Earlier this year, quite by happenstance, I read a book written by Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter James B. Stewart.
"Heart of a Soldier" tells the story of two men who, well before it happened, foretold not only of the terrorist attack of 9/11 but also the 1993 bombing in the World Trade Center parking garage that preceded it.
One of the men, Rick Rescorla, was chief of security for Morgan Stanley with an office in the World Trade Center. He died on 9/11, but not before he shepherded all but six of Morgan Stanley's 2,700 employees to safety because of a well-prepared and well-executed evacuation plan. He'd have made it out, too, had he not gone back in the building looking for those six.
The other man, Daniel J. Hill, is still alive.
With another Sept. 11 approaching I wanted to talk to The Man Who Predicted 9/11.
Although the primary focus in Stewart's book is on Rescorla — a bona fide hero for his actions on 9/11 — I found Hill to be an even more fascinating character.
It was Hill who converted to Islam as a young U.S. Army paratrooper stationed in Beirut in 1958. It was Hill who learned fluent Arabic. It was Hill who joined the Mujahedeen Freedom Fighters in Afghanistan and fought the Soviet invasion there in the 1980s. It was Hill who personally met Osama bin Laden. It was Hill who used information from Islamic extremists to warn Rescorla that terrorists would use the underground parking garage for a car bomb attack on the World Trade Center. It was Hill who asked the U.S. government to assist him in an assassination attempt on bin Laden in 1998 (the request was rejected). And it was Hill who warned the FBI just weeks before Sept. 11, 2001, that his Mideast contacts told him "something big" was about to happen in the United States, in New York, Washington, D.C., or Philadelphia — maybe all three.
Through the Internet I managed to contact Hill at his home in Florida. He's 71 now. I asked him if his reputation as a terrorism prognosticator without parallel has changed his life much.
"Oh, that blew over pretty fast," he said. "Most of the people even in my hometown don't know any of that stuff."
He didn't want to talk about the past. He wanted to talk about the future.
The very near future.
The man who predicted 9/11 is worried that its sequel is imminent.
"Muslims that I talk to say things like, 'America thinks they're safe now. They've forgotten about 9/11. But watch, Daniel. Stay near your TV. It's going to be bigger than 9/11,' " he said.
Hill said the next terrorist attack will involve suitcase nuclear bombs that will be detonated in small, low-flying two-seater private airplanes manned by men hanging onto the belief that, like the 9/11 hijackers, they are about to die as martyrs and enter paradise.
He is not alone in suggesting such a scenario. A 2007 book, "The Day of Islam," spells out the details, as do any number of Internet sites about a plot called "American Hiroshima."
The nukes, he said, will be detonated over New York, Washington, D.C., Chicago, Miami, Houston, Las Vegas and Los Angeles.
I asked Hill, "Why now?"
"Eight years from 1993 to 2001, eight years from that 9/11 to this 9/11," he said. "Symbolism. They're big on symbolism."
"Ramadan started two weeks ago Saturday," he said, referring to the Muslim holy month of fasting. "It always hits around Ramadan."
Eight years ago, Hill predicted the attack would come on Oct. 16 — almost in the middle of that year's Ramadan (the timing of Ramadan varies from year to year). He was about a month off.
"I don't know the second, hour or day. I just know they have the means, will, motivation and desire to do it," he said, noting that it's believed that years ago the suitcase nukes, acquired from former USSR operatives, were smuggled into America across the Mexican border.
Hill said he has warned the FBI, the CIA and others in government. For the past two years, he's sent out proposals for a book on the subject. All he's gotten back are rejections.
"To most people, I am a deviant personality," he said.
But there's no arguing his credentials.
"I'm a Muslim," he says. "I'm a special ops expert, I'm a terrorist and I've lived among Muslims. I fought the Russians with the same guys we're now fighting in Afghanistan. I met Osama. I volunteered to assassinate him. I know (the enemy) so well because I've worked, slept and prayed alongside them for years. I've become one of them. I know their nature, I know their culture, I know how they think. I can quote the Koran like a Southern Baptist minister can quote the New Testament. I know these are people who do not tire, who do not quit. There are odds this won't happen, but they aren't big odds."
"I hope you're wrong," I told him.
"Yeah. I hope so, too," he said.
Lee Benson's column runs Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday. Please send e-mail to [email protected]