The Memoir of a British Spy in Al-Qaeda

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 8 July 2019

The main issue with that Nine Lives has to overcome is the one that has attended Aimen Dean (a pseudonym) since he went public in March 2015 with an interview he gave to the BBC, claiming he had been a British spy within Al-Qaeda between 1998 and 2006. That issue is overcoming the doubts about his story. Nine Lives goes a long way to solving this by bringing in Paul Cruickshank, the editor-in-chief of CTC Sentinel, one of the premier academic resources in the terrorism field, and Tim Lister, a terrorism-focused journalist with CNN, as co-authors. As well as helping structure the book from Dean’s memories, the two co-authors note they had been able to “corroborate key details” that convinced them: “In the years immediately leading up to and following 9/11, Aimen Dean was by far the most important spy the West had inside al-Qaeda”.

The Origins

Dean was born in late 1978 to a Bahraini family that resided in the town of Khobar in Saudi Arabia amidst the event that he identifies as the take-off point for the modern wave of Islamist radicalism, namely the Iranian revolution. In January 1979, the Shah of Iran, unwilling to engage in mass-killing to suppress the “Islamist-led protests”, as Dean notes, departed his country, and Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, credulously believed by many Westerners to be a Gandhian figure, was swept to power, inaugurating a bloodletting that has never ended. This was the beginning of a tumultuous year that “changed our religion and our politics forever”, says Dean.

The theocracy that took hold in Iran was Shi’a, exciting people in the area Dean lived, the Eastern province of Saudi Arabia—hence his kunya later, Abu Abbas al-Sharqi (Abu Abbas the Easterner). But that sectarian dimension was not so pronounced at the time and the Sunni radicals were as emboldened as their Shi’a counterparts by the birth of an Islamist state. Ayman al-Zawahiri, the current leader of Al-Qaeda, was a specific case, as Dean points out.

Throughout 1979, there were other events that fed the nascent jihadi cause: the intensified Islamization of Pakistan under General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq and the extension of increasing levels of support to Islamists in Afghanistan; the seizure of the Haram Mosque in Mecca, which surrounds the holiest site in Islam, the Ka’ba, by Juhayman al-Utaybi’s apocalyptic cult; and the peace treaty between Egypt and Israel that was seen as the final proof of the impiety of Anwar al-Sadat’s regime in Cairo. (“I have killed Pharaoh”, said Sadat’s assassin, Khalid al-Islambuli, referring to the pre-Islamic rulers of Egypt.) And then came the next key event, connected to the first.

In December 1979, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan, seeing it as the only solution to issues that were largely in the imagination of the KGB.

Read the rest at the European Eye on Radicalization

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