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Thoughts on 9/11 from the Aegean

October 2nd, 2013 No comments
A ghastly toxic plume of smoke and ash rises above Ground Zero after the total collapse of the North and South Towers of New York's World Trade Center on 9/11.

A ghastly toxic plume of smoke and ash rises above what would instantly become known as Ground Zero after the total collapse of the North and South Towers (yet before the fall of Tower 7) of New York’s World Trade Center on 9/11. ©2001 Derek Henry Flood

Thira- Two years ago when I was here on this island, the principal of the Santorini archipelago in Greece’s Cyclades group, I was quietly reading the Eleventh Day The Full Story of 9/11 and Osama Bin Laden by Anthony Summers and Robbyn Swan. That book was a2012  finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in the History category. When nearing the last chapter and scanning the footnotes I was delighted that one of my articles was cited in them.

Here I am two years later catching up on some much needed personal writing. Seeing as we recently passed yet another 9/11 anniversary, it is clearly not one of those topics that will ever be “over” like the endless accounts–each one claiming to be more definitive than the last–put out by publishing houses each year on the Second World War (a.k.a. The Great Patriotic War).

I will never forget taking my photojournalism portfolio by an agency in Manhattan in early 2002 after coming home from six weeks in Afghanistan and Central Asia and a photo editor telling me: “sorry but Afghanistan is kind of like, over…” I heard similar things regarding 9/11 less than a year after it took place. But it is obvious these events will never be “over.” They steered the course of world history in our lifetime. It is simply arrogant to think otherwise. Short sighted people working in fast-paced New York media may have been eager to move on to the next story but I was not. I covered the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, sure, but even at the time I saw it all as a unified story where each successive event was linked to previous ones to form a continuum of globalized conflict that didn’t respect the Westphalian state system.

I recall talking to a close friend here on the island two years ago and telling him about the book I was then reading and the writing I was doing. His first reaction was “but what about building 7 (WTC 7)?” WTC 7 is the lynchpin of 9/11 conspiracy theorists often known as “truthers.” The perfect pancaked collapse of WTC 7 lead skeptics and the paranoid to insist WTC 7′s collapse was what is called a controlled demolition–meaning it was premeditated which would then imply that perhaps all of 9/11 was some sort of “inside job.”

One of the things people can never accept about 9/11–especially those who were not physically in lower Manhattan that particular day–is that even though it was a televised and well-documented tragedy is that there are some things that all of us will simply never know and we must accept this fact. There were so very many moving parts in the 9/11 attack and ensuing tragedy that it will never be possible to know everything. In a city of 8.5 million in an event with thousands of simultaneous deaths, many people cannot accept that everything about this event cannot be known or understood in its entirety in our time.

For those who actually witnessed the horror that day, not much more need be said in many cases. For those who were far away or too young at the time, they have the luxury of viewing 9/11 as some sort of theoretical abstraction to be neatly dissected by its various anomalies in the realms of physics, chemistry or engineering.  I witnessed WTC 7 engulfed in flames when I arrived via bicycle well after the collapse or the South Tower.

Families arrive en masse to the site of the former World Trade Center to grieve once more for the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The attacks claimed victims from across New York's incredibly diverse ethnic and religious communities. Many of the families had t shirts created in honour of their loved ones.

Families arrive en masse to the site of the former World Trade Center to grieve once more for the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The attacks claimed victims from across New York’s incredibly diverse ethnic and religious communities. Many of the families had t shirts created in honour of their loved ones. ©2011 Derek Henry Flood

Of course the U.S government, particularly the Executive Branch has done virtually nothing to quell those of a conspiratorial bent. So many documents remain classified or partially redacted. Any why, we must ask? To protect princes and princesses in the Saudi regime in order to not disrupt the flow of oil to U.S .shores? Or is it merely the bureaucratic culture of secrecy continually perpetuating itself? In the era of wikileaks and Edward Snowden, one may wish some dusty 9/11 documents be released rather than, say, embassy cables from Mauritius. There was a grandiose conspiracy behind 9/11 and it was cultivated in a suburb of Hamburg, a suburb of Kuala Lumpur, San Diego and Tarnak Farms outside Kandahar and a litany of other locales rather than at Langley or at Larry Silverstein’s office in Manhattan.

