Book Review: Inside the Jihad


by Omar Nasiri

New York, Basic Books, 2006. 337. . . ISBN:0-465-02388-6

From the beginning, the War on Terror has been characterized by intelligence failures. From the surprise attack on 9-11, to the inability to find Osama Bin Laden, to the politically disastrous misjudgement about Iraq’s WMDs, American intelligence has repeatedly come up a day late and a dollar short. One frequently made suggestion for fixing the problem is better human intelligence - in other words better spies. What would it take to accomplish this?

For a partial answer to this question read Inside the Jihad. Omar Nasiri (Not his real name), is an Algerian who, in 1994, was recruited into a jihadist cell by his brother while living in Brussels, and who later became a spy for the French intelligence service, the DGSE. Mr Nasiri was soon put to work buying arms, ammunition, and explosives on the black market. But he found himself into trouble awhen he stole a suitcase full of money from another terrorist with whom he shared an apartment. (Mr Nasiri claims he did not get along with the man, and was simply trying to get him to move out.)

Nasiri quickly realized that he had made a serious mistake, and began looking for protection. He decided to go to the French, in part because French intelligence had a reputation for ruthlessness (Mr Nasiri knew that they had blown up the Greenpeace ship Rainbow warrior) and therefore seemed better able to take care of him. IT also helped that his French case officer, Gilles (Another pseudonym), knew a lot about Islamic law and theology, which helped win Nasiri’s trust. Gilles suggested that Nasiri return the money, and tell his fellow terrorists that he had repented to God, and wished to return to him. Nasiri says of Gilles “I knew immediately that Gilles was a specialist in Islam, and that he knew the language of fundamentalism”. Remarkably, this simple dodge worked, and Nasiri was accepted back into the fold. What makes it even more remarkable is that Nasiri wasn’t very discreet about the fact that he had sought protection from the authorities. At one point, he even told his brother that he was working for the French. Apparently, jihadist operational security isn’t always everything it’s cracked up to be.

Nasiri’s statements about his motives should taken with a grain of salt. Apparently he saw no contradiction between being a devout Muslim holy warrior and a spy for the infidels. IN fact he seems all along to have been something of a hustler. Although he doesn’t mention money as a motive in his espionage, he seems to have been making more as a spy than he could have in a legitimate job. He may also have liked the excitement as well. To read inside the Jihad is to get a feeling for the culture shock and contradictions that many disaffected Muslims must experience in the West.

Nasiri takes himself rather seriously, and lacks a sense of irony. He was useful to the jihadists because he had much better social skills than most of them, and could move more easily in Western society. His “brothers” had plenty of Islamic zeal, but were often lacking in technical skills, and sometimes common sense. Nasiri’s account of driving a car laden with explosives across France and Spain is hilarious. The car, which was destined for Algeria, had been worked on by one of the “brothers” who was hopelessly inept as a mechanic. It kept breaking down, endangering Nasiri and his mission. He eventually delivered the vehicle, but at one point needed the assistance of some helpful cops to get himself mobile again. The whole trip is worthy of a Cheech and Chong comedy routine, but Nasiri doesn’t seem to have a clue how ridiculous it all was. He simply congratulates himself on a job well done.

Eventually, Nasiri made his way to the Al Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan. Nasiri’s description of life in the camps is fascinating, and forms the real heart of the book. There Nasiri and his “Brothers” were intensively trained in weapons, explosives, resistance to interrogation, and much

Reviewer: Burke G Sheppard   

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