Last words to hijackers: Wear clean clothes and seek God's forgiveness

Andrew Gumbel
Saturday 17 September 2011 14:08

This is what the hijackers who attacked New York and Washington were apparently told in their final hours:

This is what the hijackers who attacked New York and Washington were apparently told in their final hours:

Make sure your body is clean and your socks pulled straight inside your shoes. Check you have your identity papers, your ticket and your weapon. Make sure nobody is following you. Then, "when the time of truth comes and zero hour arrives, straighten out your clothes, open your chest and welcome death for the sake of Allah".

Such was the chilling message contained in two separate instruction manuals inadvertently left behind by the hijackers, which have now been recovered by investigators. The documents, both handwritten in Arabic, provide a unique insight into the psychological state of the 19 men who took over the doomed aircraft on 11 September, showing how meticulous logistical preparation for the attacks was underscored at every turn by spiritual exhortations and the promise of paradise everlasting.

"Keep a very open mind, keep a very open heart of what you are to face," reads one of the documents. "You will be entering paradise. You will be entering the happiest life, everlasting life ...

"Check all of your items – your bag, your clothes, knives, your will, your IDs, your passport, all your papers. Check your safety before you leave ... Make sure that nobody is following you ... Make sure that you are clean, your clothes are clean, including your shoes."

These words were never intended for a wide audience. If all had gone according to plan, the documents would have been burnt up in the devastation unleashed by the impact of the hijacked planes on their targets. One, however, was recovered from the wreckage of United Airlines flight 93, which crashed in rural Pennsylvania. And the other was found in a bag that should have been transferred at Boston airport on to American Airlines flight 11 – which ploughed into the north tower of the World Trade Centre – but never made the connection.

The bag belonged to Mohamed Atta, who has emerged as a crucial figure in the conspiracy and the only one of the 19 named suspects known to have had contact with all four hijacking crews. It is not known what else investigators have found in the bag, which was checked in at Portland, Maine, early on 11 September where Atta and one fellow hijacker, named as Abdulaziz Alomari, had spent the previous night.

It is also not known whether the five-page document found in the bag was written by Atta himself or by someone else. Nevertheless, it makes for compelling reading, explicitly addressing such issues as the hijackers' fear of death and what they should do to get through what they knew to be their last night on earth.

"Purify your heart and clean it from all earthly matters. The time of fun and waste has gone. The time of judgement has arrived. Hence we need to utilise those few hours to ask God for forgiveness," said the document, extracts of which were published in yesterday's Washington Post. "You have to be convinced that those few hours left you in your life are very few. From there you will begin to live the happy life, the infinite paradise. Be optimistic. The prophet was always optimistic."

The document urged the hijackers to pray, fast and recite the Koran so that fear of death would recede: "Everybody hates death, fears death. But only those, the believers who know the life after death and the reward after death, would be the ones who will be seeking death." Such rituals were to be followed in the morning, too: "Try to pray the morning prayer with an open heart. Don't leave but when you have washed for the prayer."

The last page of Atta's document was written on different paper and included a doodle of a small sword with circles and serpentine swirls drawn around its shaft, according to The Washington Post. This page listed prayers to be said on the plane itself. When the hijackers stepped on board, they were to say: "Oh God, open all doors for me. Oh God who answers prayers and answers those who ask you, I am asking you for your help. I am asking you for forgiveness. I am asking you to lighten my way. I am asking you to lift the burden I feel."

The last prayer concluded: "There is no God but God, I being a sinner. We are of God, and to God we return." The document recovered from the crash site in Pennsylvania bore many similarities, with some additional details. It exhorted the hijackers to shave their body hair the night before.

"Purify your head," it said. "Cleanse it from dross ... Be cheerful, for you have only moments between you and your eternity, after which a happy and satisfying life begins."

The message included a similar checklist, but also suggested that clothes should be worn tight: "This is the custom of the good predecessors. Allah blessed them, for they tightened their clothes before battle. Tighten your shoes well and wear tight socks so they will not come out of the shoes."

Hijackers should say a prayer before embarking, it went on. "Remember: it is a raid for the sake of Allah. Recite the prayer. As you take the seat, recite the prayer. Mention Allah a lot." When the hijacking begins, "Shout Allah is great because this shout strikes terrors in the hearts of the infidels," the document said.

And the moment of death should be accompanied by the basic statement of belief recited by all Muslims at the call to prayer: "Seconds before the target, your last words should be, there is no god but Allah. Mohammed is his messenger."

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