Rise of the Brotherhood

Charles Falkenberg was not much into current news events and was not known to express any of his personal views regarding the Middle Eastor terrorism to his friends or co-workers.[1] As the two young men stood up in the aisle of the plane, excitingly waving around “knives and box-cutters” he did recall enough from listening to National Public Radio to realize that their plane was being hijacked. He could see the terror in Zoe and Dana’s faces, so all he was concerned with now was trying to comfort and reassure them that everything would be okay. What little he did know about plane hijackings was that they usually involved holding the plane and passengers for some kind of political demands. The experts advised cooperation in such cases, the thought being that resisting would only lead to the perpetrators using their weapons and someone getting hurt. He felt sure that the authorities would resolve the issue in time, but for now he just had to see his family through the ordeal.

Of the two men, Khalid Al-Mihdhar did most of the talking in English. What Charles could not know was that Al-Mihdhar was a battle-hardened veteran of both the Islamic jihads in Bosniaand Chechnya, and hand-picked by Osama[2] bin Laden for a leadership role in the days events. Al-Mihdhar was born in Mecca, Saudia Arabia on May 16, 1975, but his family roots were of Yemeni origins (this will become extremely important later in the narrative).[3] The other young man, Majed Moqed, did not speak English very well, if at all. Moqed was also a Saudi national, born June 18, 1977 in Al-Nakhil, Saudi Arabia.[4] Both men spoke with one another in a Middle Eastern dialect which was unfamiliar to Charles. As a Christian, the motivations of the young men who were ushering the passengers to the rear of the plane were just as foreign. However, the journey which brought Al-Mihdhar to that moment actually began in the city of his birth almost fourteen-hundred years earlier.

The founder of Islam, Mohammad ibn ‘Abdullāh, was born in the year 570 AD in the city of Mecca, located in the area now known as Saudi Arabia. He was a member of the Quraysh tribe, and spent his early life as a merchant and shepherd. But Mohammad also engaged in spiritual practices, including regular retreats to a small cave on Mount Hira, located a mile-and-a-half northeast of Mecca. According to tradition, during one of these retreats, at the age of forty, God (Allah in Arabic) began to give Mohammad revelations through the angel Gabriel. The first of which, according to Islamic tradition, was,

“Read in the name of thy LORD who created. Created man from a mere clot of blood. Read and your LORD is the most generous. The one who taught by the pen. Taught man what he knew not.” (Quran 96:1 – 5)

According to Islamic tradition, three years passed before Gabriel appeared again, at which time he commanded Mohammad to begin preaching, “Your lord has not forsaken you nor does he hate you” (Quran 93:3).

Islamic tradition holds that the Kaaba was originally built by Adam and restored by his son Seth after his death. According to the Quran it was rebuilt by Ibrahim, also known as Abraham in the Judeo-Christian tradition.

“As Ibrahim raised the foundations of the shrine, together with Ismail (they prayed): ‘Our Lord, accept this from us. You are the Hearer, the Omniscient.’” (Quran 2:127)

After it was rebuilt, Ibrahim traveled to MountThābir (current day Temple Mount in Jerusalem, known in the Judeo-Christian tradition as Mount Moriah) where he was commanded by God to call all of mankind to make a pilgrimage to the shrine. Circa 500 AD (several hundred years before the Quran), the Quraysh tribe gained control of the Mecca and once again rebuilt the Kaaba.[5] The site was already one of religious pilgrimage for not only Jews and Christians, but also for the many pagan religions of theArabian Peninsula.

Islamic tradition teaches that around 620 or 621, Gabriel brought a winged horse named Burāq to Mohammad one night, while he was resting at the Kaaba. Mohammad mounted Burāq and was first taken to the Masjid Al Aqsa, which Muslims believe to be the Temple Mount located at Al Quds. Al Quds is the Arabic name, meaning “The Holy Sanctuary”, for Jerusalem. This first leg of the journey is known as Isrā. There, according to tradition, Gabriel leads Mohammad, along with the other prophets, Adam, Moses and Jesus, in prayer. Mohammad mounts Burāq a second time and is taken up to heaven. There he speaks with the other prophets, after which Mohammad is granted an audience with God. After some negotiating, God instructs him that Muslims must pray five times a day facing the Temple Mount (Masjid Al Aqsa) in Al Quds (Jerusalem).[6] This second part of the journey is known as Mi’rāj.

In the Judeo-Christian tradition, Abraham (Ibrahim) was promised a child by God who would be heir to the land currently known as Palestine (Israel) and a covenant religion which would be a blessing to all nations.

“And I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your descendants after you in their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and your descendants after you. Also I give to you and your descendants after you the land in which you are a stranger, all the land of Canaan, as an everlasting possession; and I will be their God.” (Genesis 17:7, 8 )

This child was to be born to him through his wife Sara. Sara was past the age of child-bearing and offered Abraham her servant Hagar for the purpose of child-bearing. Impatient, Abraham fathered a son with Hagar and named him Ishmael, who became known as the father of the Arabs. Eventually however, Sara herself bore Abraham a son, Isaac, the father of the Jews through Jacob. According to the Judeo-Christian tradition, it was Isaac whom Abraham offered as a sacrifice to God on Mount Moriah (MountThābir) and through whom the promises of God followed.

“And as for Ishmael, I have heard you. Behold, I have blessed him, and will make him fruitful, and will multiply him exceedingly. He shall beget twelve princes [emphasis mine], and I will make him a great nation. But My covenant I will establish with Isaac, whom Sarah shall bear to you at this set time next year.” (Genesis 17:20, 21)

What Mohammad did was reverse the roles of Isaac and Ishmael. Instead of Isaac being offered as a sacrifice (stopped at the last moment by God Himself), in the Islamic tradition it was Ishmael. The reader should also note the promise of “twelve princes”, a promise which also bears significance in modern times. As a result, the land and spiritual promises of God were passed to the Arabs according to the Quran, not the Jews. Mohammad laid claim to the sacred sites associated with Ibrahim, such as the Kaaba and the Temple Mount in Jerusalem for Islam. For this reason, the dispute over Jerusalem continues to be a road-block in peace negotiations between Israel and the Arabs.

