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The looming tower

by Lawrence Wright

Library Journal: Wright (fellow, Ctr. on Law & Security, NYU Sch. of Law; Twins) goes back—way back—to 1948 to dissect the personal influences and political radicalization that would lead to al Qaeda's attack on America. Delving into the tangled roots of Egyptian political dissenters, he carefully draws out the biographical background of Osama bin Laden's number two man, Dr. Ayman-al-Zawahir, who was notable for being implicated in the plot to assassinate Anware Sadat and later became a key figure in Islamist groups as he allied with bin Laden. The matter-of-fact story of the founding of al Qaeda is almost an afterthought as Wright's narrative follows bin Laden in his business and terrorist ventures from Saudi Arabia to Sudan to Afghanistan. A chilling counterpoint to the story of this growing organization is what little attention was paid to the trickle of information that made its way to Western intelligence agencies. While illustrating the CIA and FBI responses, or lack thereof, to the emerging threat of Islamist terrorism, Wright attempts to tie in an important law-enforcement figure, John O'Neill. At one time a counterterrorism agent for the FBI who deeply understood the global nature of bin Laden's threat, O'Neill ironically perished on 9/11 at the World Trade Center. The thrust of O'Neill's story, however, does not merge well with the rest of the book (for a closer look at O'Neill, see Murray Weiss's The Man Who Warned America). However, Wright's research is exemplary, including dozens of primary-source interviews and first-person perspectives, and he provides welcome insight into the time line leading up to 9/11. Recommended for large libraries. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 5/1/06.]—Elizabeth Morris, Illinois Fire Svc. Inst. Lib., Champaign—Elizabeth Morris, Illinois Fire Svc. Inst. Lib., Champaign Distributed by Syndetic Solutions Inc. Terms

Publishers Weekly: Starred Review. Wright, a New Yorker writer, brings exhaustive research and delightful prose to one of the best books yet on the history of terrorism. He begins with the observation that, despite an impressive record of terror and assassination, post–WWarII, Islamic militants failed to establish theocracies in any Arab country. Many helped Afghanistan resist the Russian invasion of 1979 before their unemployed warriors stepped up efforts at home. Al-Qaeda, formed in Afghanistan in 1988 and led by Osama bin Laden, pursued a different agenda, blaming America for Islam's problems. Less wealthy than believed, bin Laden's talents lay in organization and PR, Wright asserts. Ten years later, bin Laden blew up U.S. embassies in Africa and the destroyer Cole, opening the floodgates of money and recruits. Wright's step-by-step description of these attacks reveals that planning terror is a sloppy business, leaving a trail of clues that, in the case of 9/11, raised many suspicions among individuals in the FBI, CIA and NSA. Wright shows that 9/11 could have been prevented if those agencies had worked together. As a fugitive, bin Ladin's days as a terror mastermind may be past, but his success has spawned swarms of imitators. This is an important, gripping and profoundly disheartening book. (Aug.)

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