The Spy Who Came In From al Qaeda
A March 2, 2015 article on the BBC News’s website describes how a founding member of al Qaeda, Aimen Dean, “changed tack in 1998; and, became a spy for Britain’s security and intelligence services, MI5 and MI6, and, who was interviewed by the BBC’s Peter Marshall. Mr. Marshall writes that Mr. Dean “describes his years, working in Afghanistan, and London, as one of the West’s most valuable assets in the fight against militant Islam.”
Mr. Marshall writes that Mr. Dean, “was brought up in Saudi Arabia, where opposition to the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the mid-1980s, made military jihad a noble concept. He was a teenager when Yugoslavia splintered; and, Bosnian Muslims found themselves in mortal danger from Serb nationalists. He and a friend, Khalid al-Haij — later to become the leader of al Qaeda in Saudi Arabia — set off to become mujahideen.”
“I would say it was the most eye-opening experience I ever had,” Mr. Dean begins. “I was a bookish nerd from Saudi Arabia just weeks ago; and then suddenly, I find myself prancing up on the mountains of Bosnia, holding an AK-47, feeling a sense of immense empowerment — and, the feeling that I was participating in writing history, rather than just watching history on the side. And also, at the same time, being in military training camps, receiving knowledge that I never thought in a thousand years I would be receiving about warfare, war tactics, and military maneuvers; and, to be receiving it alongside people from many different nationalities, with the one common factor among them that they were Muslims. And, they were all there to in order to participate in the jihad in defense of the Bosnian population, was in itself — an overwhelming experience.”
When asked if he was afraid at that time, Mr. Dean said he was “afraid of the unknown, rather than afraid of the fact that I’m going into, embarking on a journey that might end up with all of us being killed.” When asked if he wanted martyrdom, did you want to die?, Mr. Dean said “yes.”
“By the end of the Bosnian conflict, I started to notice something else within my comrades,” Mr. Dean said. “Those who survived, started to adopt a rather more anti-Western, anti-globalization feeling, that the global community were conspiring against the Muslims in Bosnia, because they were turning the tide of war in their favor — so, they wanted to end the war there and then…before they score any more victories.”
“At least that’s the perception,” Mr. Dean said. And, with that perception, I think they started to feel that the West is fighting Islam as a religion — and, that led to further radicalization that made it easy for them to make the transformation from being mujahideen…into being jihad operatives.”
“Bosnia was a school in which many talented leaders of al Qaeda were born,” Mr. Dean noted Khalid Sheikh Mohammad, [accused of being the architect of the 9/11 attacks], was one of those people in Bosnia. The impression I had at the time, was that he was there in Bosnia in order to spot talent. Let’s put it this way, in order to you know, scout for talents, who would be useful for the later struggle. I remember that one of the things he said; and, it was in a wedding where we were seated next to each other basically, and one of the things he said, “Well, the Bosnian war seems to be ending here, that you know the end is in sight; but, what will happen after the war? The question is, are we going to roam the globe from one hopeless battle to another, trying to save a Muslim population until someone else, someone else come and reap the reward?”
“In other words,” Mr. Dean said, “there will be a government that is secular, and doesn’t rule by the rules of Sharia. He says that this cycle needs to end; and, that we have to think about another front where we can serve Islam, and basically resurrect the spirit of jihad within the Muslim world. I think that little speech was the first indication that things were moving from jihad being an instrument to defend Muslim populations on the frontiers, to an instrument to bring down regimes and to fight a terror war…against the U.S. interests in the region.”
“To become terrorists, rather than soldiers?,” Mr. Marshall asks.
“Absolutely,” replied Mr. Dean.
Joining al Qaeda
“I was invited to Kandahar to give the allegiance basically; and, as with everyone who give [gave] allegiance, Osama bin Laden will give you know, a one-on-one meeting basically with those who are joining; and, then he welcomed me into the fold. He basically said that there will be many, many years of difficulties and hardships, and that the cause of jihad is not going to start with him….or, end with him.”
“You swore an oath?” Mr. Marshall asks Mr. Dean.
“Yes,” Mr. Dean replied.
“What was the oath?” Mr. Marshall asks.
“I give you allegiance to fight alongside you in good times; and, in bad times, and to fight the jihad against the enemies of God, and to obey my commanders.”
“What were you doing when you were swearing the oath? Do you stand”, or, Do you knee?” Mr. Marshall asks.
“You sit next to him on the floor basically; and, you know you have your hand on a copy of the Koran…and you say it. Almost knees touching each other,basically.”
“And, this is a moving moment presumably?” Mr. Marshall asks.
“Yes, although like you know I have to say, looking back at it basically, felt I felt, you know, the same dread of the unknown I felt before I went to Bosnia.”
“You knew it was a big leap you were taking?”
“At home in Saudi Arabia, Aimen Dean had been a Muslim theological prodigy,” Mr. Marshall writes. “In Afghanistan, it was his responsibility to train al Qaeda recruits — many [of them] from Yemen — in the basics of Islamic theology and history; and, the essentials of religious practice. This opened his eyes to the jihadists different motivations.”