After the Isrā and Mi’rāj journeys, Mohammad declared himself a prophet of God along the same procession as Ibrahim, Moses and Jesus. Although Mohammad revered Jesus as a prophet, he rejected the belief that Jesus was the Son of God. He accused the Jews and Christians of corrupting the Word of God and asserted that his revelations were intended to correct those errors. After declaring himself a prophet, Mohammad and his followers came under intense ridicule in Mecca. In 622, however, Mohammad was invited to Medina, located 200 miles north of Mecca, to mediate a dispute between the various religious sects living there, including Jews. After three days of meditation in a cave, Mohammad decided to relocate his fledgling movement to Medina. This migration occurred in early September (9 – 13) of 622 and is known as the Hijra. Mohammad was able to successfully mediate the dispute and wrote the Constitution of Medina (Appendix 2) shortly after his arrival. In the document, Mohammed codified the relationship of various entities in the ummah (community), extending protections to non-Muslims[7] within the ummah[8]. However, it should be noted that Christians were considered polytheist and not necessarily equal in status with the Jewish population.

Operating out of Medina, the Muslims (Mohammad and his followers) began pirating caravans from Mecca as a means of livelihood. These raids led to direct warfare between the tribes from Mecca and the Muslims. Additional disputes arose between the Jews and Muslims in Medina, prompting Mohammad to expel the largest of the Jewish tribes from the city. This tribe joined forces with the Quraysh tribe of Mecca and laid siege to Medina on March 31, 627. Although greatly outnumbered, the Muslim’s were able to repel the invasion which left Mohammad in control of the main trade route north to Syria from Mecca, which ran through Medina. Mohammad took retribution against the remaining Jews in Medina, ordering them to convert to Islam. Those among the men who did not were beheaded, and their women and children taken as slaves.

Mecca and Medina Trade Routes

Although the Muslims in Medina believed that God had commanded them to perform the Hajj, an annual pilgrimage to the Kaaba inMecca, at least once in their lifetime, they were unable to do so because of the open conflict with the Quraysh tribe. The Hajj pilgrimage did not originate with Islam, however. Local traditions associated the site with Abraham of the Judeo-Christian tradition and as such, the custom was already ancient in the time of Mohammad. It had long been performed by Jews, Christians and pagans during the period of prehistory that Muslims call Jahiliyyah (Days of Ignorance). Before Mohammad’s return toMeccafromMedina, the Kaaba was filled with the idols of numerous deities which attracted many of the regional faiths.

In the Islamic faith, the calendar begins with the Hijra (Mohammad’s move to Medina). It is based on a year consisting of twelve lunar months (lunar year), so consequently it is eleven to twelve days shorter than the Gregorian calendar year (solar year) used in the West. Islamic events such as the Hajj are scheduled in accordance with the Islamic calendar. The Hajj is to be performed during the period between the eighth and twelfth day of the last month (Dhu al-Hijjah) of the Islamic calendar. So in the western world which relies on the solar year, Islamic holy rites will not occur at the same time each year. Muslims are encouraged to make lesser pilgrimages, known as umrah, at other times of the Islamic year, but these are not required.


The Kaaba Located in the Masjid al-Haram at Mecca During Hajj

In 628, Mohammad ordered his followers to return to Mecca for Hajj, and subsequently negotiated a peaceful accommodation that lasted for several years. But open warfare resumed in 630 and the Muslims eventually conqueredMecca. After the conquest, Mohammed cleared the Kaaba of the pagan idols and compelled the local residents to convert to Islam. He is said to have embedded another pre-Islamic artifact, the Black Stone, into the wall of the Kaaba and kissed it. During Hajj, Muslim pilgrims circle the Kaaba and attempt to kiss the stone in a similar fashion.

Mohammad died in Medina, on June 8, 632 after suffering from weakness and severe headaches.  Shortly before his death, he launched a campaign to convert all of the Arabian Peninsula to Islam. The written form of Mohammad’s collected revelations is known as the Quran and along with his life (sira) and traditions (sunnah) form the basis of the Islamic religion. The Five Pillars of Islam consist of,

1)      Shahada, the profession of faith, “There is no god but Allah, and Muhammad is the messenger of Allah”.

2)      Salah, prayer performed five times a day with the chest facing towards the Kaaba.

3)      Sawm, fasting, especially during the Islamic month of Ramadan.

4)      Zakat, charity to Muslims in poverty.

5)      Hajj, the annual pilgrimage to Mecca, required to be completed at least once in the lifetime of every Muslim who is able to make it.

These are the Five Pillars as practiced by the Sunni (derived from sunnah) sect of Islam.

After Mohammad’s death, Abu Bakr became the first Caliph, or head of the Islamic state under Shari’ah (Islamic law) known as the Caliphate. Under his leadership, Islam expanded by conquest into what is now Iraq and Palestine. On August 23, 634 after the death of Abu due to illness, Umar was named the second Caliph. In November, 636 Umar’s forces laid siege to the city of Jerusalem and completed the conquest upon his arrival in April, 637. The Muslims allowed Christians and Jews to worship freely upon paying jizya, a special tax required of non-Muslim’s who refused to convert to Islam. When Umar visited the Temple Mount he cleared rubble from the area he believed to be the Holy of Holies sanctuary of Solomon’s Temple. There, according to Islamic tradition, he discovered a large rock on the very spot where tradition claims Mohammad had prayed during the Isrā. Umar ordered a mosque built near it, the Masjid Al Aqsa. Meanwhile, he sent his forces into Syria and Egypt for further conquests.

Umar was assassinated on November 7, 644, after which, a bitter dispute arose over the succession of the Caliph. Many believed that, before his death, the prophet Mohammad had named Ali ibn Abi Talib, his first cousin and closest relative, to be his successor. Ali was also the prophet’s brother-in-law, by virtue of having married his daughter, Fatimah. This simmering dispute intensified when Uthman ibn Affan became the third Caliph over the objections of those who supported Ali as the rightful heir. When Ali’s supporters refused to endorse Uthman, fighting ensued. Eventually, rebels assassinated Uthman, and on June 18 656, Ali was named the fourth Caliph.

While the largest faction, the Sunnis, accepted the authority of the first three Caliphs, a minority, the Shi’a, rejected them. The term Shi’a is short for the Arabic phrase, Shī’atu ‘Alī, meaning “follower of Ali”.  The Shi’a profession of faith is,

“There is no God but Allah, Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah, Ali is the Friend of Allah. The Successor of the Messenger of Allah And his first Caliph.”

