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The story of Jihad Jack

By Henry Schuster
CNN

Editor's note: Henry Schuster, a senior producer in CNN's Investigative Unit and author of "Hunting Eric Rudolph," has been covering terrorism for more than a decade. Each week in "Tracking Terror," he reports on people and organizations driving international and domestic terrorism, and efforts to combat them.

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(CNN) -- Jihad Jack has a story to tell. An al Qaeda employment contract -- yes, you read that right -- is also quite a story.

Taken together, they offer some insight into what motivates jihadis and the people who recruit them.

First, Jihad Jack, an Australian-born convert to Islam who went to Afghanistan to fight with the Taliban. During a week when President Bush made a surprise visit to Afghanistan and vowed that al Qaeda's leaders soon would be facing justice, Jack Thomas was in an Australian court.

He also was talking about meeting Osama bin Laden and other al Qaeda leaders to "Four Corners," a program on the Australian Broadcasting Corp.

Bin Laden -- hugs yes, kisses no

Thomas was, by his own account, a searcher. Born Christian, he explored various religions before converting to Islam in 1997 at age 23. He chose Jihad as his Muslim name because he said it meant struggle and that's what he had been going through in his life.

When his story later made the headlines, he became known to Australians simply as Jihad Jack.

This convert was becoming radicalized and went to Afghanistan in early 2001. There, he enrolled at al Farouq, an al Qaeda training camp, where he said he thrived.

While Thomas was at the camp, bin Laden visited several times.

"[He was] very polite and humble and shy," Thomas told "Four Corners" about the al Qaeda leader. "He didn't like too many kisses, you know, he didn't mind being hugged but kisses he didn't like. He was just, seemed to float, float really across the floor."

Jihad Jack told the program that 9/ll horrified him, but after the United States began bombing Afghanistan as part of its campaign to topple the Taliban, he said he was ready to take up arms "to fight the Americans."

Before and after 9/11, Jihad Jack met other al Qaeda leaders, including bin Laden's No. 2, Ayman al-Zawahiri, and the military commander Mohammed Atef. "At that time, I had no idea who I was dealing with," Thomas told "Four Corners."

But he discovered just what al Qaeda had in mind for him at a safe house in Pakistan, where he had fled from Afghanistan. He met Khalid bin Attash, the man accused of planning the 2000 al Qaeda attack on the USS Cole in Yemen.

start quoteI am not a [jerk] who will help to hurt innocent people.end quote
-- "Jihad" Jack Thomas

"Khalid bin Attash had said that there was a need for an Australian to work, or Osama bin Laden would like an Australian white person to work for him in Australia. ... It was definitely involved with terrorism," Thomas told "Four Corners."

Thomas said he took money and a plane ticket from bin Attash. But he was arrested at the airport in Karachi and interrogated by Pakistanis, later Americans and then Australians.

Finally, Thomas was sent back to Australia. Eventually, he was put on trial, and this week he was found guilty of receiving money from a terrorist organization but acquitted on charges of offering to work for al Qaeda.

He has denied any intention of ever working undercover for al Qaeda in Australia. In blunt Aussie fashion, he told a Melbourne newspaper: "I am not a [jerk] who will help to hurt innocent people, which those people have shown is their tactic."

A jury apparently agreed with him. As he awaits sentencing, both the prosecution and Thomas' attorneys are claiming victory.

Reading the contract's fine print

Thomas told "Four Corners" that he took the money from bin Attash because he felt he was owed for the time he spent hiding out in Pakistan in 2002.

Which brings us to al Qaeda's employment contract, which was part of a trove of documents recently made public by the Combating Terrorism Center at the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, New York.

Read the pdf file of the documentexternal link for yourself. It seems, to invert the old recruiting slogan, being a jihadi was not just an adventure, but a job.

The contract, which appears to date from the 1990s, is an extraordinary document, showing the bureaucratic side of al Qaeda.

Just as another document laid out job descriptions for al Qaeda's hierarchy, this contract explained the conditions that mujahedeen had to meet to join and in simple terms summed up the group's aims: "Support God's religion, establishment of Islamic rule, and restoration of the Islamic caliphate."

It required that the recruit pledge loyalty to the cause, be tight-lipped about assignments and "not mishandle funds."

In return, the recruit got a liberal vacation policy -- one week off every three weeks if married, five days a month for bachelors. But vacation requests needed to be submitted 10 weeks in advance.

Jihadis also got a round-trip ticket either home or to Mecca after a certain period.

The salary wasn't much -- about $16 a month for bachelors and $108 for married men. There was nothing about medical or dental care

And the benefits could be taken away: "The brother who wants to leave al Qaeda without a legitimate excuse does not qualify for financial assistance or any of the previously mentioned privileges."

Breaking down al Qaeda's mystery

The Combating Terrorism Center said it published the documents to demystify al Qaeda and help others better understand the group.

"Understanding a terrorist organization's internal challenges and vulnerabilities is key to developing effective -- and efficient -- responses to the threats they pose and to degrade these groups' ability to kill," the authors of the study wrote.

The contract shows that at one level being a jihadi required incentives above and beyond the promise of paradise.

If you take Thomas' statements at face value, even he felt a sense of entitlement, that he was owed money and a plane ticket in return for his time.

But there is another angle to Jihad Jack's story.

If it sounds familiar, it is because it bears parallels to the tale of John Walker Lindh, the so-called American Taliban who went to Afghanistan and trained at the same camp.

Lindh, who is serving a long prison term in the United States, also said he turned down a pitch by a senior al Qaeda figure to take part in a mission in his country.

Yet terrorism analyst Rohan Gunaratna said white Australians, Americans and Europeans who can blend in and carry out attacks in their native lands remain the ultimate prizes for al Qaeda.

Contract or not, that's what makes such candidates so valuable.

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