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Book Launch: The 19th Hijacker

Wilson Center NOW host and managing editor John Milewski moderates a conversation with author James Reston and Professor Akbar Ahmed about this timely and riveting novel. 

Date & Time

Mar. 4, 2021
11:00am – 12:00pm ET
19th hijacker book cover


Bestselling author James Reston, Jr.’s controversial new book, The 19th Hijacker: A Novel of 9/11 was released February 23, 2021, just months ahead of the 20th anniversary of the most horrifying act of terrorism in American history.

Everyone knows what happened on September 11, 2001. But do we really know what was behind this act of war? What lured this educated son of a successful Lebanese family to the jihadist message of destruction and annihilation that would result in the death of 3,170 Americans?

These questions torment Sami Haddad as he pondered his choice in August of 2001—whether or not—to continue with the operation or flee to some far-flung place with his girlfriend. Through a series of tape recordings which Sami had made in the months before the operation, he tells his beautiful and feisty Turkish-German lover, Karima Ilgun, of his first meeting with Muhammad Atta in Hamburg, of his training in Afghanistan under the watchful eye of Al Qaeda’s military chief, of his meeting with Osama bin Ladin where he swears his oath of allegiance, and of his final months of preparation in Florida where he comes to loath Muhammad Atta but cannot find the courage to flee.

Wilson Center NOW host and managing editor John Milewski moderates a conversation with author James Reston and Professor Akbar Ahmed about this timely and riveting novel. 

Selected Quotes

James Reston

“In a way, 9/11—only half the story has been told and not the other half of how this possibly could have been conceived and orchestrated and then executed. So, it’s my hope that I will prompt with this book that wider examination.” 

“There are certain things that we know about the recruitment of these people that become important and the end important moment is the actual swearing of allegiance to Osama Bin Laden that is meant to be a very solemn oath of allegiance and I think that’s rather the critical moment in his progression towards his choice whether he has made a commitment to this woman on the one hand, and he’s made a commitment to Al Qaeda, and those things come into clash.” 

Akbar Ahmed

“He’s probing. He’s probing and asking questions: Why should a young man—Sami, the protagonist—comfortable, middle class living a normal life in the Middle East with a beautiful girlfriend, why should he suddenly give all this up and join a band?” 

“We have to be then finding a solution in the context of how they understand the world because in some senses I see these two civilizations talking past each other. And that is why I found your book so interesting and in fact fascinating.” 

“These themes are known quite widely and Osama would have very—as I said—cunningly used this and all this glamor and guns and the use of media. And don’t forget he impressed so many Western journalists who came to interview him […] they do make an impression and we do have to be cautious and that’s why I think scholars like you—we are grateful that you come and you put things in a correct perspective.”

Hosted By

Middle East Program

The Wilson Center’s Middle East Program serves as a crucial resource for the policymaking community and beyond, providing analyses and research that helps inform US foreign policymaking, stimulates public debate, and expands knowledge about issues in the wider Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region.  Read more

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