Beyond the profession of faith, the Shi’a agreed with the Sunni on the remaining Five Pillars. This major fracturing in the faith is important to the understanding of the events addressed later in these essays. Some of the more devote Muslims also created a more mystical form of Islam known as Sufism, further segmenting the faith.

Another important distinction for the Shi’a is the progression of the Caliph. The Caliph was also regarded as spiritual leader of the Ummah. Inspired by the Genesis “He shall beget twelve princes, and I will make him a great nation” promise in regards to Ishmael, the Shi’a Hadiths (a Hadith is a written collection of sira and sunnah) point to twelve Caliphs (Imams). Since the Caliph progression for the Shi’a begins with Ali, the last (and 12th) Caliph was considered by them to be Muhammad al-Mahdi. Born as Abu’l Qasim Hujjat Ibn Hasan Ibn ‘Ali in 869, it is claimed among the Shi’a that he did not die, but was hidden by Allah (similar to Christ’s ascension). According to the Shi’a tradition, Al-Mahdi will reappear when the world has reached a state of chaos to restore order and bring the entire world under Islam (again, similar to Christ’s second coming). The concept of the al-Mahdi is an important one when attempting to understand the modern day Islamic Republic of Iran (predominately Shi’a).

During the 7th century, the Caliphs conquered the southern portion of the Byzantine Empire (the eastern remnant of the Roman Empire); and by the end of the 11th century, continued conquests and proselytism had extended Islam’s reach into much of Southern Europe, Asia, and Africa. At that time, however, the Byzantine ruler Alexios I requested help from Pope Urban II to liberate the Holy Land, including Jerusalem. Western Europe responded enthusiastically to Urban II’s appeal to regain Asia Minor for Christianity, by mobilizing the first Crusade. Eight other Crusades followed during the next two centuries; wars that left a strong negative impression on the Muslim mindset. Ultimately, however, the Crusades failed and, after the 13th century, Palestine remained under Islamic control.

Although the expansion of Islam through territorial conquest and the defense of Muslim lands (jihad) was a central tenet of the faith, Islam faced a major challenge when the nephew of Genghis Khan, Hulagu Khan, invaded the Arabian Peninsula and conquered Baghdad in 1258. Although some of the Mongol leaders soon converted to Islam, they mixed the religion with other foreign traditions. Despite the Islamic prohibition against attacking and invading other Muslims, the Mongols continued their advance into Syria in 1260. The Mongol conversions became a moral dilemma for the Syrians, who faced the same prohibition against taking up arms to halt the invaders. A Syrian Islamic scholar named Taqi ad-Din Ahmad ibn Taymiyya resolved the matter by declaring that those who did not practice or adhere to the tenets of Islam had reverted to jahiliyyah, and could on this basis be declared takfir, or excommunicated from the ummah. Ibn Taymiyya went even further by declaring that jihad was required of all believers, thus placing jihad on the same level as the Five Pillars. By empowering true believers to wage jihad, the Syrians were finally able to resist and expel the takfir Mongol invaders.[9]

In light of modern history, many in the Muslim community have attempted to define jihad as “struggle”. Diane Morgan in 2010 defines it as:

“Jihad is sometimes considered the Sixth Pillar of Islam. Probably no term in the Islamic lexicon has caused more confusion—and more fear—than the simple Arabic word jihad. Muhammad was once asked to name the best deed. ‘Belief in Allah,’ he immediately replied. And second best? ‘Jihad,’ he answered. It is a central Islamic concept, and every major collection of hadith arranged by topic has a section titled ‘Jihad.’

But what does this really mean? Literally, the word jihad means ‘to strive’ (from the Arabic rood jhd) and in Muslim writing is often followed by the phrase ‘in the path or cause of Allah’ (fi sabil illah). And those who strive hard for Us, We will certainly guide them in Our ways ([Quran] 29:69).”

Morgan goes on to explain that jihad can refer to the “inner jihad”, which is a spiritual effort to live by faith and adhere to the faith’s religious obligations. It is also known as the “greater jihad”. However, Morgan does concede that the term appears “41 times in the Quran, and when it does, it is usually defined as waging war on behalf of Allah (fi sabil illah)”.[10]

Yet Cyril Glassé in The Concise Encyclopaedia of Islam compiled in 1989 (revised 2001) does not make this distinction.

“Jihād (from Ar. Jahd, ‘effort’). ‘Holy war’, a Divine institution of warfare to extend Islam into the dar al-harb (the non-Islamic territories which are described as the ‘abode of struggle’, or of disbelief) or to defend Islam from danger.”[11]

It is important to keep the term in the context of the Quran and as Taymiyya defined it as it relates to the evolution of modern Islamism, and avoid the duplicity of meaning suggested by Morgan and others.

Weakened by their conflict with the Mongols, Syria was easily absorbed into the emerging Ottoman Empire during the 14th century. In 1357, the Ottoman Turks of Turkey launched a series of expansionary conquests in the Balkans, involving Macedonia, Bulgaria and Serbia.[12] After the fall of Constantinople on May 29, 1453, Islam expanded even further into Europe. The Ottomans believed that the world was divided into two parts, the House of Islam (dar al-Islam) and the House of War (dar al-Harb). Any region not within the House of Islam was viewed as hostile to the ummah, and must be brought into submission to God (Islam) by means of jihad. Although the Ottoman invasions of Bosnia in 1386 and 1388 were repulsed, the Turks continued their attacks, until Mehemed al-Fatih (“the Conqueror”) eventually succeeded in conquering Bosnia in 1463.[13]

However, the Ottomans did not attempt a complete conversion of the Christian and Jewish population of Bosnia. Instead, they introduced the concept of ahl ad-dhimmah, which literally means; a “protected people.”[14] As dhimmi, the Greek Orthodox (Serbs) and Roman Catholics (Croats) were denied all citizenship rights, and, in addition, were also required to submit to Shari’ah law, and wear proof of payment of jizya (tax). Under Muslim rule, Christians had absolutely no standing in court or legal matters, and also suffered the taking of their children as tribute into forced military service under devshirme (“blood tax”). Life under such a system was almost unbearable, and it is no wonder that 20% of the region’s non-Muslim population eventually converted to Islam just to gain full citizenship rights. The Ottomans divided the country into milets, that is, areas defined by religious affiliation.[15]