Relatives of victims sign a Ground Zero tribute wall outside the annual memorial ceremony on the ninth anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks in lower Manhattan. ©2010 Derek Henry Flood

Relatives of victims sign a Ground Zero tribute wall outside the annual memorial ceremony on the ninth anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks in lower Manhattan. ©2010 Derek Henry Flood

Why certain people prefer to entertain conspiracy theories is often a broader question involving human psychology. The conspiracy theorists are correct on something though. The American government is hiding things about 9/11 from its citizenry. But it is to protect its own tragic incompetence and ego-driven buffoonery than its dark hand in the 9/11 plot. The U.S. government is not made up of an underground lair of dastardly super villains hatching fanciful plots.

A fellow firefighter grieves for a fallen comrade a decade after the attacks that shook New York to its core. ©2011 Derek Henry Flood

A fellow firefighter grieves for a fallen comrade, Lieutenant John Napolitano, a decade after the attacks that shook New York to its core. ©2011 Derek Henry Flood

Anyone who has spent anytime in the corridors of Washington knows that it is made up of individuals, some of them intelligent, some of them quite ordinary, who have had often disproportionate power bestowed upon them by a ballooned security clearance system.  Some of these individuals have their own spirited agendas such as the preservation of Israeli military superiority in the Middle East, the promotion of hardline Protestantism, retrograde Catholoicism or more mundane concerns such as procuring defense contracts to keep or bring jobs and thereby votes back home in their respective districts. OK, so calling something the “Office of Special Plans” certainly doesn’t help the matter in the eyes of the avidly skeptical. But Douglas Feith was and is an idiot, not Lex Luther.

I very belatedly stumbled onto this 2008 documentary regarding the mystery surrounding WTC 7 by the BBC entitled 9/11 – The Third Tower.

New York-July 4th, 2002

July 4th, 2013 No comments
New York City's first July 4th fireworks celebration after the 9/11 attacks. ©2002 Derek Henry Flood

New York City’s first July 4th fireworks celebration after the 9/11 attacks as seen from Greenpoint, Brooklyn. ©2002 Derek Henry Flood

New York- I normally wouldn’t photograph something as seemingly ordinary as fourth of July firework celebrations. In my early days as a photographer, I morphed from a landscape/cultural focus to war/third world internecine politics after 9/11 became an all encompassing catalyst. So on the evening of July 4th, 2002 I decided to shoot the first post-9/11 fireworks show along the East River from a north Brooklyn vantage in the context of New York’s symbolism of resilience in the wake of thousands of deaths.

Shortly after this I would be off to the next war zone in the summer of 2002–for the “War on Terror” was unfortunately well underway.

The rocket's red glare. New York in a fleeting moment of tradition and normalcy less than a year after 9/11. ©2--2 Derek Henry Flood

The rocket’s red glare. New York in a fleeting moment of tradition and normalcy less than a year after 9/11. ©2002 Derek Henry Flood

In Brooklyn, well after the official fireworks, there were then the late night "neighborhood" fireworks shows often attributed to local mobsters as a display of their bravado. ©2002 Derek Henry Flood

In Brooklyn, well after the official fireworks, there were then the late night “neighborhood” fireworks shows often attributed to local mobsters as a display of their bravado. Even the mafia liked to put its patriotism on display according to locals as rockets smuggled into the city flared in the sky along the Gowanus Canal. ©2002 Derek Henry Flood

Categories: 9/11, New York Tags:

From Unreasoned Righteousness to Reason

November 5th, 2012 No comments

Leo Villareal’s BUCKYBALL installation in Madison Square Park. Seems like an obnoxious display of power when thousands in the city are still without electricity (although its LED tube lighting may use relatively little wattage it looks abrupt when considering those on the city’s forsaken periphery).  ©2012 Derek Henry Flood

New York- So weird. A week ago today I was getting thrown around Long Island City by 90 mph gales as Hurricane Sandy thrashed Queen’s over gentrified littoral while NYPD barked on loudspeakers through sheets of rain not to get near the piers while shooting photos. In the interim, houses were smashed and burned, whole boardwalk areas ravaged and now tens of thousands of people are not homeless from one day to the next. But most of the lasting damage was hyper localized to where people in midtown and uptown areas of Manhattan had their lives interrupted only when the subways were demobilized all over the city as a precaution. I trekked around in an effort to do what I could to document the crisis–with an image from this blog getting selected for New York Magazine’s Sandy portfolio “What We Saw When the Lights Went Out.”

