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The Age of Sacred Terror
Cover of The Age of Sacred Terror
The Age of Sacred Terror
Radical Islam's War Against America
Borrow Borrow
Winner of the 2004 Arthur Ross Book Award from the Council on Foreign Relations

From two of the world's foremost experts on the new terrorism comes the definitive book on the rise of al-Qaeda and America's efforts to combat the most innovative and dangerous terrorist group ever. Daniel Benjamin and Steven Simon trace the growth of radical Islam from its medieval origins and, drawing on their years of counter-terrorism work at the National Security Council, provide essential insights into the thinking of Usama bin Laden and his followers. With unique authority, they analyze why America was unable to defend itself against this revolutionary threat on September 11, 2001, why bin Laden's apocalyptic creed is gaining ground in the Islamic world, and what the United States must do to stop the new terror.
From the Trade Paperback edition.
Winner of the 2004 Arthur Ross Book Award from the Council on Foreign Relations

From two of the world's foremost experts on the new terrorism comes the definitive book on the rise of al-Qaeda and America's efforts to combat the most innovative and dangerous terrorist group ever. Daniel Benjamin and Steven Simon trace the growth of radical Islam from its medieval origins and, drawing on their years of counter-terrorism work at the National Security Council, provide essential insights into the thinking of Usama bin Laden and his followers. With unique authority, they analyze why America was unable to defend itself against this revolutionary threat on September 11, 2001, why bin Laden's apocalyptic creed is gaining ground in the Islamic world, and what the United States must do to stop the new terror.
From the Trade Paperback edition.
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    CHAPTER 1
    DAYBREAK

    The first killing of the Terror was carried out by an Egyptian in Manhattan. The weapon was not a Boeing 767 but a chrome-plated .357 Magnum, and the attack happened in the conference room of a midtown hotel. One man was killed; two others were injured. Years would pass before anyone realized that the event was more than the solitary act of a deranged man.

    On November 5, 1990, El-Sayyid Nosair rushed toward the podium in the Morgan D Room of the Marriott East Side Hotel. Just to the side of the microphone, Meir Kahane was signing books and greeting members of the audience for the speech he had just finished. As he neared the front of the room, Nosair aimed his gun and fired. The bullet tore into Kahane's neck and exited through his cheek. As blood poured from his mouth, Kahane raised his hands to his head and fell backward. The shooter spun and ran toward the exit, but just before the door, he was grabbed by a seventy-three-year-old man named Irving Franklin. Nosair kept moving and dragged Franklin a couple of yards before shooting him in the leg to get free. He sprinted from the hotel and jumped in a cab, thinking it was the getaway car he had arranged. It wasn't. Nosair jammed the gun into the back of the cabbie's head and screamed at him to drive. But traffic was moving slowly, and when a student who had been at Kahane's lecture and chased after Nosair jumped in front of the cab, the driver slid out the door and took off. Nosair abandoned the car, too, but he ran into the path of a Postal Service policeman. Nosair shot and wounded the officer, who returned fire, dropping the Egyptian with a neck wound.

    As he lay bleeding on the sidewalk, El-Sayyid Nosair was sure he had changed the course of history.

    He believed this because of his bizarre reading of Israeli politics. Kahane was a Brooklyn rabbi who founded the Jewish Defense League and then immigrated to Israel and established the Kach party, which was banned from his country's parliament in 1988 because of its blatant racism-the group advocated, for example, the expulsion of Arabs from Israel and the Occupied Territories. Yet Nosair was convinced that Kahane was destined to be the leader of the Jewish state and a force in global affairs: "They were preparing him to dominate, to be the prime minister someday," he would later say. "They were preparing him despite their assertion that they reject his agenda and that he is a racist."

    A thirty-four-year-old from the northeastern Egyptian city of Port Said, Nosair had moved to the United States in 1981 with a university degree in engineering in hand. He was not a happy immigrant. His sister in Egypt later related that he disliked America, saying, "He didn't like the morality there."1 Nonetheless, he stayed, married an American woman, and moved to New Jersey, bouncing from job to job and winding up as a heating and air-conditioning repairman for the City of New York.