“There is no single process of radicalization,” Mr. Dean said. “Some people, it took them years to be convinced of coming to the jihad; and, some people, it took them minutes. Some people were studying in religious seminaries — they’re a minority by the way — and, then decided to come and some people basically just came straight out of a night club, you know, while he was consuming alcohol basically to come and seek redemption there in the jihadist world.
“So, you know you see immediately that you know there isn’t one single classical journey there, that there are so many journey’s.”
“But, they all want martyrdom?” Mr. Marshall postulates to Mr. Dean.
“They all want martyrdom and redemption, to various degrees,” Mr. Dean said. “Some people will come to you and say, you know, I’m really tired. I want to be martyred as soon as possible. And, some people will come to you and say I want to be martyred; but, not before I give the enemies of God hell on this Earth. I want to live for as long as possible, to give them as much hell as possible…and then, taken out by them.”
“So, some are basically suicidal to begin with; and others, are just blood lust?” Mr. Marshall asks.
“Yes,” responds Mr, Dean.
“Dean was at a training camp in Afghanistan, when the bombings of the U.S. embassies in Nairobi, and Dar es Salaam took place in 1998. He was concerned to learn that as well as the 12 American casualties, 240 or more local people died, and 5,000 were wounded,” Mr. Marshall writes.
“I think that is when he horror of it started to sink in And, this is when I realized that if this is the opening salvo in this war, where is the next target? Argentina, South Africa, Mozambique? Are we going to fight Americans in Africa, in order to expel them from the Middle East, from the Arabian Peninsula?” Mr. Dean asks himself. “It just doesn’t make sense.”
“And, as a theologian, that’s when I started to have doubts about the legality of the whole thing. So, I started to ask questions. I went, I remember, to Abdullah al Mohaja, who was the de facto mufti of al Qaeda. I said, “it’s not that i have doubts, or anything, but can you please enlighten me about the religious justifications for attacking an embassy belonging to the enemy, yes, but…at the same time the fact that it’s surrounded by potentially huge collateral damage,” Mr. Dean said.
“And, he said to me: “We’ll look, there is a fatwa issued in the 13th Century AD throughout the Muslim world, which legitimizes attacking an enemy, even if it means there are civilian deaths because the enemy is using them as a human shield.” And, he said, “This fatwa is comprehensive…it gives justification, and there is no doubt about the legality of what we have done.”
“So, I decided to go and look for myself, and this is when I received a big shock. The fatwas were issued in response to questions sent by Muslim cities in Central Asia, Tashkent, Samakand, Bukhara, asking this particular question: “Look, the Mongols are invading. Every time they sack a city, they take a segment of the population from that city — a thousand, or two, or three, and make them push the siege towers towards the walls of the next city. So, do we shoot at our fellow Muslims, who are against their wills — pushing the siege towers into the walls of our city, or not?”
“And, then the fatwa came: “Yes, this is a case where the Mongols are using civilian Muslims as human shields in order to achieve a military aim; and, if you don’t shoot at them, you will end up being killed yourself, if the attacks succeed.”
“Now, when I learned of this, I was thinking: “OK, how do I reconcile this fatwa which applies to a life-and-death situation, regarding a vicious enemy, using people as human shields — to sack another place; and, to kill every man, woman, and child in that city, with what happened really in Nairobi and Tanzania? There is no resemblance here,” Mr. Dean said.
“And, this fatwa, based on siege towers from 800 years ago, that’s what’s used to justify all the acts of jihadism terrorism?” Mr. Marshall asks.
“That would result in civilian casualties, yes,” replied Mr. Dean.
“So, it’s important?” asks Mr. Marshall.
“It is important, but you know, I’m not going to say it has shaky foundations. It has no foundations at all. It’s basically a castle of sand in the air.”
“It’s nonsense?” asks Mr. Marshall.
“Absolutely,” Mr. Dean responds. “And, two months down the line, I decided that it’s no longer for me and, I wanted to leave.”
Becoming A Spy
“Still barely out of his teens, and deeply troubled, Dean says he went to the Gulf for medical treatment, having privately decided not to return. Instead, he found himself in the hands of MI6. In 11 days, he says, he was turned. After four years and two months as a jihadi, he landed in London on December 16, 1998…and, the debriefing began,” Mr. Marshall wrote.
“I think seven months of debriefings, that was more or less helping them put together a better picture of these organizations, and the groups who are influential people within them.”
“Because you knew Osama bin Laden, Khalid Sheikh Mohammad, Abu Zubeida. You knew everybody,” Mr. Marshall asserts.
“Yes,” responded Mr. Dean. “Seven months into the debriefings, that’s when the suggestion [came]. “What about you going back to Afghanistan; and, doing some more work for us?” And, my answer was unequivocally, yes.” “I didn’t have any qualm with that at all.”
“What did you do,?” asks Mr. Marshall.
