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An Excerpt from ATTA, a Novel

The movements of lead hijacker Mohamed Atta on September 11th suggest that he was not quite the hyper-competent villain of popular perception. On the verge of staging the most successful terrorist attack in world history, Atta was late for his flight.

The movements of lead hijacker Mohamed Atta on September 11th suggest that he was not quite the hyper-competent villain of popular perception. On the verge of staging the most successful terrorist attack in world history, Atta was late for his flight. Further research reveals peculiarities at odds with the Jihadist ideal: a history of wearing makeup and a long academic career in architecture. In his urban planning master’s thesis, Atta focused on the imposition of high-rise buildings on what he termed the "Islamic-Orientalist city" (using Aleppo, Syria, as a model), calling for their immediate and absolute removal. What follows is an excerpted chapter from the new novel ATTA (published by Semiotext(e) and distributed by the MIT Press). The story is a fictionalized psychedelic biography told in the first and third person and posits a believable depiction of the man he was before deciding to fly a plane into the Twin Towers: an overeducated dickhead without purpose.


He takes a bus from Cologne to Prague, travels at night. Money is no longer an issue. Money comes from UAE, from Saudi Arabia, from the men with whom he allies. Money is without meaning.

He flies from Prague on Czechoslovakia Airlines. The plane lands on June 3rd, 2000 at Newark.

Marwan al-Shehhi is in America. They arrange a rendezvous in New York City, the greatest sinkhole of urban depravity. He is from Cairo, knows city life, but lacks preparation. Nothing can ready the human soul for New York.

He gathers his luggage, makes his way through customs, presents his passport. His visa is in a new name. MOHAMED ATTA. He walks out of the terminal and finds a commuter bus. He travels on a highway towards the city. New York’s skyline rises in the distance. A unique horror. Direct in line of sight is the Empire State Building, an Art Deco stab at the sky. To the right, smaller buildings surround the Towers like acolytes encircle a false messiah.

The bus dives into a tunnel and leaves him on the street beside Grand Central Terminal. He enters the building, walks to its main concourse. The rush of people amuses him, reminds him of home. He stares at the ceiling, yellow astrological idols of Greek origin against teal background. So many false gods in America.

Atta leaves Grand Central, walks south on Park Avenue. On 40th Street, he realizes that he moves in the wrong direction. He turns right, navigates west. Each and every building is enormous, of unthinkable size. Skyscraper after skyscraper after skyscraper after skyscraper after skyscraper after skyscraper after skyscraper after skyscraper.


He reaches 6th Avenue, Avenue of the Americas. He looks south. The Towers dwarf the city. New York is a land of giants until you encounter its titans. Solid rectangle erections of architectural arrogance, total modernist faith in the ability of buildings to shape lives, of the architect’s belief that he can control his vision and utilize it towards good.

But this is false hope. Architecture rapes the landscape, rapes lives around the building. Jews establish the sub-religion of Freemasonry upon a central principle. Certain angles embody specific ideals within the physical compunction of mortar and stone. In their Torah, Jews lie about Sulaymann, son of Dawood, tell tales of his apostasy and his Temple. These lies form the basis of Freemasonic concepts, delusions they give to Crusaders as a tool of cultural dominance, pulling the founders of America into its orbit. Warriors of freedom who capture and enslave Muslims, build a stage for the Elders of Zion and establish muscle behind the occupier state of Israel.

To reach Marwan, he traverses the Cartesian grid of New York, wondering about the effects of compulsory orderliness on the human psyche. Marwan stays in the Best Western at 48th Street and 8th Avenue. Atta asks for Marwan at the front desk, is given a room number. The elevator travels to the 11th floor. Goes quickly, is empty. He knocks on the door. It opens. There, once again, is his brother in Islam.


“Amir,” says Marwan, “You’ve made it. Welcome to America. Welcome to New York City. Welcome to the greatest city on Earth.”

“Brother,” he says, “I’ve told you before. Such sarcasms are unfit for pure hearts.”

Of the friends he makes in Hamburg, of all the brothers from al-Quds masjid, it is Marwan that he most loves. Marwan is 11 years younger, like a blood brother. He misses Omar, wishes Omar in America, but with Marwan it is hard to miss anyone.

“So brother,” says Marwan, “Put down your bags and let me show you Times Square. Let me show you the enemy.”

There is New York City and then there is Times Square. New York City is the money capital of the West, where steadfast Jews pull the world’s strings. Times Square is neon madness, syphilitic lesions eating away the brain of the beast. Too much greed and too much lust. Fat, ugly, pink face children shout everywhere. Lights flash. A cowboy stands in his underwear, plays an instrument. Advertisements blanket every square inch. Cars speed by. Negroes pretend they are Jews. Despicable food crams into ugly mouths. Scandalous women in states of undress. This is the land of Walt Disney, of the jahili Lion King.

“You understand now, brother,” says Marwan. “I wanted to know what it was like. I wanted to see what we are against.”

He nods at Marwan’s perspicacity. A wise choice. One should not run like a woman, hands over the face, eruption of tears and laments. One should stare at sin like a hunter stalks its prey. To look, to understand, but not submit. Resist temptations. Do not succumb to pressures and miseries.


They take a room in Manhattan, stay a week.

Like all immigrants from abroad, they trend to an outer borough.

They take a room in Brooklyn, in Park Slope. It serves as an effective base of operations. Brothers in New Jersey offer material support. They rent cars, drive hundreds of miles, send emails inquiring at flight schools. Any institution that takes them, anyone who teaches. Anywhere in America, location does not matter.

His thoughts are of his parents.

His mother no longer lives with his father, is back with his grandfather in Kafr El Sheikh, the indistinct delta village of Atta’s birth. He wants to hate his mother, rage at her for breaking the marriage, for her engagement in sin. He cannot. He knows his father too well. And only his mother is kind. Only his mother shows love.

They fly to Orlando, to Florida. They inspect several schools, including Huffman Aviation. They fly to Oklahoma. They tour the Airman Aviation School.

They decide on Huffman. A few emails and two tickets later, they settle the deal. They move to Florida.


ATTA is available now from Semiotext(e).