A journey to Gaza, Cairo and Hamburg in search of what really made Sept.
Whoever kills himself with an iron weapon, then the iron weapon will remain in his hand, and he will continuously stab himself in his belly with it in the Fire of Hell eternally, forever and ever." .
A few days after Sept. 11, that quotation from a sacred Muslim commentary turned up on an English-language Web site called www.fatwa-online.com. There it was brandished by a Muslim scholar who argued that Islam could never, under any circumstances, justify the practice known in the West as ''suicide bombing.'' Suicide bombers, he seemed to be warning, would blow themselves up through eternity. It was, in its way, a comforting thought, but there was no assurance that this learned discussion on the Internet was being followed in Arab centers where the bombers were found and recruited. In the days after Sept. 11, it also became clear that there was no Arab leadership with the inclination or stature to call a jihad against suicide bombings and the latter-day cult of martyrdom that may date from the Iran-Iraq war, in which Iranian teenagers, sent out by the thousands to be human minefield sweepers, were given keys to wear around their necks. Those keys, they were promised, would open the doors of paradise. .
Necrophiliac fervor at first seemed confined to Shiites (not just Iranians but the Lebanese factions that drove vehicles laden with explosives into the American Embassy and marine headquarters in Beirut in 1983). How suicide bombing then got adopted as a weapon by the Sunni Muslims of Palestine and the Arabian Peninsula -- and then by a multinational consortium drawing in Egyptians, Algerians, Moroccans and Kenyans that found its prime targets on American soil -- is a tangled question for scholars. All that happened when we were looking the other way. We ticked off the bombings but didn't pay close attention when, three years ago, Osama bin Laden declared ''war'' on the United States.