LONDON – Film of the ringleader of the Sept. 11 hijackers reading his "martyrdom" will inside Afghanistan at Usama bin Laden's headquarters has emerged five years after the Al Qaeda terrorist attacks.
It is the first time that a videotape has appeared of Mohammed Atta — who flew an American Airlines plane into the north tower of the World Trade Center — at a training camp in Afghanistan. It fills in a significant gap in the timing of the build-up to the attacks on the United States.
Dates on the tape show Atta was filmed on Jan. 18, 2000, together with Ziad Jarrah, the pilot of United Airlines Flight 93, which crashed in Pennsylvania after the passengers apparently stormed the flight deck.
The Sunday Times obtained a copy of the video through a previously tested channel. The tape has no soundtrack and a U.S. source said lip readers had tried without success to decipher what was being said.
Despite the deadly tasks the men had been assigned, they appear in high spirits, laughing and smiling in front of the camera. Only when Atta, with an AK-47 propped on a wall beside him, reads a document marked “the will” in Arabic, does he become solemn. Both are well groomed, without the haggard appearance of the identity mug shots issued after Sept. 11.
The high quality, unedited film shows bin Laden addressing his followers at the mud-walled complex near Kandahar, Afghanistan. One of the main figures in the Sept. 11 plot, Ramzi Binalshibh, is identifiable in the crowd, as is a bodyguard whose task was to kill bin Laden with two bullets to the head if he faced capture.
Dating on the tape indicates that the Al Qaeda leader was filmed on Jan. 8, 2000, 10 days before Atta and Jarrah recorded their wills.
American and German investigators have struggled to find evidence of Atta’s whereabouts in January 2000 after he disappeared from Hamburg. The hour-long tape places him in Afghanistan at a decisive moment in the development of the conspiracy when he was given operational command. Months later both he and Jarrah enrolled at flying schools in America.
Investigators have also puzzled over the fact that unlike the rest of the hijackers — most of whom were young Saudi fundamentalists — Atta and Jarrah were well educated and appeared to fit into western society while studying in Germany. The video indicates how easily they slipped from a western identity to a fundamentalist one. It also shows up the subterfuge they maintained in Germany and America that they did not know each other, all part of evading detection.