The oppression of the non-Muslims in Bosnia resulted in extreme hatred towards the Muslims. Russia declared war on the Ottomans on April 24, 1877. In June of 1878, the Congress of Berlin gave Austria-Hungary (Habsburg Empire) the right to occupy Bosnia as part of a cease-fire agreement, which ended Ottoman rule. The Muslim minority continued to own a disproportionate share of wealth and property. In 1910, for example, Muslims (Bosniaks) owned 91% of all property in Bosnia even though Muslims comprised only 32% of the population [at this time, 43% of the population was Orthodox (Serbian) and 23% Catholic (Croatian)]. Most Christians remained in serfdom (kmet) until the Habsburg Empire collapsed in 1918, after which, Bosnia was absorbed into the new country of Yugoslavia, and life for non-Muslims began to improve.[16]

During the 18th century, a new and ultra-conservative Sunni sect emerged on the Arabian Peninsula, based on the teachings of the Islamic cleric Muhammad ibn Abd-al-Wahhab. The sect was known as Wahhabism, after its founder, who was heavily influenced by the writings of Taymiyya. Abd-al-Wahha questioned many of the interpretations of Islam that had evolved during the Medieval Period, and felt that true Islam was represented only by the Quran and the Sunni Hadith. The Sunni canon of these writings was first compiled about 250 years after the Prophet Mohammad’s death.

In 1744, Muhammad ibn Saud, the tribal ruler of Ad-Dir’iyyah, forged an alliance with the Wahhabis in an effort to return the Arabian Peninsula to the true Islamic faith. The alliance served the interests of both the clerics and the political elite, by striking a cautious balance between political and religious authority. No doubt, this explains why the alliance has proved so durable, surviving into the modern era. It came into play again, for example, in 1932, when Abdul Aziz Al Saud officially established the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, after the Wahhabi clerics granted him permission to attack and subdue other religious factions which had rebelled against him. The Saud family continues to rule Saudi Arabia, and Wahhabism continues to have the blessing of the monarchy. It remains the official religion of the Kingdom.[17]

Saudi Arabia is home to the two holiest sites in Islam, Mecca and Medina, and, before the discovery of oil, the national economy was heavily dependent on remittances and income derived from Muslim pilgrims making the annual Hajj. Most of the sparsely populated country is either desert or semi-arid land, with only about 2% conducive to agriculture. Things began to change in 1932 when King Aziz commissioned an American geologist, Karl Twitchell, to conduct a field survey of the Kingdom’s mineral resources.[18] The survey convinced Twitchell of the region’s vast potential for oil development; and on May 29 1933, Standard Oil of California and the House of Saud jointly formed the Arab-American Oil Company (Aramco). Huge reserves of oil were discovered five years later, in March 1938, near Dhahran. However, development was delayed until after World War II. Only then did the actual size of the Saudi oil fields become known. By the 1950’s, the staggering wealth generated by the world’s largest oil deposits transformed a still backward tribal nation into one of the most influential forces in modern Islam.

On February 14, 1945, President Franklin D. Roosevelt met with King Aziz on-board the USS Quincy in the Suez Canal. By that time, FDR was already firmly convinced that the Arabian Peninsula’s oil resources would one day be essential to US national security. The two men reached an agreement in principle that the stability of Saudi Arabia was in the vital interests of the United States. FDR gave the king a formal US commitment to defend Saudi Arabia against external aggression. Saudi Arabia agreed to do its share to maintain the stability of the Arabian Peninsula. As per the arrangement, American oil companies were granted the first right to develop Saudi Arabia’s natural resources. US firms also gained lucrative contracts to develop the Saudi economy and infrastructure. For their part, the US agreed not to interfere in the internal political affairs of the Kingdom. The Quincy Pact, as it has come to be known, continues to dominate US – Saudi relations.[19]

One of the beneficiaries of the new oil wealth was a Yemeni immigrant, Mohammed bin Laden whose rags to riches story became the stuff of legend. Although he eventually amassed a vast fortune, bin Laden had humble beginnings. He landed his first job with Aramco working as a brick-layer. But Mohammed was destined for greater things. In the 1950’s, he started a construction business, won some initial contracts from Aramco, and ultimately gained the favor of King Aziz, who made him honorary minister of public works. As the kingdom grew in wealth, so did Mohammed’s company, the Saudi Binladen Group. Mohammed finally struck gold when he won the commission to refurbish the holiest of the Islamic sites, including Al-Nabawi (the Prophet’s Mosque at Mohammed’s burial site in Medina) and Al-Harām (the Grand Mosque in Mecca built around the Kaaba). Later, bin Laden also received the commission to restore the Al-Aqsa Mosque (on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem). As a result of his contracts to renovate the three holiest sites in Islam, Mohammed gained a status of honor unique in the Muslim world.

Mohammed bin Laden was married 22 times and fathered 54 children, perhaps even more through other undocumented relationships.[20] On March 10, 1957,[21] Mohammed’s 15-year old Syrian wife, Alia Ghanem, gave birth to Mohammed’s 17th child, Osama (“the Lion”) bin Laden. Osama would be their only child together and after four or five years, Mohammed divorced Alia, giving her to one of his employees, Mohammed al-Attas as a wife.[22] There is even some question about whether Mohammed and Alia were ever formally married. But the child’s name was not surprising. Osama is a common Syrian name, and Alia hailed from a predominately Sunni region of Syria. Nonetheless, her first name fueled persistent rumors about her religious persuasion, because some viewed it as a tribute to Ali (the 4th Caliph). In short, many suspected that Alia was Shi’a.[23] Some also speculated that the reported Shi’a influence of his mother, plus the fact that Osama seldom saw his father, serves to explain why Osama bin Laden had no conflict working with both Sunnis and Shi’ites on political issues.

After the death of King Aziz in 1953, his eldest son Saud assumed the throne. However, King Saud soon bankrupted the government with his over-indulgence and high life-style, which prompted Crown Prince Faisal to take control in 1958. Faisal has asserted that when he took over, there was not even a hundred dollars left in the Saudi treasury. When banks refused to give the new king a loan to meet the government’s expenses, Mohammed bin Laden graciously (and quietly) provided the money for Faisal to get the government back on firm financial ground.[24] In this way, a special relationship of trust developed between the bin Laden and royal families, especially during the reign of King Faisal.

