If you’re raised on dogma and hate, can you choose a different path? Zak Ebrahim was just seven years old when his father helped plan the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. His story is shocking, powerful and, ultimately, inspiring.
My dad the terrorist: World Trade Center bombing plotter’s son pens memoir
Mail Online Published: 17:04 GMT, 31 August 2014 | Updated: 18:29 GMT, 31 August 2014
Before the Boston bombings, September 11 or the shooting at Fort Hood, a young American citizen originally from Egypt shot to death a prominent rabbi and later plotted the 1993 World Trade Center bombing from behind bars.
That man was El Sayyid A. Nosair, whose son, Zak Ebrahim, 31, has spent a lifetime agonizing over why his father chose terrorism over him.
The forerunner of today’s jihadis, Nosair was the first Islamic extremist to kill for his cause in the United States.
His actions would have repercussions in the life of his then-seven-year-old son that are still felt 23 years later, as Ebrahim explains in a new memoir, The Terrorist’s Son: A Story of Choice.
Ebrahim was born to Karen Mills, an American who converted to Islam after becoming disenchanted with the Catholic Church, and Nosair, who emigrated to the U.S. from Egypt in 1981.
They married within 10 days of meeting and Ebrahim recalls a ‘relatively normal’ early childhood, with soccer, Disney movies and family togetherness
As Nosair found his place in his new mosque, his life outside of it was falling apart.
He lost a job as a lighting technician following an injury and sank into a bitter and hate-filled disillusionment, exacerbated by a new friendship with Abdullah Yusuf Azzam, a Sunni extremist whose credo was ‘Jihad and the rifle alone: No negotiations, no conferences and no dialogues,’ and who counted a young Osama bin Laden among his disciples.
Azzam was killed by a car bomb in 1989, by which time Ebrahim’s father had changed permanently into the extremist he remains today.
‘Bigotry just slipped into my system along with everything else: Pi equals 3.14. All Jews are evil, and homosexuality is an abomination. Paris is the capital of France. They all sounded like facts,’ Ebrahim writes in his book.
Nosair hatched a plot to kill Rabbi Kahane, a leader of the equally dogmatic Jewish Defense League, who was urging followers to move to Israel and reclaim land from Arabs.
He carried out the killing, shooting Kahane at the Marriott East Side hotel in Manhattan before shooting a police officer, who shot back, and being arrested.
Ebrahim was just seven years old.
His father has been in prison ever since, after being sentenced to a second life sentence for conspiracy in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing that killed six people, including a pregnant woman.
The last time Ebrahim spoke to his father was in 1998.
‘I want to tell him how crappy our lives have become since he decided that other people’s deaths were more important than his own family’s lives,’ he writes. ‘But, as always, I can’t get the anger out. I just sob in the phone.’
The family – Ebrahim’s mother, young brother and older half-sister – move 20 times before Ebrahim is 20, escaping threats and persecution and changing their names multiple times.
Finally, a job at a theme park in Tampa Florida shows Ebrahim how very wrong his father was about people, religion and hate.
‘From the moment I put on my Rhino Rally safari suit, I meet tourists and co-workers of every description, which is so liberating that I can hardly put the feeling into words,’ he writes.
‘I’m taking every fundamentalist lie I was ever told about people – about nations and wars and religions – and holding it up to the light.’
Trained to hate, Ebrahim found nothing but love among the black, white, gay, straight and Jewish guests that enter Busch Gardens.
Now, Ebrahim travels the country speaking out against hatred and everything his father stands for.
Lost religion: Ebrahim hopes to discourage people from fanaticism and using violence and terrorism
Why would I out myself and potentially put myself in danger?’ he asked in a recnt TED talk.
‘I do it in the hope that perhaps someone someday who is compelled to use violence may hear my words and my story and realize that there is a better way; so that I can show people that even though I’d been subjected to this violent, intolerant ideology, I did not become fanaticized… For the victims of terrorism, I will speak out against these senseless acts and condemn my father’s actions.
‘And with that simple fact, I stand here as proof that violence is not inherent in one’s religion or race.’
Nosair, now 58, remains in federal prison. Ebrahim’s mother divorced him long ago and remarried.
He hasn’t seen his children since 1995.
‘He is my son, by birth,’ Nosair told a Los Angeles Times reporter via email last year. ‘But he has disowned me and my way of life.’
Ebrahim acknowledges that he may never understand why his father chose killing over his family.
‘I still feel something for him, something that I haven’t been able to eradicate — some strand of pity and guilt, I guess, though it’s thin as spider’s silk,’ Ebrahim writes.
‘I realize now that I don’t really know my father. I never really knew him.’
The Terrorist’s Son: A Story of Choice is released on September 9.