Jason Leopold writes: When Zain Abidin Mohammed Husain Abu Zubaydah and Muhammad Shams al-Sawalha were teenagers, they scoured record shops in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, desperately trying to track down the video for “Billie Jean,” the latest single from Michael Jackson’s global smash album “Thriller.”
Sawalha and everyone else knew his friend as Hani, who was a huge fan of Jackson and would sometimes “dance foolishly” when Sawalha put a cassette of the King of Pop’s music into a tape deck.
Eventually, they scored a grainy copy of the video and watched it over and over again as they tried to mimic Jackson’s signature dance moves.
Those were the innocent days of the mid-1980s, Sawalha said, before Hani became an alleged terrorist mastermind.
In November, Al Jazeera exclusively obtained six volumes of diaries Abu Zubaydah wrote between 1990 and eight days before his capture in Pakistan, 12 years ago Friday. The diaries, translated from Arabic to English by government translators, contain revelatory details about the Afghan civil war, the birth of Al-Qaeda, the rise of international terrorism and the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan after 9/11.
It was Al Jazeera’s first report on Abu Zubaydah’s diaries, the publication of volume one of the documents and the subsequent media attention about Abu Zubaydah’s normality that caught Sawalha’s attention.
He read the diary and spotted his name in a crucial entry, one of the most important in terms of understanding how Abu Zubaydah ended up embracing jihad.
In that June 1990 entry, Abu Zubaydah wrote that one night, while driving home with friends in Riyadh, he had disagreed sharply with Sawalha over the way jihad should be waged in Palestine. [Continue reading…]