As Saudi Arabia established itself as the caretaker of Islam’s Holiest of sites, Mecca and Medina, Islam’s other sacred site, Al Quds (Jerusalem) was being threatened by developments in Palestine. Palestine literally means “land of the Philistines” and was originally inhabited by the Canaanites and Egyptians, and later by the Hyksos, Hittites and Philistines.[25] According to Biblical scholars, the Jews traveled from Egypt into Palestine (the Exodus) between 1400 and 1200 BC.[26] Islamic sources indicate that the Jews did not actually rule Palestine until 1020 BC. The initial Jewish rule lasted until the Babylonian conquest of the area by King Nebuchadnezzar in 587 BC. After a period of exile into Babylon, the Jews returned and once again ruled Palestine from 164 BC until the Roman occupation began in 64 BC.[27] In 70 AD, after a revolt against Roman rule, the Jews were once again displaced fromJerusalem and Herod’s Temple located on the Temple Mount was destroyed. From then until modern times, only a small remnant of the indigenous Jewish population remained in Palestine.

After his conversion to Christianity the Roman Emperor Constantine took an interest in Palestine, and Jerusalem in particular. In 326 AD, he dispatched his mother to Palestine to uncover the sites of importance to Christians and preserve them. After the Muslim conquest of Palestine in 637, the area remained under Muslim rule with the exception of the period from 1099 until 1187, during which it was under Christian rule as the result of the Medieval Crusades. In 1516, the Ottoman Empire began its rule of Palestine which lasted until World War I. The British defeated the Ottomans who had sided with Germany during the war and occupied the whole of Palestine by 1918. Beginning in 1920 after World War I ended, the British administered Palestine for the League of Nations (which later became the United Nations) under the British Mandate for Palestine.

Although Palestine remained a part of the British Empire during World War II, the British found it increasingly difficult to mediate the growing conflict between the indigenous Arabs and the flood of Jewish immigrants who were determined to establish a Jewish homeland in Palestine (Zionists). After the British gave up their Mandate and withdrew, the United Nations attempted to arbitrate the conflict. However, the Palestinians rejected the terms of the UN’s 1947 Partition Plan which called for both Jewish and Palestinian states side-by-side; and on May 14, 1948, the Zionists claimed independence for the new state of Israel. At this point, Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq attacked the Jewish state, with Saudi Arabia sending a small force to fight alongside the Egyptian army. The 1948 – 1949 Arab – Israeli War ended with Israel in control of most of Palestine, although Egyptian forces occupied the Gaza Strip and Jordon remained in control of the West Bank. On May 11, 1949, Israel was accepted as a member of the United Nations.

During the war, 520,000 to upwards of 957,000 Arab Palestinians fled the fighting, taking up refuge status in neighboring Arab countries.[28] A similar number of Jews became refugees as they were expelled from Arab countries and immigrated to Israel. There is some dispute among historians as to the reasons behind the Arab Palestinian exodus. Chaim Herzog asserts that the Israelis sought to re-assure the Palestinian Arabs, but that most left at the encouragement of Arab governments who sought to use them as political pawns.[29] Another Israeli historian, Ilan Pappe, suggests that the Zionist Jews took the opportunity to remove as many of the indigenous Arab population as possible to make room for Jewish immigration.[30] The truth is perhaps somewhere in the middle, but the latter is what was believed by the Arabs, and perpetuated the Palestinian cause among them. More than sixty years later, the existence of Israel and the problem of the Palestinian refugees continues to be one of the most important sources of conflict in the Middle East.

The collapse of the Ottoman Empire and the humiliating defeat of Muslims by the Zionists in 1949 began a period of introspection for Islam. At its peak in 750 AD, the Caliphate included most of North Africa, Spain, parts of Italy, Greece, the Balkans, Asia Minor, Arabia, Persia and extended across Asia into modern day Afghanistan and Pakistan. They were the custodians of the true and final religion of Allah, now subjugated to the whims of dictators and infidels. Some began to believe that this was the punishment of Allah upon them for having lost sight of their religion. In this atmosphere of defeat, the Muslim Brotherhood found fertile ground.

The Brotherhood was founded in Egypt, in 1928, under the leadership of Hassan al-Banna. The goal of the Brotherhood was to re-establish the Caliphate, starting with Egypt. Banna “believed that this trend [decline of Islamic civilization] could be reversed only by returning to an unadulterated form of Islam, free from all the accretions that had diluted the strength of its original message.”[31] In 1948, the Brotherhood formed a secretive and armed branch with financial assistance of Saudi Arabia.[32] During the battle for Jerusalem, with the financial support of the Saudis, the Muslim Brotherhood fought as an organized military unit.[33] After Banna was assassinated on February 12, 1949, he was succeeded by another Egyptian, Sayyid Qutb, who, at the time of the assassination, happened to be in the United States attending Wilson Teachers’ College in Washington, DC. At about this same time, Qutb also published his book, Social Justice in Islam in which he addressed the problems in Islamic society and attacked the “neo-Crusading” West.[34] In August 1950, Qutb returned to Egypt as the de facto head of the Brotherhood.

In July, 1952, Egyptian Army colonel Gamal Abdul Nasser and one of his officers, Anwar al-Sadat, approached the Brotherhood to arrange a plan for their escape in the event a CIA sponsored[35] military coup d’état they were planning against the current Egyptian government should fail. The government was then headed by a Turkish monarch, King Farouk I, who was backed by the British. The coup however was successful and did not require the Brotherhood’s involvement. Qutb then published a warning to the new government advising it to govern in accordance with Islamic values, and he even served in several official positions. But Qutb resigned once it became clear that the Nasser administration was going to be secular and pro-socialist, and had no interest in founding a religious state along the lines envisioned by the Brotherhood.[36]

The dispute came to a head on October 26, 1954 when a member of the Brotherhood attempted to assassinate Nasser in Alexandria. Nasser promptly arrested Qutb, placed thousands of Egyptians in concentration camps, and deported others.[37] Nonetheless, the Muslim Brotherhood survived the crisis; and, afterward it went international with new funding from Saudi Arabia. Not surprisingly, at this time, the Brotherhood also received assistance from US intelligence services. Banna’s son-in-law, Said Ramadan, organized the first foreign branch in Munich, Germany. The collaboration with the CIA later expanded after Nasser negotiated an arms deal with the Soviet Union at the height of the Cold War.[38] According to various sources, the CIA actually attempted to assassinate Nasser by lacing his favorite brand of cigarettes with a deadly toxin.[39] A year earlier, the CIA had successfully exploited Islamic tensions in its efforts to overthrow another government in the region,Iran and the Brotherhood was seen as a mechanism for achieving a similar result in Egypt.

