In 1997, Ayman Al Zawahiri – bin Laden’s deputy – underscored the intent of Al Qaeda by inciting a massacre of tourists in Egypt, an atrocity that left 62 dead, including children. One Swiss woman witnessed her father’s head being severed from his body. The Swiss federal police concluded that bin Laden had financed the operation. Unlike previous terrorist groups, Al Qaeda seemed committed to maximising human suffering, including that of innocents.
In 1998, bin Laden went even further in his thirst for violence against the United States. In a widely published fatwa, he said: ‘. . . to kill the Americans and their allies – civilians and military – is an individual duty for every Muslim who can do it in any country in which it is possible to do it.’ On 7 August, simultaneous Al Qaeda bombings in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam killed 224 people and wounded over 4,000. The first was achieved with an explosive device containing more than 2,000 lbs of TNT.
On 7 March 2001, six months before the attack on the World Trade Center, the Russians submitted a report on Al Qaeda providing information on thirty-one senior Pakistani military officers actively supporting bin Laden and describing the location of fifty-five bases in Afghanistan. Soon after, the Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak warned Washington that terrorists were planning to attack President Bush in Rome using an aeroplane stuffed with explosives. The Taliban foreign minister confided to the American consul general in Peshawar that Al Qaeda was planning a devastating strike on the United States of America. He feared that American retaliation would destroy his country.
In June 2001, just a few weeks before Moussaoui enrolled at the aviation school in Minneapolis, Kenneth Williams, an FBI analyst in Arizona, sent an email to colleagues. It said: ‘The purpose of this communication is to advise the bureau and NY [New York] of the possibility of a coordinated effort by Osama Bin Laden to send students to attend civil aviation universities and colleges.’ He advised HQ of the need to make a record of all the flight schools in the country, interview the operators, and compile a list of all Arab students who had sought visas for training. This was to become known as the legendary ‘Phoenix memo’. Yet it wasn’t acted upon.