A video of Osama bin Laden and two 9/11 hijackers obtained by the Sunday Times of London purportedly shows the men in Afghanistan in 2000. Hijackers Ziad Jarrah and Mohammed Atta are seen smiling and speaking to the camera -- the picture of normalcy, says an expert in the psychology of terrorism.
The video's date stamp of January 8, 2000 cannot be verified, but it seems to have been made before the men shaved their beards in preparation for the September 11, 2001 attacks. Ziad Jarrah's girlfriend later said he shaved his beard in early 2000, more than a year before the attacks.
The hour-long video has no sound. It includes images of Osama bin Laden speaking in Afghanistan to an audience of about 100 al-Qaida members, some of whom have brought their children with them. It also includes the only known footage of 9/11 hijackers Mohammed Attah and Ziad Jarrah together. The two men are seen joking and laughing as they prepare to read their statements -- apparently their wills -- into the camera.
The Sunday Times of London said it obtained the video of the hijackers through what it called a "previously used channel." It said sources from al-Qaida and the U.S. confirmed its authenticity, but that lipreaders have not been able to determine what is said on the tape
Mohammed Atta, the 9/11 ringleader, piloted American Airlines Flight 11, the first plane to crash into the World Trade Center. Ziad Jarrah is believed to have piloted United Airlines Flight 93, which crashed in a field in Pennsylvania without reaching its intended target.
What's most striking about the video is how seemingly sane and good-humored the two men appear in the video. Jerrold Post, a psychiatrist and professor at George Washington University, says that's because terrorists are psychologically normal.
“One of the most striking aspects about the psychology of terrorist is that as individuals, this is normal behavior,” Dr. Post said in an interview. “In fact, terrorist groups make it a point to expel, or not to admit, emotionally unstable people. After all, they'd be a security risk. You wouldn't want an emotionally unstable person in the Green Berets; you wouldn't want an emotionally unstable person in a terrorist operation or cell. So, the issue is not individual psychology. The issue is the collective, the group psychology. And as we've come to understand, the terrorists involved in 9/11 had subordinated their individuality to the group. And whatever their destructive, charismatic leader, Osama bin Ladin said was the right thing to do for the sake of the cause was what they would do, even if -- indeed, especially because -- it meant giving up their lives for the cause."
Jerrold Post said the newly obtained tape shows the two hijackers -- even Mohammed Atta, better known for his cold passport photograph -- as ordinary men, not sociopaths or renegades.
"We'd like to believe these are crazed fanatics, and some sort of madmen in the grip of a psychosis. Not true,” he said. “This is the norm. Indeed, as I was pursuing a study interviewing in prison incarcerated Middle East terrorists, when we asked, 'What led you to join?' we would get these weird looks. Everybody was joining; it was the weird one who didn't join: 'We all were eager to join, and I am proud of having been able to do this.' So, this is a broad social value, and that really is the struggle here, because we are talking about a situation where, in many ways, the children, the youth of this generation have already been lost. The alienated Islamic youth who find in this cause something that can redeem their sense of shame, that can give them a sense of pride, that can lead them to believe they're doing something quite noble and following the will of God."
Dr. Post says that the ideology of terrorism has become so entrenched that it will take many years for even the wisest policies to lead to change. "Right now, we have Osama bin Ladin as an almost God-like figure, and people lining up to join the global Islamic Salafi jihad,” he said. “This is not going to turn around overnight. We need to have a sustained policy. In fact, in the West, we cannot do this directly. One of the posing questions is how can we help facilitate moderate Muslim clerics, moderate Muslim political leaders, to be confronting the extremists within their own ranks, who in many ways can be said to have hijacked their religion."