While in prison, Qutb wrote the commentary Milestones, which was released in 1964. The book was immediately banned by the Egyptian government. In it, Qutb asserts that Islamic rulers who do not govern in accordance with Shari’ah are not true Muslims, and can be the legitimate targets of jihad. On his release from prison in 1964, Qutb re-built the covert and armed branch of the Brotherhood (with continuing help from Saudi Arabia). However, he was rearrested and, in 1966, found himself on trial again for conspiracy. This time Qutb was convicted and, on August 29 1966 was executed by hanging. The Brotherhood immediately pronounced him a martyr.[40]

After Bosnia formally became a part of Yugoslavia in 1929, the Bosnian Muslims (Bosniaks) developed an interest in their Pan-Islamic identity. This brought them in contact with radical jihadists, including the Muslim Brotherhood. Many Bosnian Muslims traveled to Cairo, Egypt to study at Al Azhar University.[41] During this time, Al Azhar University was becoming a center for Salafism, a strain of fundamentalist Islam that developed in North Africa and shares many of the same ideas propagated by Qutb. Salafism ideology rejects modern interpretations of Islam and insists that true Islam should be based on the Salaf (first-generation Muslims including Muhammad). In this respect, it is also very similar to Saudi Wahhabism.[42] In March, 1941, Mladi Muslimani created a Bosnian group patterned after the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood and Salafism known as the Young Muslims.[43]

After the Axis powers invaded Bosnia in April 1941, the country was absorbed by Croatia. Henrich Himmler assimilated many of the Bosnian Islamists into the Nazi SS and attempted to form a Nazi-Muslim alliance. The Islamists exploited the opportunity and proceeded with a purge of non-Muslims so brutal that even the Nazis considered it excessive, who intervened to put a stop to it. The bloody purge instilled in the Serbs and Croats an even deeper hatred of the Bosniaks. The “liberation” of the area by the communists and Marshal Tito’s subsequent rule led to a suppression of religious sentiments. During this time, the Muslim clergy came under strict state control. The communists, unlike the Nazis, hated the Muslims and outlawed the Shari’ah courts and Islamic traditions, which drove the Islamists underground. As a result of the bloody purge under the Nazis and because of the much higher Muslim birth rate, by 1971 Bosnia had a Muslim majority, albeit a secular one.[44]

Qutb and the Muslim Brotherhood would inspire another figure who would later prove to have a significant role in the future of Bosnia, Ayman al-Zawahiri. Zawahiri was born on June 19, 1951 in Maadi, Egypt. His mother’s brother, Mahfouz Azzam, was not only active in the Brotherhood, but was actually a protégé of Qutb’s. Indeed, before his execution, Qutb gave Mahfouz his personal copy of the Quran, and also assigned him the power of attorney to handle his estate. Later, Mahfouz introduced his nephew Zawahiri to Qutb’s writings. At the age of fourteen, Zawahiri joined the Brotherhood. The same year that Qutb was executed, the young Zawahiri helped to form an under-ground cell in Egypt devoted to establishing an Islamic state.[45]

With the Brotherhood already reeling from the execution of Qutb ten months earlier, on June 5, 1967, Israel launched a pre-emptive attack on Egyptian military forces. Border disputes had raged for years, especially after Nassar nationalized the Suez Canal in 1956. Owned by the Suez Canal Company, a joint French and British venture, the nationalizing provoked a military response by those nations. Israel joined the hostilities in the Sinai Peninsula as an ally to France and Britain. At the end of 1956, the United Nations Emergency Force (UNEF) was introduced into the Sinai in a peace-keeping role as French and British troops withdrew. When Nassar received false reports from the Soviets that Israel was amassing troops along the Syrian border, he ordered the UNEF troops to leave the Sinai. On May 19, 1967 Nassar began to move several Egyptian Army divisions into the Sinai. Meanwhile, Israeli intelligence reported that these actions indicated that Egypt was preparing for war.

The 1967 war has to be viewed through the prism of the Cold War. The Soviet Union was aggressively seeking to strengthen its ties in the region, especially with Syria and Egypt. Israel on the other hand was seen as being aligned with the United States and Britain. Although Israel was not amassing troops along its border with Syria, the Soviet Ambassador Dimitri Chuvakhin continued to make the charge. When Israel invited Chuvakhin to inspect the area to verify that the troop build-up was not occurring, Chuvakhin refused to do so.[46] At the same time, the British Ambassador was encouraging Israel to strike against Syria. Speculation at the time was that at the root was a confrontation between the Iraq Petroleum Company (a multi-national conglomerate) and Syria over pipelines routed through Syria. Under this scenario, an attack by Israel could bring about the collapse of the Syrian regime and end the confrontation. To offset this possibility, the Soviets intentionally provoked Egypt into mobilizing its troops to negate that from happening.[47]

In the meantime, the United States sought to discourage Israel from responding militarily to the Egyptian mobilization. The US was deeply engaged in Vietnam and was not looking to become involved in another proxy conflict. However, at the same time, US military and intelligence gave the advantage to Israelif hostilities were to break out, but also felt that Egyptwas not going to attack.[48] It should also be noted thatEgypt was not particularly interested in going to war withIsrael for similar reasons. Egypt was itself consumed in its own “Vietnam” in Yemen. The civil war in Yemen had drawn Egypt in to support anti-colonialists against the Saudi-backed government in 1962. At stake was the strategic port of Aden controlled by the British.

One of Israel’s fears was that the Egyptians planned to strike their nuclear facility at Dimona. For several years the Israelis had been developing its nuclear weapons capability with uranium acquired from Argentina.[49] Military and intelligence analysts concluded that if hostilities broke out, victory would go to the nation whose air force struck first. It would have been difficult, if not impossible to stop a heavy air assault against the facility. Further complicating matters was that the Israeli Defense Force consisted primarily of reserve forces. The regular army strategy was to hold back any attack until reserve units could be mobilized. Based on what appeared to be an impending attack, reserve units had already been called up. Such a heightened state of readiness would be difficult to maintain indefinitely.

