The September 11th terrorist hijackings and attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon caught the United States largely by surprise. Once the dust had settled, and the shock and horror of such an unprecedented event had waned, the American public began to ask questions. Names such as Osama bin Laden, countries such as Afghanistan, and organizations such as Al-Qaeda were brought into the public's consciousness for the first time. Through newspapers, talkback radio and television programs the nation asked why do they hate us so much?' Others, such as those in the government and public service, asked what could we have done to have prevented this?' It is these two burnings questions that Lawrence Wright attempts to answer in The Looming Tower. In his incredibly detailed account of the events leading up to 9/11, Wright narrates the development of Al-Qaeda and it's anti-American philosophy, as well as the efforts of various personalities of the US law enforcement bureaus who attempted to prevent these attacks from occurring. Wright concludes his book by placing the blame for 9/11 on the organizational structure of the law enforcement agencies in the US, as well as on certain individuals within the CIA. While Wright presents some highly persuasive and well researched arguments as to the causes of 9/11, his bias and one-sided approach to certain issues detracts from the readers overall understanding of these events.
Wright's account takes on the form of a biography, narrating the lives of a series of seemingly unconnected individuals to illustrate how Al-Qaeda came to be, and why September 11 occurred. He outlines why the United States were attacked, stringing together events that he believed were crucial in the development of Al-Qaeda's desire to attack America. While Wright develops his argument through the medium of storytelling, his book is fact-checked against hundreds of exhaustingly researched sources, from official intelligence documents to eyewitness statements from those close to bin Laden, some of which the author dedicatedly tracked down himself. One of the great strengths of The Looming Tower is Wright's ability to condense such an immense quantity of information into a story that is not only readable and thrilling, but greatly enhances the readers understanding of the road to 9/11.
Wright's personality driven account begins with a biography of Sayyid Qutb, who he contends founded the Al-Qaeda stream of modern Islamic fundamentalism. It is interesting to learn that Qutb's extremist philosophy, made famous in his manifesto Milestones that would later motivate hundreds of Islamic militants, was born not in Egypt or Saudi Arabia, but in America. After the execution of Qutb, Wright concentrates on two characters heavily influenced by the Muslim scholar, Ayman al-Zawahiri, the Egyptian doctor who became Al Qaeda's planner of operations, and Osama bin Laden, the son of a billionaire Saudi construction magnate and future leader of Al-Qaeda. His book follows these characters from Egypt and Saudi Arabia, to Afghanistan, Sudan and Pakistan, as they lay the groundwork for September 11th. Wright identifies events such as the Afghan resistance to the Soviet invasion, the bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993, the American embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania, and the suicide bombing of the USS Cole as the key milestones on the road to 9/11. Amid this background of events, Wright paints a picture of the inner workings of the FBI, NSA and CIA anti-terrorism groups, concentrating on John O-Neill, the FBI counterterrorism specialist. The author portrays a horrifying series of miscommunications, errors and deliberate withholdings of information that he contends lay at the foundation of the US's failure to prevent 9/11. He interweaves this with a parallel narrative of the equally ineffective Prince Turki al-Faisal, the...