Many, many improvements have been quickly made, particularly in the areas of Manhattan that were politically and economically prioritized. But in the outskirts of the so-called outer-boroughs, people may likely freeze tonight, out of sight, out of mind from the rest of this city. People will shiver in the cold shadow of tomorrow’s mega ego election where a wobbly incumbent  who’s carried out highly dubious extra-judicial assassinations of American citizens in Yemen, faces off against a “weird Mormon billionaire” as an old friend of mine put it (though he’s only worth a paltry reported $250 million).

As largely toothless idioms like “the new normal” and neologisms like “superstorm” were thrown around all week by politicians and media figures, significant change will not occur until long outdated thought paradigms are cast aside forever, a highly unlikely proposition. Americans have been brainwashed for the last decade that Sunni terrorism of the Salafi-jihadi strain is the biggest threat to their survival (or messianic Shia Twelver state warfare from Iran if one is a Likudnik).

This narrative is only remotely believable if one narrowly views the struggle for and within humanity as amongst various interpretations of monotheisms. Rubbish. The fundamental threat to human survival is a catastrophic misreading of the environment, human and animal evolution, and the development of the solar system we inhabit. The media and politicos are extremely unhelpful in this regard describing the violent characteristics of a terrifying natural occurrence like Sandy using terms like “deluge” and “biblical proportions.”

Not to say these forces in the world are not genuine threats but they are a mere blip during the long evolutionary march of history. The terror wars have spawned a vast and mostly unregulated and hence unaccountable security industry that is now here to stay. Fear Inc. has been very profitable for some but has provided little palpable public benefit beyond those personally enriched by constantly over stating imminent threats on the horizon. In this period, the global  environmental crisis has carried on untended to as the proverbial ‘elephant in the room.’ Developing a smarter, faster drone air force to chase finite  ”bad guys” in the world’s ungoverned geography is far less challenging than confronting large scale glacial meltdown and rising sea levels.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo encapsulated my point perfectly the other day with this quote: “[Utility companies] They’re regulated by the public service commission. The utilities were not created in the Bible. They’re not in the Old Testament. They’re not in the New Testament. God never said, ‘New York shall have these utilities forever, and Con Ed is the utility, and there’s nothing you can do about it. It’s really not in the Bible.” Here is a case of a frustrated, angry political leader–perhaps without giving such a statement much rational forethought–injecting and legitimating Abrahamic themes into the public discourse thereby doing a great disservice to his millions of constituents by obfuscating the real history and nature of…nature.

Figures like Cuomo are not wont to offhandedly riff on the Jurassic Period or the Mesozoic Era during such a public tirade but perhaps they should. Referencing Noah in an era of bitter and confused climate change debate certainly isn’t helpful. Western observers scoff at Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for hailing the sought after return on the Mahdi–the promised return of the Twelfth Imam who has been in a state of occultation since he ‘disappeared’ during the year 874 A.D.  But are American leaders pandering to the masses really all that different in this respect?

We need more reasoned, empirical science and far less politicized seance if people are to grasp the environmental threats that lay before them and realize the inherent grand context of such events. It shall be no easy task. The “March of Unreason” continues.

Rather than a nonsensical “deluge,” Hurricane Sandy was part of a continuum of punctuated natural violence that has formed continents and oceans, and played a key role in human evolution and its great migrations. ©2012 Derek Henry Flood

Blackout

November 2nd, 2012 No comments

A ConEd power worker on First Avenue between 20th and 21st Streets in Peter Cooper Village, Manhattan as the blackout caused by Hurricane Sandy grinds on. ©2012 Derek Henry Flood

New York- Finally made it into Manhattan yesterday after nearly a week of storm imposed seclusion in the outer boroughs of the city. Subway service was partially restored to Midtown and I decided to hop on one of the inbound trains and explore what I’d heard from friends via text and the media. I walked from 33rd Street and Herald Square down to Houston and Broadway, from there to Avenue C, and up to 20th Street and First Avenue.

Most of lower Manhattan felt deserted like some lame Will Smith movie. Bicyclists were having a field day ruling the streets. In Union Square, there was a weird dichotomy where apparently those with cash ate a trendy food trucks doing a roaring trade and those without waiting in long food distribution line monitored by police. Walking around during the light of day was a bit eery but entirely manageable. Once I reached Avenue C as the dark descended, despite the heavy presence of emergency vehicles, it still felt as if the area was on the cusp of lawlessness.