After several weeks of diplomacy, the US finally sent the message to Israel that “the United States will not go into mourning if Israel attacks Egypt.”[50] Early on the morning of June 5, 1967 Israel’s air force launched a preemptive strike against Egypt, completely decimating Egyptian air power. This was followed by a ground assault that benefited from the support of the Israeli air force which enjoyed complete air superiority for the duration of the conflict. After the initial assault by the Israelis, Jordan and Syria joined the fighting. After only six days of conflict,Israel occupied the Sinai Peninsula and Gaza Strip (Egyptian territory), East Jerusalem and the West Bank (Jordanian territory) and theGolan Heights (Syrian territory). The conflict also consumed resources from the Yemeni conflict, resulting in a collapse of Egypt’s efforts there and a complete withdrawal by 1970.

Israel had completely crushed and humiliated the Arab forces, and many Muslims began to feel that Allah had again fought on the side of the Israelis. The mosques started proclaiming that only faith and a return to the fundamentals of Islam would ensure that Allah would once again return to the side of Muslims. The outcome of the war convinced Zawahiri that Egypt’s secular and corrupt military regime had to be replaced with a government subject to Shari’ah.[51]

In Islam, a call to armed resistance, or jihad, must be first authorized by a cleric. Actions against a government, individual or group, must be preceded by a religious edict known as a fatwa. Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman would ultimately serve in this role for the Egyptian Islamist movement. Sheik Rahman was born in Egypt on May 3 1938, but became blind at age 10.[52] Despite his affliction, Rahman had succeeded in memorizing the Koran, by age 11.  Later, he also attended Al Azhar University, which in the view of many Muslims represented the pinnacle of higher Islamic education. In 1970, when Rahman spoke out against Nasser for permitting secularism in the country, he was arrested and imprisoned, but never charged with a crime. Later that year, when Nasser died of a heart attack, Nasser’s replacement, Anwar al-Sadat, released all political prisoners in an attempt to make peace with the Islamists. Sheik Rahman was among the prisoners released by Sadat.

1970 also saw an increase in the use of large-scale terrorist incidents as a political weapon. Although internationally many were related to the Palestinian – Israeli conflict, in the US most were related to the civil rights movement, the Vietnam War or other domestic issues. On September 6 1970, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) conducted near simultaneous hijackings of five commercial airliners (US, Swiss, British and Israeli), which were diverted to Dawson’s Field in Jordan. Most of the 310 passengers aboard the airliners were safely released five days later. However, the planes were destroyed by the hijackers. In the US, President Richard Nixon responded by ordering armed federal marshals to provide security on American flights. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) responded by introducing the first metal detectors and baggage checks at American airports.[53] Despite the tragedy in Jordan, most hijacking incidents continued to involve political demands and ransom, and typically ended without harm to passengers.

A Palestinian educator/cleric, Sheikh Abdullah Yussuf Azzam, obtained his B.A. from the Shari’ah College of Damascus University in 1966. After the 1967 war, he settled in Jordan to support the liberation of Palestine. Later, he relocated to Cairo where he obtained his masters degree from Al Azhar. In 1970, Azzam took a teaching position at Amman University. His education had focused on Shari’ah and Islamic jurisprudence, and he soon disassociated with the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) because its political motivations were secular and did not reflect Islam. In 1971, he returned to Cairo to pursue his PhD at Al Azhar University.

While in Cairohe forged many connections with the Egyptian Islamists, including Sheikh Rahman, who shared his vision of an Islamic state. In 1973 Azzam returned to Amman[54] and in the mid-1970’s moved again to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, where he taught at King Abdul Aziz University. Azzam was a student of Taymiyya and even wrote a book about the man and his teachings.[55] Azzam taught that “Nobody can abandon it [jihad], just as one cannot abandon prayer and fasting.”[56] He argued that jihad was the key to freeing Muslim lands from the grasp of the West. “Jihad and the rifle alone: no negotiations, no conferences, and no dialogues.”[57]

October 6 1973, on Yom Kippur, a Jewish holy day that coincides with the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, Egypt and Syria launched a surprise attack against Israel. Although the conflict ended on October 25 after Israel pushed back the Arab forces, the early successes by Egyptian and Syrian forces changed the perception that Israel was invincible. The re-supply efforts by the US and Soviet Union to their allies also turned the conflict into a major Cold War incident between the superpowers. Sadat won a major political victory at home by restoring Egypt’s national confidence as a military power.[58]

Meanwhile, Zawahiri’s Islamic cell continued to grow, and by 1974 numbered about forty members. Soon after, Zawahiri’s large group joined with a number of other smaller like-minded political cells to form Jamaat al-Jihad, the Jihad Group. The same year, Zawahiri graduated from medical school, and after serving three years in the Egyptian Army as a surgeon, he opened his own medical clinic. In February 1978, he married a young woman named Azza Nowair, who was also devoted to Islam. Although Zawahiri believed the Muslim Brotherhood was fatally compromised from a political standpoint, he nonetheless maintained ties with the organization.[59] At about this same time, Egyptian president Anwar Sadat shifted Egypt’s Cold War alliance from the Soviets to the US, which angered some of Egypt’s Arab neighbors who were aligned with Egypt against Israel, but who also relied heavily on the Soviets for arms. Then, on November 9 1977, Sadat shocked the world by announcing his intention to go to Jerusalem to address the Israeli nation about his desire for a peace treaty with Israel. Sadat’s trip was the start of a historic peace process that culminated on September 17 1978, when Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin signed the Camp David Accords. The peace deal with Israel did not please everyone, however. Indeed, it further alienated Zawahiri and many other Egyptian Islamists.

