_The Nineteenth Hijacker
In Spring 2021 my 9/11 novel, The Nineteenth Hijacker, will be published. The idea for the book came in a luncheon conversation three years ago at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington with its former director, Lee Hamilton. Hamilton was the co-chair of the renowned 9/11 Commission. The book is dedicated to Lee.
Several days after the events of 9/11, a woman in Germany received a posthumous farewell letter from Ziad Jarrah, the hijacker pilot who took Flight 93 and its 40 passengers to their deaths in a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania. The woman was Jarrah’s girlfriend, and, though they had pursued a stormy relationship over four years, she had been kept in the dark about the horrific plot of Jarrah and his associates. I have imagined here not just a letter, but a full confessional, an intimate, brutally honest declaration of complicity that might fill the void of silence that the 9/11 hijackers left in the wake of their attack.
In the narrative I have employed and expanded upon the facts of Jarrah’s life, as we know them, from the complexities of his character, through his delusions and rationalizations, to the ambivalence he felt toward his ultimate mission to destroy the U.S.Capitol. His story begins with his privileged upbringing in Beirut, Lebanon, proceeds through his recruitment and radicalization by Muhammad Atta and the others of the infamous Hamburg cell, through his training in Al Qaeda camps in Afghanistan, to his sleeper status in Florida in the 15 months before 9/11, to the final days, hours, and minutes. I have changed some dates and place names to streamline the story, though the voice I have invented for Ziad Jarrah is inspired by authentic documents. It is as if Jarrah's tape recordings and journal entries appear here in a faithful translation, from the German he spoke with his girlfriend to the Arabic he spoke with his comrades.
In turn, the character of Karima Ilgun, the girlfriend of this story, is entirely my own invention. I wanted to be free to explore fully the psychology of an apparently unwitting accomplice without the straightjacket of the known or unknowable details of a real person. I wanted to deal with the terrible human wreckage this hijacker left in the wake of his suicide mission and to create a character that may have known more than she was telling. Similarly, the character of the German investigator, Vice Kommissar Günther Recht, is fictional and bears no relation to any living person. Nevertheless, where it is possible, the narrative of the novel is informed by the confounding facts that do exist about Jarrah’s life and actions. Many documents relating to 9/11 remain classified ten years later, but the most important fact about Ziad Jarrah is well-established by the 9/11 Commission and various legal testimonies--- that the hijacker pilot of Flight 93 nearly pulled out of the plot in July 2001. The nature of his choice is the essence of this story.
Beyond that, major questions remain: Why did the most interesting, most complex, most ambivalent member of the 19 hijackers do what he did? What were his motivations, his inner thoughts, and his inner conflicts? About these questions no documents exist.
This book, therefore, addresses the great unfathomable why of 9/11 about which the politicians often speak. How could so ordinary a man be so easily led to extremism and mass murder? It is a speculation, and in a broader sense, a meditation on recent history.
To see articles written in relation to the 9/11 terrorist attacks by James Reston, Jr. see the Obsession Page.