Tribeca film explores al Qaeda's history and culture

Sat Apr 24, 2010 5:18pm EDT
 
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By Christine Kearney

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A new film by Oscar-winning documentarian Alex Gibney takes viewers from Cairo to London on a search for the cultural and historical roots of al Qaeda and some of its motives behind its attack on the United States.

"My Trip to Al-Qaeda," which debuts at the Tribeca Film Festival on Sunday, follows U.S. journalist Lawrence Wright's worldwide exploration of the historical context of what formed and radicalized al Qaeda and its leader, Osama bin Laden.

"We know al Qaeda, we know the terror, we know the threat, but we really don't know why, we don't know how. And Larry's personal journey made that understandable in a very low-key, compelling way," Gibney told Reuters in an interview.

Adapted from Wright's 2007 one-man play that was based on his Pulitzer Prize-winning book "The Looming Tower: al Qaeda and the Road to 9/11," it shifts between Wright's storytelling on stage and real-life interviews with Wright's sources.

"The search for al Qaeda isn't so simple, as to just say, who are these individuals? It's where they come from. What is the context in which the terror was made manifest?" Gibney said.

The film begins with Wright in Cairo detailing the radicalization of Ayman al-Zawahiri, the Egyptian surgeon who formed al Qaeda's backbone. In 1984, al-Zawahiri left a Cairo jail after being tortured with electricity and wild dogs for three years, according to Wright. He was "hardened, resolute and bent on revenge," the journalist said.

The film then shifts, explaining how bin Laden's father, described as "a one-eyed illiterate Yemeni laborer," rose to become Saudi Arabia's biggest contractor.

But the younger bin Laden became disillusioned with Saudi Arabia, says Wright, who refers to a key moment when he was humiliated after being turned down by Saudi Arabia to protect its people when Kuwait was invaded by Saddam Hussein in 1990.   Continued...