Everywhere I walked south of 34th Street appeared like a frozen zone. ©2012 Derek Henry Flood

Residents of the Union Square area wait in line for a late afternoon food distribution as temperatures begin to drop. It felt as if everyone was homeless. ©2012 Derek Henry Flood

The city’s gasoline crisis has now become a paramount issue in the post-Sandy recovery. Not only are fuel supplies low or totally out but there is not electricity to power petrol stations. BP, Broadway and Lafayette (the old Gaseteria). ©2012 Derek Henry Flood

Katz’s Delicatessen, an iconic 24/7 LES business that generally never closes, remains shuttered. ©2012 Derek Henry Flood

An Iraq-beige National Guard vehicle pulls away from a makeshift food distribution center on the corner of Houston and Pitt Streets on the Lower East Side. Guardsmen were being tasked with distributing meals en masse is disaster-affected areas of the city. ©2012 Derek Henry Flood

The dark apartment blocks of Manhattan’s Stuyvessant Town neighborhood are faintly lit by passing traffic on the adjacent FDR drive. Pedestrians pass each other on the streets with wariness with often the only sources of light sirens and cell phones. ©2012 Derek Henry Flood

A policeman directs otherwise anarchic traffic on First Avenue as stop lights sit dark for miles. Pedestrians cross at your own risk. ©2012 Derek Henry Flood

Lower Manhattan has been deeply affected by explosions at the Con-Edison power station on 14th Street and Avenues C and D during the height of the storm surge. ©2012 Derek Henry Flood

In Sandy’s Path

October 31st, 2012 No comments

New York City firefighters trying to extinguish smoldering debris in the Breezy Point section of the Rockaway Peninsula in Queens. The sea water surge from Hurricane Sandy triggered a massive fire likely cause by a gas explosion. © 2012 Derek Henry Flood

New York- I did a mission out to Breezy Point, Queens on the Atlantic coast of the Far Rockaway Peninsula yesterday that was the hardest hit area of New York City by ‘Superstorm’ Hurricane Sandy. A fire raged through the center of this community razing many dozens of homes in the densely developed beach community 26 miles from Manhattan. I haven’t seen destruction like this since I covered the anti-Uzbek pogroms in Osh, Kyrgyzstan in June 2010. The logistics of getting there were a story in itself but for now for the sake of time, I’ll let the photos do the talking.

A firefighter prepares the nozzle the continue extinguishing burning debris in Breezy Point long after the principal blaze had been put out. ©2012 Derek Henry Flood

A black pool lay in what until hours before had been the foundation for someone’s home in Breezy Point, Queens. In the background residents scurry through the rubble attempting to salvage belongings. ©2012 Derek Henry Flood

An NYFD firetruck attempts to maneuver through floodwaters in Breezy Point, Queens. ©2012 Derek Henry Flood

A local resident walks through her neighborhood that was razed to the ground on the night of October 29-30. The scorched, fetid earth emitted a putrid stench evocative of many of the man-made disasters I’ve covered over the years. ©2012 Derek Henry Flood

Ocean Avenue. ©2012 Derek Henry Flood

A Blackhawk helicopter from the National Guard soars over the wreckage of Breezy Point. ©2012 Derek Henry Flood

 

Often the brick chimneys were all that were left of these homes. ©2012 Derek Henry Flood

A field of debris. ©2012 Derek Henry Flood

A roof sits on the ground. ©2012 Derek Henry Flood

 

Frankenstorm

October 29th, 2012 No comments

New York-Went out to my beloved Long Island City in the borough of Queens to shoot some photos and get a feeling for Hurricane Sandy as it made landfall while high tide was approaching. Was getting shouted at by NYPD over loudspeakers trying to shoot. Winds felt like they were about 90mph, nearly fell down just getting out of the taxi. Here are a few photos.

