Synopses & Reviews
The attacks of September 11, 2001, were a calamity on a scale few had imagined possible. In their aftermath, we often exaggerated the men who perpetrated them, shaping hasty and often mistaken reporting into caricatures we could comprehend monsters and master criminals equal to the enormity of their crimes. In reality, the 9/11 hijackers and their cohorts were unexceptional men, not much different from countless others. It is this enemy, not the caricature, that we must understand if we are to have a legitimate hope of defeating terrorism.
The intent of this book is to uncover a better understanding of who the hijackers were and, thereby, why they did what they did. Perfect Soldiers traces these men's lives and the evolution of their beliefs, putting a human face on heinous acts. Most of the hijackers were from apolitical and only mildly religious backgrounds. As they came of age, though, they were shaped by historical tides and their own circumstances, evolving into devout, pious Muslims. In fundamentalist Islam, religion and politics are inseparable; they saw themselves as pilgrims, soldiers of God. In the end, this is a story about the power of belief to remake ordinary men.
Matching unrivaled research, undertaken in twenty countries on four continents, with a voice that is engaging, authoritative, and thought-provoking, Los Angeles Times correspondent Terry McDermott provides detailed portraits of the main players of the 9/11 plot, including by far the most comprehensive study yet produced of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the plan's mysterious engineer. With brilliant reporting and thoughtful analysis, McDermott brings us a clearer, more nuanced, and in some ways more frightening understanding of the landmark event of our time.
"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 fhrer 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." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"[E]xtensive research and [a] well-organized narrative....A chilling, often depressing read that merits attention, if only for the other 'perfect soldiers' who may be waiting out there." Kirkus Reviews
"[W]hat may well be...the definitive book on the 19 men who brought such devastation and terror to this country....Clearly written in good, plain English, Perfect Soldiers is a group portrait of ordinary men who were driven to do a surpassingly evil thing." The Washington Post
"Bound to become one of the most insightful books ever published about Sept. 11....Readers who claw through the densely detailed group biography...will grasp the number of missed opportunities to halt the plot that killed thousands..." Houston Chronicle
Seeing themselves as soldiers of God, the September 11, 2001, hijackers felt they were fulfilling their religious obligations. Perfect Soldiers traces these men's lives and the evolution of their beliefs, putting a human face on a heinous act. 8-page photo insert.
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.
About the Author
Terry McDermott has been a reporter at eight newspapers for twenty-five years, the last seven at the Los Angeles Times, where he is a national correspondent. He has won prizes for his journalism in a number of fields, including foreign affairs, economics, and science.
Table of Contents
Book One: Soldiers
1. A House of Learning
2. Alone, Abroad
5. The Smell of Paradise Rising
Book Two: The Engineer
1. The Rebirth of Jihad
2. Those Without
3. World War
4. War, After War
Book Three: The Plot
1. The New Recruits
3. The Last Year
4. That Day