“Passing back information, that’s what my primary objective was to collect as much information as possible — and, that wasn’t an easy task, because you have to rely entirely on your memory. You can’t write anything. Everything has to be stored in the mind, nowhere else…Whatever moral misgivings I have, my ex-comrades to thank for driving those moral misgivings away…because the more I see what they were planning, for example, I was there basically where al Qaeda was constructing their first workable chemical device; and, talking about this with such glee, and such deep psychopathic satisfaction — that is when you say to yourself, “Why do I have any moral misgivings about spying on you guys?” Whatever they are doing is justifying whatever you are doing.”
“You had to play along with them, obviously?” Mr. Marshall asks.
“Of course. I was still preaching, I was still stating how committed how I am to the cause.”
“That must be tricky, though, because in some ways you’re there preaching , you’re again giving theological justification for some of the bad things that you know that they’re up to.”
“Yes, but at the end of the day, if you want to catch rats, you have to go into the sewage system basically, and get dirty yourself.”
“So, you were in Afghanistan, and you were coming back and forth to the U.K. as well.”
“But, al Qaeda thought they were sending you back to the U.K. presumably?”
“Yes, I think that’s the beauty of it.”
“So, they think you are working for them.”
“When you’re actually working for the West?”
Spying In London
“While in the U.K., Dean would be watching, and gathering information on people like Babar Ahmed, a British man who admitted providing material support to terrorists, and Abu Hamza, convicted in the U.S. earlier this year of supporting terrorism, Abu Qatada, who was cleared of terrorism charges by a court in Jordan last autumn, after a long legal battle to extradite him from the U.K. Dean kept an eye on them, and others while preaching in mosques and Islamic societies.”
“The difficulty is though, that if you’re there under cover, welcomed there as an al Qaeda man, you have to keep up this pretence by taking to people at the mosque, you have to encourage them to join the jihad?”
“Yes….though there are limits. I was aware of my boundaries basically about how much you can incite. You use granted words about general rather than specific incitement. But then, the most difficult part actually was after 07/07/2005. That’s when the laws and regulations regarding incitement like you know, were really frightened.
“So you couldn’t say what; and could say what?” Mr. Marshall asks.
“You can’t specifically urge someone to go. You can’t specifically call for an attack. You can’t glorify violence committed against civilians. You know you have to be careful here. You can sit down there basically and blast the West for what they do. You can sit down there and talk about martyrdom in general, without you know, touching directly on what’s happening right now. So, you have to be clever about how you phrase your words.”
“Do you ever feel guilty about having encouraged somebody to go to jihad?” Mr. Marshall asks.
“Yes.” responds Mr. Dean.
“Are there many occasions where this might have happened?”
“There were some occasions where that happened.”
“What’s the nature of the guilt, because of what they might have been involved in; or, because of how they might have ended up.?”
“I’m glad no one was killed. However, one particular person ended up in prison for a very long time.”
“And, were you instrumental in getting him out of there?”
“I was a contributing factor; but, I wasn’t the only one.”
“Dean says he foiled attacks using suicide bombings; and, the use of poisons against civilians. He was also able to hand plans to British intelligence of a device that was intended to be used for a chemical attack on the New York subway. In the event, Osama bin Laden’s deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, called off the attack,” Mr. Marshall wrote.
“They would have used chemical weapons if it wasn’t for al-Zawahiri saying, “no, don’t use it.”
“Because it was a cell that was seeking permission from al-Zawahiri saying: “We are in possession of this weapon, we know how to use it now, we know how to deliver it, and we have a target for you…it’s the New York subway, because we believe that the subway system…with all the ventilation mechanisms there will be a perfect vehicle for delivering the gas — and, dispersing it across a wide network.”
“And so, that’s where al Zawahiri said: “No don’t do it, because the retaliation could get out of control. ”
“He didn’t stop because he thought it was the wrong thing to do, to put gas on a subway?”
“He stopped it, because he was afraid of the ramifications.”
“So you got these important plans. Can you tell me where you got those plans from?”
“We’ll, I wouldn’t say, even if I was allowed to.”
“The fact that you got those plans through…suggests you had a high-degree of clearance in al Qaeda trust.”
“I think I was privy to these plans because I have a certain talent; and I [pretended I] wanted to use that talent for enabling these attacks. That’s why.”
“That’s what al Qaeda thought?”
“What was your talent?”
“I wouldn’t say.”
“Valued first by al Qaeda, and then British security and intelligence, Aimen Dean’s life undercover came to an abrupt end, when the [his] cover was blown. An American writer disclosed his identity, with details that could only be sourced through Dean. That was eight years ago.”:
Very interesting interview. I am sure that Mr. Dean is now a marked man. But, one thing of major significance was al Zawahiri’s refusal to authorize or endorse the use of chemical weapons. We often debated why terrorists had nor used a weapon of mass destruction….many, many, times; and, we never really knew why. Here, for the first time, we have clear evidence that al Qaeda’s top leadership refused to employ these kinds of weapons because, “the retaliation could get out of hand.” We need to always remember that; perhaps there is hope after all that, for the most part, these guys won’t use weapons of mass destruction. But, we can never, ever, really be sure, And, it certainly would seem that the Islamic State has no qualms about killing. They would love nothing ,more than to be able to detonate a tactical nuclear device here on the American homeland. V/R, RCP.