London, Asharq Al-Awsat- In his new book entitled, ‘Inside the Jihad: My Life with Al Qaeda: A Spy’s Story,’ former member of Al Qaeda, Omar Nasiri, a pseudonym, tells readers how he served the French, British and German intelligence services whilst funneling messages from Al Qaeda leaders to European-based radical clerics. The ex-jihadist operative, now based in Germany relates his story on terrorism and intelligence in his new book that has recently gone on sale in the US.
“My name is not really Omar Nasiri. Members of my family in Morocco would be in danger if my real identity were known.” He continues, “I was brought up in Morocco and Europe. This story begins when Hakim, my oldest brother, became a devout Muslim and taught me to become one too. I lived with members of Al-Qaeda for years, although they didn’t call themselves that yet. I bought guns for them, which they stored in my mother’s house near Brussels and shipped all over the world. I smuggled their explosives into North Africa, where they were used in Algeria’s civil war. I knew their top leaders in Europe. These men lived in our house. Later, I went to Afghanistan, where I ate and slept and prayed with Al-Qaeda in the training camps for a year.”
It is rare to obtain an insider’s view of how the Al Qaeda network evolved. Nasiri trained in Bin Laden’s camps in Jalalabad before he was sent back to London. He stated that he served for a number of years as an operative for the European intelligence services and as an Al Qaeda militant. He spent some of this time in Britain.
Nasiri writes of his experience with Al Qaeda members, “I became a mujahid, mastering almost every kind of weapon, from Kalashnikovs to anti-aircraft missiles. I learnt how to drive a tank, and how to blow one up. I learnt how to lay a minefield, and how to throw a grenade to inflict maximum damage. I learnt how to fight in cities, how to stage assassinations and kidnappings, how to resist torture. I learnt how to kill with my hands.”
Nasiri’s statements present a rare insight into how Al Qaeda was more superior in organization, cohesion and determination in the nineties than what intelligence agencies had believed.
‘Inside the Jihad’, published by C. Hurst & Co, begins in the mid-nineties in Belgium after Nasiri’s brother joined a group of Algerian Islamists.
Nasiri claims that he had been with Al Qaeda leader Ibn Sheikh al Libbi before he was detained by the Americans, confirming that Ibn Sheikh al Libbi had provided false information in order for the Americans to believe that Saddam Hussein had nuclear weapons in Iraq and that Al Qaeda was working to gain possession of those weapons.
He maintained that in Afghanistan, he learnt how to use various weapons and make explosives, met most of the Al Qaeda leaders and relayed messages between them and key Muslim figures in Europe. The Moroccan jihadist said that at a later stage, he began to cooperate with European intelligence services, pointing out that he felt guilty for working as a spy, yet he felt that he had no choice. “People who read the book might conclude that I’m either a pathological liar or a cynical calculator. I’m neither. There’s no difference between me and every other Muslim.”
In a separate chapter entitled ‘Abu Hamza’, the former double agent revealed that the radical cleric Abu Hamza al Masri lost both his hands whilst learning how to prepare explosives in Afghanistan and not whilst planting mines during the battles against the Russians as he claims.
Abu Hamza al Masri, the controversial cleric who was the former Imam of Finsbury Park Mosque in north London is serving a seven-year sentence after being convicted of incitement to murder and intent to stir up racial hatred at the mosque where he preached.
The Germany-based former jihadist operative recounted that Abu Hamza did not pay full attention during a lesson on preparing nitroglycerin explosives, which ultimately led to the loss of his hands and his left eye. Nasiri stated that Abu Hamza al Masri, whom he met at Finsbury Park Mosque, asked him “not to share that story with anyone.” Finsbury Park Mosque was also frequented by a number of individuals detained for terrorism-related charges, including Zacarias Moussaoui, who is detained in the US, convicted of involvement in the 9/11 attacks, and London-born Richard Reid, who is serving life imprisonment in the US, convicted of attempting to blow up an airplane over the Atlantic in 2001.
In his book, Nasiri quoted Asadullah, an Al Qaeda explosives expert, as saying that during one of the lessons, “one of the brothers wasn’t paying attention. He let the materials get hotter than he should have. There was a sink full of ice right next to the trainee, and he should have poured the materials on that to cool it down. But instead he rushed towards the door with the liquid timebomb in his hands. Just as he got outside, the mixture exploded. It blew both his hands straight off and destroyed one of his eyes.”
A few months earlier, Nasiri listened to Ibn Sheikh al Libbi responding to a question put forward by a trainee at one of the camps. He asked “what is the best country to carry out jihad?” Ibn Sheikh al Libbi, according to Nasiri answered, “First of all we need to bring a Muslim country under our protection once again. The weakest country today is Iraq.”
