Breaking: Times of London obtains Mohammed Atta martyrdom video; Flashback: "Nineteen Martyrs"; Update: Stills analyzed

I’ve always hoped we wouldn’t have to suffer an Atta video. I can stand videos of any of the other 18 — they’re all basically fungible — but to be taunted from the grave by the hijacker everyone recognizes is intolerable. I’m not sure we should even post it when it comes out.

We will, though, of course.

The article says there’s no audio on the video the Times of London has, which means they’ve got a pirated copy. But who pirated it, and from whom?

They’re not saying yet. They had better soon.

Update: Smile.


American and German investigators have struggled to find evidence of Atta’s whereabouts in January 2000 after he disappeared from Hamburg. The hour-long tape places him in Afghanistan at a decisive moment in the development of the conspiracy when he was given operational command…

The video indicates how easily they slipped from a western identity to a fundamentalist one. It also shows up the subterfuge they maintained in Germany and America that they did not know each other, all part of evading detection.

The video will be posted at noon London time, 7 a.m. ET.

Update: More.

The unedited video was passed to The Sunday Times through a previously tested channel. On condition of anonymity, sources from both Al-Qaeda and the United States have confirmed its authenticity. It has no sound — and lip-readers have failed to decipher it, according to a US source — but the images speak loudly for themselves.

Update: DU is on it.

Update: It’s worth noting the uniform yellow background behind Atta and Jarrah in that photo. When we tape, Michelle stands in front of what’s known as a “green screen”; Hollywood uses the same thing for their FX shots. The actor is placed in front of a backdrop of uniform color, which can then be easily isolated and replaced later using video editing software with whatever backdrop you choose. That’s how we get those nifty over-the-shoulder graphics in Vent. Al Qaeda has done this in all five hijacker videos released thus far, as you can see by clicking and scrolling here.

The point is this: from what Bryan tells me, you don’t need an actual screen to achieve this effect. Any solid uniform color backdrop will do. So the video of Atta that you see tomorrow might very well reappear in the future — except this time with an image of a collapsing North Tower behind him.

Update: Misha and See-Dub noted the silver lining in the comments, to wit, that this video punches yet another hole in the Truther conspiracy theory. Of course, strictly speaking, there is no Truther conspiracy theory. But to the extent that there is, that particular hole was punched long ago. Case in point: here’s the first few minutes (slightly edited) of one of AQ’s first professional-quality propaganda videos, titled “Nineteen Martyrs” and released on or around the first anniversay of 9/11. I’d forgotten about it until I started researching video wills of the hijackers for this post. Most of it is devoted to Flight 11 hijacker Abdulaziz al-Omari reading his will, but the beginning is a tribute to all 19 in turn, replete with short biographical details. You will, I trust, recognize the narrator’s voice. I’ve also tacked on a few seconds of the voiceover intro to al-Omari’s segment. It’s in English. You’ll recognize that voice, too.

Note that whereas most of the images of the muscle hijackers clearly come from their martyrdom videos, the images of the four pilots come from photos. Why? If AQ has been sitting on videos of Atta and Jarrah, why didn’t they use screencaps from those, too?

Update: Another thread opens at DU.

Update: The Atta/Jarrah videos are now posted at the Times of London. Watch parts 1 and 2 especially. They’re all outdoors at a facility we were watching. It would have taken one cruise missile.

Update: Mary K tells me that Hamid Mir was just on Fox saying that the release of the Atta tape could be a “go” signal for a new attack.

Update: Speaking of freaky old-school Al Qaeda videos, here’s a much younger Ayman al-Zawahiri in jail in Egypt screeching — in English — about torture.

Update: The NEFA Foundation has pulled stills from the ToL video and pointed out some familiar faces in the crowd. The tops dogs are all there.

More (Bryan): Just to add to what Allah said above about the composited look of some of AQ’s newer videos, if they shot all of the original martyrdom flicks on that yellow background we see in the Atta video, they probably had a nasty time getting a chroma key to work but there was a point to the effort. A chroma key is the effect the weather people use to put themselves in front of a map. Or to put Obi-wan and Anakin on that volcanic planet. Or to put Michelle in front of that wavy digital background for Vent. Green is usually the color of choice; blue is useful too. It usually depends on what colors the camera talent is wearing. Yellow isn’t used because it’s too close to a match for human skin or hair. It’s also very reflective, so I’d guess that you would get a lot of light spilling around your subject, further complicating the key effect. If we see an Atta video later made from the martyrdom vid that’s just come out, the producer either earned his keep fighting with that chroma key to make it work or he rotoscoped it, which means he cut the hijacker out frame by frame and put him in front of another background. It’s time-consuming grunt work, not terribly difficult but a pain. Looking at that yellow background, I doubt that AQ originally planned to do the composites they’re doing now to put their dead jihadis in front of the buildings they destroyed. They’re probably doing the current composite or virtual set look to disguise their locations, and someone got the wild hair to make all the old vids look more like the new ones to further disguise the old shoot locations, most of which are now craters. The software to do either the chroma key or the rotoscoping isn’t very expensive and it’s worth the effort if you’re the world’s most hunted terrorist group. It’s all about getting the message out without betraying their location, and they’re obviously doing pretty well at that.