Insider account, by a well-placed double agent, of the world and worldview of al-Qaida.
Osama bin Laden’s organization is not much in the news these days, overshadowed and “almost forgotten during the subliminal explosion of ISIS.” So writes Dean, with the assistance of CNN and BBC producer Lister and CNN terrorism analyst Cruickshank. Yet it is still there, biding its time and playing a long game. Dean knows this well: Growing up as a conservative Sunni, he was inspired by Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait to wage jihad. Time spent on the front line in Bosnia and near death due to a Serbian booby trap solidified his position—yet not so much that he was ideologically immune to being recruited by British (and, later, Chinese) intelligence. Dean recounts several brushes with destiny, including meeting key figures in the 9/11 attacks, and more than a few close calls, as when a keen-eyed Pakistani border guard correctly pegged him as a bin Laden associate. Of considerable interest to students of international terrorism is the author’s view of the politics within al-Qaida and its relations with other groups, leading to such things as the initiative not to attack the Sydney Olympic Games—which would have been easy enough to engineer given the “gangster jihadism” prevalent among young Lebanese-Australians. Any presumed alliances, however, collapsed in Syria; remarked one comrade of Dean’s, “it’s like Bosnia, but it’s going to last a lot longer….It will end only when the last man is left standing.” The author closes with an assessment of the current political scene in the Middle East, with al-Qaida and IS competing to lead, echoing the larger rivalry between Shia and Sunni Islam. If peace is ever going to arrive in the region, then “we as Muslims have to begin to build some middle ground that allows rapprochement, coexistence at least, between Sunni and Shia.”
As sinuous and engrossing as a John le Carré story but all true—a welcome addition to the literature surrounding the war on terror.