A man lurks on the Pulaski Bridge looking over the Newtown Creek separating the boroughs of Brooklyn and Queens as water surges approaching high tide. ©2012 Derek Henry Flood

The tollbooths at the entrance of the Queens-Midtown tunnel appear deserted as New York CIty officials announced as host of bridge and tunnel closings effectively isolating Long Island. After 8:30 pm the tunnel was shut after it began taking on flood water. ©2012 Derek Henry Flood

The New York Police Department attempted to seal off Gantry State Park in Long Island CIty as the East River approached a full moon high tide. The United Nations, center, was shut along with all other public facilities in Manhattan. ©2012 Derek Henry Flood

An idiot attempts to fly a kite in the middle of Hurricane Sandy. A terse police sergeant put an end to that and said yuppies fled back inside on police order. ©2012 Derek Henry Flood

Welcome to Brooklyn, Frankenstorm! Hardly any vehicles were on the roads but a few must have felt they could justify their travels. ©2012 Derek Henry Flood

The Empire State Building, left, and the Chrysler Building, right, are shrouded in the hurricane as the worst of it is about to hit the city. ©2012 Derek Henry Flood

Out for a smoke. Two things people wouldn’t stop doing no matter what: taking their dogs for a walk and lighting up. Man puffing a grit on Vernon Avenue. ©2012 Derek Henry Flood

I found a New York taxi completely enveloped by a fallen tree. Probably the scariest thing about walking around was that something could just crush you or lash you in tenths of a second. ©2012 Derek Henry Flood.

Infamy Slept Here

September 21st, 2012 No comments

486 Union Avenue on the ramshackle side of the tracks in Paterson, New Jersey. ©2012 Derek Henry Flood

Paterson- New York magazine occasionally runs a segment of their real estate section called “Fame Slept Here” about astronomically priced homes for sale on the NYC market that were inhabited by all manner of celebrity past and present. I’ve spent parts of the last decade looking at much less desirable habitations of the men involved in the ‘planes operation’ (9/11) around the world from Kuala Lumpur to San Diego. Blog entries like this one are not meant to be exhaustive chronologies but a portion of my research.

Yesterday I finally made the trek from midtown Manhattan to a northern New Jersey slum called Paterson where up to six of the hijackers stayed during the summer preceding 9/11. I took a Latino shuttle bus from the front door of the New York Times’ ivory tower across from the dreary Port Authority bus terminal. The unassuming coach then pulled away from Arthur Sulzberger Jr’s vertical empire of glass and steel toward the Hudson River, through the Lincoln Tunnel and on to Paterson and neighboring Totowa, New Jersey.

In continuing my (what seems like) never ending journey to document the lead up to 9/11 which has been quite a global endeavour, it had been bothering me that I haven’t done some of the work closest to home.

According to man called Jimi Nouri, Hani Hanjour (believed to have crashed American Airlines 77 into the Pentagon) and Ahmed al-Ghamdi rented the third floor unit in May of 2001. It was in this red brick black where Nawaf al-Hazmi would relocate after leaving San Diego now joined by his brother Salem and Khalid al-Midhar along with Majed Moqed and Abdelaziz al-Omari.

On a side note, al-Omari was mentored by Suliman al-Elwan, a jailed Saudi Salafi theologian profiled by my colleague Murad Batal al-Shishani for the February 2011 edition of Militant Leadership Monitor (which I edited-subscription only).

Infamy slept here, on the third floor in the back. ©2012 Derek Henry Flood

The next stop on my trek took me just over two miles directly down the road to the ATS travel agency in the lower middle class town of Totowa. It was here that Hani Hanjour and Majed Moqed bought Hanjour’s ticket on AA 77 for 9/11. (For reference see: FBI Summary  about Alleged Hijacker Hani Hanjour, p.50.) This small converted house on a hill in north Jersey unknowingly facilitated partial destruction of the Pentagon. Undoubtedly all of the people who inhabit or utilize these particular locales today would prefer these highly unpleasant affiliations end up in the dust bin of history but I am trying ensure, sorry to say, that they never be.

In 2010, I revisited the Parkwood Apartments in San Diego’s Clairemont area and noticed the complex had been pleasantly renamed “Blossom Walk” since I first photographed them in 2002 after finding out that Nawaf al-Hazmi, Khalid al-Mihdhar, and allegedly Saudi student/spy Omar al-Bayoumi had resided there.

