For Terrorism, One More Chapter

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For Terrorism, One More Chapter

"I hope I'm not a prophet," Michael Lawrence Kahn says as we walk to the lawn in front of the National Assembly. The parking lot is full on a recent afternoon and inside the building Korea's lawmakers are blithely guiding the country's policy.

"If anything were to happen to Korea," Mr. Kahn continues, referring to international terrorist activity, "the twin towers of Korea would be the legislative building and Seoul's World Cup stadium."

Mr. Kahn, 64, author of "The Screaming Eagles," was in Korea recently on a business trip. He is president of World Trade Consultants Ltd., a Chicago-based firm that develops Asian markets for American food manufacturers. His spy thriller, which was partly autobiographical, came out last year. Since then, more than a dozen of the events he wrote about, including an airplane bombing of the World Trade Center by militant Muslim extremists, have come true with frightening accuracy. Mr. Kahn's visit to Korea did not go unnoticed. U.S. Army officers here requested and received a private meeting with him, held at Yongsan Garrison. Additionally, CNN interviewed him for "Inside Asia."

When Mr. Kahn arrived in Korea, he found the military presence at Incheon airport a reassuring sight for the general population, but he saw it as a waste of manpower.

"Any terrorist wanting to bomb Seoul would not come in to the airport now," he says. His voice is low and he speaks in a clipped, machine-like manner.

As he glances toward a concrete walkway leading to the National Assembly, he says, "They're already here."

When asked, "Why Korea?" he replies that Korea has become an economic powerhouse. According to Mr. Kahn, a Muslim clerk in Indonesia called the war in Afghanistan a fight of good against evil, saying that Islam is good, the infidels are evil. "The justification will be anything from low wages, slave labor and exploitation of child labor in Muslim countries by major Korean conglomerates," he says.

I express skepticism and he says, "You have to anticipate, not retaliate. You have to be able to think the unthinkable."

On Sept. 11, Mr. Kahn was at a hotel in Osaka, packing his clothes to catch a plane the next morning for Chicago. He had turned the television to CNN, and he watched as reporters speculated that a catastrophic electric system failure was what caused an airplane to crash into the World Trade Center. Once the second airplane hit the other tower, Mr. Kahn stopped packing. "We're at war," he thought.

The experience of being stranded has not deterred him from flying. "I'm going to lead my life normally," he says, planning to return to Korea in a couple of months for business. "The terrorists will win if I don't get on the plane."

We walk toward his car, passing the National Assembly library. Mr. Kahn stops and points to the library's massive walls and says, "On Korean TV, they show rescue workers practicing safety measures by taking a helicopter to the top of tall buildings and rapelling off sides of buildings. They're focusing on the wrong actions," he says.

From the trunk of his car he produces a copy of "The Screaming Eagles." He sketched the cover of the book himself, basing it on the 1972 Munich Olympics, when terrorists, claiming to be from Black September, a Palestinian guerrilla group, laid siege to the Olympic Village, killing 11 Israeli athletes.

The eagle on the cover symbolizes terrorism, he explains. The eagle sees the rabbit from high in the sky, tucks in its wing and streaks down while the rabbit continues nibbling on grass in ignorance.

He believes one way to combat terrorism is to change societal behavior. "People must be prepared to die. There are no white horses. You have to rescue yourself and fight for your life. Terrorists must understand that people will retaliate.

"We have to take tough decisions that might be unpopular."

Many, including his business partner in Korea, are skeptical of his controversial views. To them, Mr. Kahn's reply is, "I have lived through terrorism."

When Egyptian president Anwar al-Sadat threatened to invade Israel, Mr. Kahn, who was born in South Africa, sold all his belongings and moved to Israel with his wife and two sons. He was in temple when the Yom Kippur War broke out in 1973. "It's the funniest thing," he says. "Ninety percent of Israel was in temple when war broke out." He rushed to the mobilization area and volunteered. Most of the soldiers were 18 to 25 years old, but Mr. Kahn, then 36, was not deterred.

Volunteering his Volvo station wagon as an ambulance, Mr. Kahn drove to the Golan Heights front line. For six days, he transported wounded soldiers, three at a time - two on stretchers in the back, a third sitting next to him. Bloodstains covered his car.

After the war, he moved to Iran to work for Westinghouse. On Sept. 6. 1974, the Shah declared martial law. Soon after, Mr. Kahn watched a large office building in Tehran explode and collapse to the ground.

"I received a death threat written on a piece of paper placed on my front door telling me I had 24 hours to get out of the building or they were going to blow it up," he says. "If they say they're going to blow up your building, they mean they're going to blow up your building."

Later, when he returned to the United States, Mr. Kahn took a job in the Chicago area as a business consultant. Five years ago, he was driving one day when he thought of a great idea for a novel. "The Screaming Eagles," his first book, has been compared to "Day of the Jackal" and "The Fugitive."

The late-afternoon sunshine is beginning to fade as a few tourists, women in hanbok, traditional Korean clothes, and men in dark suits, move along the sidewalk. Mr. Kahn says, "I'm scared. But I'm not scared for me. I'm scared for you, because you don't know that eagle flying around you will attack."

by Joe Yong-hee

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