    To investigators, he seemed mentally disturbed, and a police official described him as depressed. A month after the shooting, a federal investigator said, "Either the man is a lone nut, or he's a lone nut and someone whispered something in his ear knowing he'd do it. Or there's an enormous international conspiracy."2 Authorities quickly settled on the first hypothesis. Their belief that there was nothing more to the case-and, perhaps, the refusal of Kahane's Orthodox family to allow a full autopsy-helps explain the shoddiness of the case prosecutors put together. At trial, the jury could not be convinced that it was Nosair who shot Kahane. He was convicted on two counts of assault, first-degree coercion (for his treatment of the cabbie), and a...

Reviews-
  • AudioFile Magazine The authors of this book served on the National Security Council, and the level of expertise, knowledge, and commitment they bring to their complex project is staggering. In addition to warning listeners about the dangers posted by radical Islamist terrorists, they explain their origins and American attempts to respond to these threats. (Later chapters also examine terrorist actions committed by Christian, Jewish, and less definable cults.) The work balances the best qualities of scholarship and timely journalism and reads at times like a thriller. Jonathan Marosz's narration matches his subject matter perfectly. His tone is intelligent and concerned, and he shifts pace and volume to match the urgency of the writing. G.T.B. (c) AudioFile 2003, Portland, Maine
  • AudioFile Magazine Unlike many books about Al Qaeda and terrorism, THE AGE OF SACRED TERROR is not by journalists; instead, it offers the perspective of Daniel Benjamin and Steven Simon, National Security Council directors during the Clinton administration. Although much they describe is not new, the authors' perspective on 9/11, and the events leading up to it, is different from that commonly heard, and offers a candid examination of the Clinton admin-istration's actions, and inaction, followed by a critique of the Bush administration's policies after the attacks. Philip Bosco paces the book well, allowing the listener to focus on the events described. Bosco has a rare voice that, by itself, exudes credibility. His flawless reading demonstrates why he is an accomplish-ed actor, and a welcome audiobook reader. D.J.S. (c) AudioFile 2003, Portland, Maine

  • -Ian Buruma "A lucid, passionate, shocking account of Islamist terrorism. Anyone interested in how the enemies of the West operate will want to read this book. And even those who are not, should."
  • Anthony Pagden "The Age of Scared Terror provides a staggering account of the origins of al-Qaeda, its motives and its bloody history since the early 1990s. After reading this book no one should be in any doubt that a new and unprecedented form of terrorism dedicated to the mass destruction of human life now exists. The book is also the chilling story of how slow and reluctant the West has been to recognize and counter an enemy whose intentions are more deadly than any it has ever faced before. The events of September 11, 2001, changed the world: Ours has truly become the age of sacred terror. This book explains in great and compelling detail how those events were possible, how they might perhaps have been avoided, and how they could occur again. Everyone should read it - and be warned."
  • Strobe Talbott, former deputy Secretary of State and author of The Russia Hand: A Memoir of Presidential Diplomacy
    "Of the many books spawned by September 11, this one is in a class by itself. The authors range widely and authoritatively from history to current events; from fast-paced narrative to sharp, often original analysis; from deep behind enemy lines, where they get into the heads of the enemy, to the Situation Room in the basement of the White House where the American response is formulated (and where the authors logged so many hours themselves). In the phrase that has gained such currency since 9/11, here's a book that truly connects the dots. It does so in a spare, lucid style with flashes of real brilliance and with admirable fairness to all three administrations -- from Bush to Clinton to Bush -- that have grappled with a decade of steadily escalating terrorism."
  • Mark Strauss, The Washington Post "With telling detail and crisp prose, Benjamin and Simon's book may emerge as the best insider account."
  • Judith Miller, The New York Times "These authors know firsthand how decisions are made within the White House's National Security Council, irrespective of the political party in power.... [A] meticulously researched, well-written book."
  • Ellen Laipson, Foreign Affairs
    "[The] book's most important and lasting contribution is its exploration of the relationship between al-Qaeda's toxic message and the Muslim mainstream. [The authors] examine in considerable detail the gradual evolution of Islamist political thought, describing the timeless influence of Islamic thinkers such as the thirteenth-century theologian Taqi al-Din ibn Taymiyya and the eighteenth-century preacher Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab, whose ideas form the political and religious foundation of modern Saudi Arabia."
  • Newsweek "[A] gripping account of al-Qaeda's rise and America's response."
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Radical Islam's War Against America
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