From the hijackers’ cockroach infested apartment in Paterson to the World Trade Center is a distance of about 23 miles. So this post doesn’t seem entirely an abstraction, I thought I should include an image of 9/11 itself. ©2001 Derek Henry Flood

Advanced Travel Services at 232 Union Boulevard in Totowa, New Jersey. ©2012 Derek Henry Flood

The Passaic River that divides Paterson between the rather well-kept Middle Eastern small business community where the hijackers ran errands from the run down black and Latino neighborhood where they holed up six men in a one bedroom apartment until days before the attacks. ©2012 Derek Henry Flood

My third and final stop on the Jersey terror tour brought me to the tidy Arab and Turkish enclave of south Paterson below the Passaic River. I’d first gotten off the shuttle bus here far too early at the beginning of the day when I was trying to get my bearings and so I came full circle back to Main Street. Bathed in a splendid late afternoon sun after a very light rain shower was Apollo Travel on Main Street.

It was here that in early July 2001 Mohammed Atta bought his ticket from Miami to Madrid via Zurich in order to rendezvous with Ramzi bin al-Shibh (though they ended up meeting in coastal Catalunya when bin al-Shibh could only get a ticket from Hamburg to Reus Airport) in what was believed to have been a final planning meeting for the planes operation in the EU. As a Yemeni, bin al-Shibh was unable to secure an American visa to join the men in Paterson or south Florida. He now resides at the detention facility at Guanánamo Bay.

For more on this, see my post from August 2011: Retracing Mohammed Atta’s Footsteps in Catalunya

Apollo Travel at 1009 Main Street in Paterson, New Jersey. ©2012 Derek Henry Flood

Exhausted I flagged down a shuttle bus trundling down Main Street bound for Manhattan. Listening to Bloc Party’s Four on my iPod I look through the windshield as the bus crests over a slight hill on the highway to see the new World Trade Center in the distance towering over the New Jersey foliage. I realize the AQ operatives would have inevitably seen this view while they were driving around this area doing their mundane errands with the Twin Towers–their intended target–rising above the hot Atlantic landscape 11 summers ago.

I thought about how many people in this country and around the world, especially those that never had to live through 9/11, still cling to wildly unfounded conspiracy theories rather than confront and cope with history and reality. To see these ordinary facets of the 9/11 plot, the air ticket offices, halal meat markets, run down apartments, an ATM here, a big box store there, is to visit a painful period of recent American history that lacks any of the glamour of the elaborate plots dreamed up by the ‘inside job’ crowd where suited Bilderbergers in Langley or Tel Aviv or god knows where planned to hoodwink the entire world on live television.

What’s partly fascinating in all the exploration I’ve done from San Diego to Hamburg to Scottsdale to Kuala Lumpur to Los Angeles to Bangkok and now New Jersey is the sheer banality of it all. There is no imagined evil lair from an Cold War Ian Fleming novel. These are living, breathing locales. I bought a Vitamin Water in the utterly non-descript mini-market below the hijackers old apartment. All of it still exists for those that bother to look.

My day ends where it began as the shuttle bus drops me off at the base of the New York Times corporate headquarters on 8th Avenue and West 40th Street in Manhattan. ©2012 Derek Henry Flood

Categories: 9/11, New York Tags: ,

An Historical Tour of Jihadi New York

September 12th, 2012 No comments

The Williamsburgh Savings Bank Tower anchors the southeastern end of what is left of Brooklyn’s historic Atlantic Avenue Arab strip. Rapid gentrification of the neighborhood in the last decade has transformed the area from a lively ethnic enclave into bland real estate developments. ©2012 Derek Henry Flood

New York- Yesterday for the 11th anniversary of 9/11 I decided to do something a bit off the beaten path. Though New York City was the site of the attacks, no other part of the ‘planes operation’ timeline is known (to my knowledge) to have occurred in the city’s five boroughs. The closest thing would be when several of the hijackers led by Hani Hanjour moved into an apartment in Paterson and rented mailboxes at Mail Boxes Etc. in Fort Lee and Wayne, New Jersey nearby.

