The disturbing and cryptic video clips, photographs and manifesto the killer Cho Seung Hui sent to NBC News instantly reminded me of the taped testimonials suicide bombers leave behind to justify their crimes.
It looked so familiar -- an angry young man dressed in battle clothing preaching a message full of hate in front of a drab background. I have seen many of these videos over the years in the Middle East.
The attackers always stress a desire to battle injustice and moral turpitude; they all believe they are avengers of the righteous. The videos are also replete with religious references. Cho's message seems little different.
Cryptic religious references
Cho repeatedly mentions Christ, suffering and isolation. There appear to have also been references to the Koran.
On the package sent to NBC, Cho uses the name "A. Ishmael." He is also reported to have had the words "Ismail Ax" tattooed or written on one arm.
Ismail is the Koranic name of Abraham's first-born son. In one of the central stories of the Koran, God orders Abraham (called Ibrahim) to sacrifice Ismail as a test of faith, but then intervenes and replaces him with a sheep. Muslims reenact this story by sacrificing a sheep on Eid al-Adha (feast of the sacrifice) during the Hajj, the annual pilgrimage to Mecca.
While it is still unclear what Cho may have intended, his repeated references to Ismail (he signed his manifesto 'Ismail Ax') has been generating a lot of attention on Arab/Islamic blog sites on the Internet.
The Islamic Threat website said: Cho "knew exactly the significance of the name in Islam as far as blood sacrifices are concerned which leads me to think that there might have been Islamic motivation behind the madness he displayed."
The Angry Arab News Service website said: "The Chicago Tribune reports that Virginia Tech University massacre perpetrator, Cho Seung-Hui, died with the words "Ismail Ax" in red ink on one of his arms. Hmmm . . . Ismail -- the Arabic name for Ishmael -- considered the father of all Arabs and a very important figure in Islam. I'm sure it's just a coincidence, right? Doesn't mean anything. Right. Maybe "Ismail Ax" is the name of a friend of his. Or maybe he wanted to remind himself to buy an Ax for his friend Ismail for next Ramadan. Or I'm sure we'll hear some other similarly absurd 'explanation.' We'll see."
Cho clearly was confused and angry. His manifesto seems the same: a confusing mix of martyrdom, religion, pop culture and multimedia technology.