The young Osama bin Laden was in high school at the time of the Yom Kippur War, but by the mid-1970’s he had already joined an underground Saudi branch of the Muslim Brotherhood. In 1976, Osama entered the King Abdul Aziz University in Jeddah, which had become a haven for radical Islamic scholars from Syria and Egypt because of the government crackdowns in those states. As noted earlier, Azzam was one of the scholars who had relocated to Aziz. There is little doubt that Qutb’s prison memoir, Milestones, exerted a strong influence on Osama’s developing political views. While at the university, Osama was probably also exposed to Sayyid Qutb’s younger brother, Mohammad Qutb, who delivered weekly lectures there. Another influence was the Brotherhood writer Hasan Hudaybi, whose book Preachers Not Judges, had also been written in prison. We know that Osama was familiar with the philosophical debate between Qutb and Hudaybi which had been born of the Egyptian prisons. During his first year at Aziz, Osama met Mohammed Jamal Khalifa, who would become his best friend during his college years and future brother-in-law. Khalifa insists that Osama tended to side more with Hudaybi and his more tolerant and broad view of Islam.[60]

Events in the Islamic world however would soon force Osama to put his ideals into practice as Soviet troops rolled across the border into Afghanistan on December 25, 1979.

[1] Interviews by the author with friends and co-workers returned the same common theme. Charles was simply silent on the subject.

[2] There are variants on the spelling of Osama. As with most Arab words, the transliteration into English can depend on the person making the translation. The 9/11 Commission and other US government entities use the spelling Usama. The author prefers the spelling used by Islamic translators such as Ramond Ibrahim, Ahmed Rashid, Abdel Bari Atwan and US terror expert Yossef Bodansky, Osama.

[3] “T5 B18 PENTTBOM Case Summary as of 1-11-02 2 of 2 Fdr- AA 77- Khalid Al-Mihdhar- Seat 12B”,NARA

[4] “T5 B18 PENTTBOM Case Summary as of 1-11-02 2 of 2 Fdr- AA 77- Majed Moqed- Seat 12A”,NARA

[5] Cyril Glassé, The Concise Encyclopaedia of Islam,London: Stacey International, 2001, pg 245

[6] Mohammad later changed this to facing the Kaaba instead of Al Quds while inMedina in 623 A.D.

[7] Islam is Arabic for “submission” and is used to refer to those who follow the teachings of Mohammad, while Muslim is Arabic for “one who submits to God”, or a disciple of the religion of Islam.

[8] In modern Islam, the ummah is restricted to mean either the collective nation of Islamic states and/or the community of Muslims as a whole.

[9] Daniel Benjamin and Steven Simon, The Age of Sacred Terror,New York: Random House, 2002, pg 43-52

[10] Diane Morgan, Essential Islam: a comprehensive guide to belief and practice,Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, 2010, pg 87, 88

[11] The Concise Encyclopaedia of Islam, pg 240

[12] Ibid, pg 349

[13] John R. Schindler, Unholy Terror: Bosnia, Al-Qa’ida, and the Rise of Global Jihad,St. Paul,MN: Zenith Press, 2007, pg 20

[14] The Concise Encyclopaedia of Islam, pg 117

[15] Unholy Terror, pg 21 – 26

[16] Ibid, pg 26 – 30

[17] Lawrence Wright, The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11, New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2006, pg 62, 63

[18] Ibid, pg 64

[19] Richard Labévière, Dollars for Terror: The United States and Islam, New York: Algora Publishing, 2000, pg 37 – 41

[20] Various estimates for wives and children by various sources, for example Reeves gives the number at 11 wives and 52 children.

[21] Various dates recorded for Osama bin Laden’s birth by sources, including January, 1958 (Wright), 1957 (Reeves, Benjamin, Kepel) to name a few.

[22] The Looming Tower, pg 72 – 74

[23] Gilles Kepel and Jean-Pierre Milelli, Al Qaeda in its Own Words, Cambride: Belknap Press, 2008, pg 12

[24] The Looming Tower, pg 64 – 68

[25] The Concise Encyclopaedia of Islam, pg 353

[26] Henry H. Halley, Halley’s Bible Handbook, Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing, 1965, pg 113

[27] The Concise Encyclopaedia of Islam, pg 353

[28] “Palestinian Refugees: An Overview”, PRRN, http://prrn.mcgill.ca/background/index.htm (accessed May 25, 2011)

[29] Chaim Herzog, The Arab-Israeli Wars: War and Peace in the Middle East, New York: Vintage Books, 1982, 2004, pg 105

[30] Ilan Pappe, The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine, Oxford: Oneworld Publications, 2006

[31] Zhyntativ, “Hasan Al-Banna and His Political Thought of Islamic Brotherhood”, IkhwanWeb: The Muslim Brotherhood’s Official English Web Site, May 13, 2008 http://www.ikhwanweb.com/article.php?id=17065 (accessed May 18, 2011)

[32] Dollars for Terror,  pg 46

[33] The Arab-Israeli Wars, pg 60

[34] The Looming Tower, pg 15, 16

[35] Joseph B. Smith, Portrait of a Cold Warrior: Second Thoughts of a Top CIA Agent,New York: Putman, 1976, pg 211, 245

[36] The Looming Tower, pg 25 – 27

[37] Ibid, pg 27, 28

[38] Dollars for Terror, pg 46

[39] Joesph J. Trento, The Secret History of the CIA, New York: Random House, 2001, pg 194, 195

[40] The Looming Tower, pg 29 – 30

[41] Unholy Terror, pg 30, 31

[42] The Concise Encyclopaedia of Islam, pg 395

[43] Unholy Terror, pg 32

[44] Ibid, pg 33 – 42

[45] The Looming Tower, pg 36, 37

[46] Tom Segev and Jessica Cohen, 1967: Israel, the War, and the Year that Transformed the Middle East, New York: Holt, 2005, 2007, pg 201

[47] Ibid, pg 331, 332

[48] Ibid, pg 252, 253

[49] Ibid, pg 164 – 166

[50] Ibid, pg 332

[51] The Looming Tower, pg 39

[52] Richard Bernstein, “Trail of the Sheik – A Special Report; On Trial: An Islamic Cleric Battles Secularism”, New York Times, January 8, 1995

[53] “American Experience”, PBS, http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/hijacked/peopleevents/p_crews.html (accessed September 8, 2010)

[54] The Looming Tower, pg 95

[55] The Age of Sacred Terror, pg 99

[56] Al Qaeda in its Own Words, pg 117

[57] Yossef Bodansky, Bin Laden: The Man Who Declared War on America, Rocklin, CA, 1999, pg 10 – 11

[58] The Looming Tower, pg 40

[59] Ibid, pg 40 – 44

[60] Ibid, pg 78 – 80

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