A Chinese man peers warily at my camera from the third floor office which once served as the Afghan Taliban’s makeshift UN mission. Before 9/11 I drove out to this place to try and get an Afghan tourist visa in person but the guys were never there. ©2012 Derek Henry Flood

There are however a few tangential, yet important locales that fit into the larger picture. One quietly resides in a nondescript brown brick medical office complex at 55-16 Main Street in Flushing, Queens. This had been the site of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan’s ‘Mission’ to the UN (not a terribly convenient location for access to Turtle Bay?). I visited this dull building a couple of times in August of 2001 while trying to acquire a visa for Taliban-controlled Afghanistan. The State Department ordered the two rather sullen ‘diplomats’ to close the office on February 13, 2001. But when I knocked on their door that summer there was still a sign on the front of the office door in English, Pashto, and Dari that listed it as their mission. And the phone still worked as either Abdul Hakeem Mujahid or Noorullah Zadran (most likely Zadran) would occasionally and very skeptically listen to my queries. I thought about titling this post a Salafi-jihadi tour of New York but of course the Taliban were hardcore Deobandis influenced more by radical Islam in British India than modern Saudi Arabia.

The door of the former Taliban UN mission office in Flushing, Queens. ©2002 Derek Henry Flood

From Flushing I made the long subway trek to downtown Brooklyn in the footsteps of the now long dead Sheikh Abdullah Yusuf Azzam. Azzam was bin Laden before bin Laden was. The original transnational jihadi ideologue, Azzam was born near Jenin, British Mandate Palestine in 1941. He fled to Jordan after the 1967 war when the Israelis began to militarily occupy his homeland. During his radicalization, Azzam was an early adapter to the Salafi interpretation of Islam and preached accordingly. According to New Yorker writer George Packer, the building pictured below was the location of Azzam’s Afghan Services Bureau which was used to recruit volunteers to fight in Afghanistan during the anti-Soviet jihad as well as funnel funds there.

The former site of 1980′s era Brooklyn mujahideen front Maktab al-Khidamat (Afghan Services Bureau) at 566 Atlantic Avenue. The front door was plastered with building and construction code violations from the City of New York and nothing appeared to be doing there. ©2012 Derek Henry Flood

Next door to the perfume factory is the infamous al-Farooq mosque  (and former al-Kifah Refugee Center) at 552 Atlantic Avenue. It was here that, according to French scholar Giles Kepel, Azzam had kindly requested sympathizers to the jihad to send their donation checks made out simply to “Service Bureau.” Azzam had opened a checking account several blocks northwest of the office and mosque complex at the Independence Savings Bank on the corner of Court Street and Atlantic Avenue (which is now a Trader Joes supermarketin line with the area’s intense gentrification).

Site of the former Independence Savings Bank in Brooklyn (currently a Trader Joes supermarket) where Palestinian Salafi theologian Abdullah Azzam maintained a checking account to channel donations toward ‘Afghan-Arab’ groups fighting the Red Army and PDPA Afghan government forces in the 1980s. ©2012 Derek Henry Flood

A 1995 New Yorker article describes how the CIA-linked Azzam as well as the currently imprisoned Omar Abdel Rahman preached at al-Farooq and a rustic masjid in Jersey City called al-Salam. Azzam is most often referenced as Osama bin Laden’s ‘mentor.’ After the conclusion of the Afghan jihad, Azzam and his sons were killed in a bombing in November 1989 while en route to salat al-juma (Friday prayers) at the “Mosque of the Martyrs” in Peshawar’s University Town district. The reasons for Azzam’s killing have never quite revealed themselves. Some believe it was factional infighting amongst the Arab jihadis in Peshawar who were adrift after the Red Army had withdrawn from Afghanistan earlier that year. It has even been speculated that bin Laden himself ordered his henchmen to carry out the bombing.

Whether Azzam is as relevant today to those in the sway of Salafi rhetoric I can’t be sure but it is very likely that Mohammed Atta and other old school AQ core operatives were very much influenced by the writings and speeches of a man with cause who once dined in Brooklyn’s halal eateries and opened a checking account with great ease in an open society.

On a side note, it was on this street that in the fall of 2000 I purchased a shalwar kammez–Pakistan’s national dress–at an Arab store (ie not a Pakistani one) to work on my senior thesis in…Peshawar.

The entrance to the al-Farooq mosque in Brooklyn’s Boerum Hill neighborhood just after dusk. A muezzin made the azan (call) for salat al-maghrib (evening prayers) on loud speakers that echoed over the cacophonous traffic. I’d never heard the azan in the United States before. ©2012 Derek Henry Flood

The new WTC tower, known as One World Trade Center, rises from ground zero eleven years after the original Twin Towers’ demolition by Mohammed Atta and Marwan al-Shehi. ©2012 Derek Henry Flood