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108 terrorist memoirs, analyzed

Yes, terrorists write autobiographies — and when they do, they can accidentally reveal some weaknesses of their enterprise

In 1978, prominent Palestinian militant Abu Iyad published an autobiography entitled “Palestinien sans Patrie.” This would have been unremarkable, except for a few things. First, “Abu Iyad” was really Salah Mesbah Khalaf, head of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s intelligence wing. Moreover, Iyad was widely held to be the organizer of and a senior leader in the Black September organization that kidnapped and murdered 11 members of the Israeli Olympic team at the 1972 Munich Games. The book is full of details about internal conflicts in Fatah and the PLO during the 1960s and ’70s. In short, it is a detailed memoir by one of the most prominent terrorists of the 1970s.

It may seem unusual that a well-known terrorist leader would write an autobiography, laying out details of his career and publicly dishing dirt on his own secretive organization. But in fact, the terrorist memoir is something of a genre. For many terrorists, participation in a group is a highly significant life event, often the most important thing they will ever do—and some of those who survive naturally want to write about it.

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