police would protect them while the police themselves are the one’s who need protection. We have sworn not to leave this spot of Egyptian territory until we have cleansed it from desecration or until we have met God as martyrs. We apologize to our leaders for not being able to accomplish the first mission. We dedicate our happiness with the victory to our great martyr and apprentice engineer Samir Abil Maati who died of despotic torture after being arrested on his way to his battalion at Luxor Airport. Let everyone know that the revenge for our martyr brothers, foremost of whom is Dr. Yasir Fathy Fawwaz, is not like any revenge, and we will see who is quicker than us in execution. God is greater, and power be to God. His prophet, and the Believers. The Battalion of Havoc and Destruction.”
2) Subject: Second “Islamic Group in Egypt” Leaflet found at Site of Luxor terrorist Attack. Embassy obtained a copy of the second leaflet found at the site of the terrorist attack at the Hatshepsut temple in Luxor on November 17 (1997). Embassy sources said the leaflet was stuffed into one of the corpses at the murder scene. According to the leaflet, the “Islamic Group in Egypt” warns foreign tourists against visiting Egypt and demands the US and the west to release Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman from detention” Informal Embassy translation of the Leaflet follows:
“In the name of God, The Merciful, The Compassionate The Last Warning The Battalion of Havoc and destruction warns all foreign tourists against coming onto Egypt, and demands the United States and the atheistic west to release Dr. Omar Abdel Rahman, the Imam and reverend preacher of Muslims, from detention, otherwise the consequences will be grave.”