In an exclusive chapter, Nasiri talked about Abu Khabab, an Al Qaeda explosives expert also known as Midhat Mursi al Sayid Umar, 52, who was killed in a US raid as he was preparing for celebrations before his marriage to a 30-year-old widow of a mujahid in January 2006. Nasiri revealed that Abu Khabab was the mastermind behind the 1995 bombing of the Egyptian embassy in Islamabad.
Nasiri further claimed in his book that the trainees at the infamous Al Qaeda camps in Derunta and Khalden fired bullets and shouted “Allahu Akbar” when the news broke regarding the bombing the Egyptian embassy. He added that it was the first time he saw Abu Khabab al Masri in the Derunta camp. He was surrounded by bodyguards and wore a black turban, rather than a Pakul like other Afghans and Arabs in the camp. Nasiri later discovered that Abu Khabab personally oversaw the selection of bombers from Derunta to blow up the Egyptian embassy in Islamabad. He pointed out that only later did he know that Abu Khabab was the bomb maker of the Al Qaeda network. There is information that suggests that Abu Khabab joined Al Qaeda in the mid-nineties and became the network’s third man, after Bin Laden and al Zawahiri. Nasiri also indicated that Abu Khabab trained in the same camp as Ahmad Ressam, known as ‘The Millenium Bomber’, a radical Algerian and assumed member of Al Qaeda who was convicted for plotting to bomb Los Angeles Airport in 1999. He also indicated that Abu Khabab trained Richard Reid, the shoe bomber and Zacarias Moussaoui.
Meanwhile, the French intelligence services came to know about the training camps in Afghanistan and wanted Nasiri to verify the matter.
“My mission,” Nasiri says, “was to find the route of jihad through Pakistan and Afghanistan… No leads, no names, no address, nothing.” Through a series of contacts, Nasiri made his way to Peshawar, where he met the Al Qaeda operation’s leader Abu Zubaydah, whom Nasiri would have to come across to gain access to the training camps. Abu Zubaydah was arrested shortly after the attacks of 9/11 and was recently transferred to Guantanamo from a US secret prison.
Nasiri’s first stop was Khalden, one of the most prominent Al Qaeda training camps. Among those present were Mohammed Atta, believed to be leader of the group that carried out the September 11 attacks, and Richard Reid.
Nasiri described how the trainees in the camps would receive extensive and intensive military training that was mostly based on the training manuals used by the Special Forces in the UK and the US. The training included methods of assassination and hostage-taking. Religion was also an important element of training in those camps and was given as much as attention as military training if not more.
Nasiri mentioned that the trainees in the camps were taught how to withstand interrogation and provide misleading information. He cited the example of Ibn Sheikh al Libbi, one of his camp instructors, whom Nasiri claimed gave false evidence of ties between Al Qaeda and Iraq when he was caught by the Americans. Nasiri was sent to Derunta after attending Khalden where training focused on how to execute operations and where trainees learnt how to make bombs and explosives.
Nasiri claims in his book that he watched experiments take place testing chemical weapons, including gases and poisons, on rabbits, and this is evidence of an organized program for weapons of mass destruction much earlier than what was later reported in the news. Having completed his training, Abu Zubaydah sent Nasiri to Europe to set up a sleeper cell and to keep in contact with him. “He asked me to return … and to begin listing all targets,” Nasiri said. Thousands, and perhaps tens of thousands, graduated from Al Qaeda’s training camps in the nineties. The spread of this ideology also left a permanent legacy that is just as extreme and dangerous.
On how he was trained and the extent of such training, Nasiri wrote, “As a trainee mujahid I had learnt some basic things, such as how to set off an explosive using a watch or a mobile phone. But with Asadullah we used complicated mathematics and chemistry, and the work required intense concentration. We learnt to make every explosive from scratch: black powder, dynamite, Semtex, nitroglycerine, and so on. We learnt how to construct each of these from everyday products: corn syrup, hair dye, lemons, pencils, sugar, coffee, Epsom salts, mothballs, batteries, matches, paint, cleaning products, bleach, brake fluid, fertilizer, sand — even my own urine..”
Nasiri continued, “We needed to know what to do instinctively. So we rehearsed the formulas over and over again until we could repeat them in our sleep. Asadullah gave us a test to make sure we knew it. There was no joking around in his class. Any one of us could have killed the entire group with a small mistake.”
At another point in the book, Nasiri talked about Ahmad Said Khadr, the financier of Al Qaeda who was reported to have financed the bombing of the Egyptian embassy in Islamabad from the donations he received in Canada where he lived. Nasiri stated that Khadr was among those who had close personal ties with Osama Bin Laden. Ahmad Said Khadr, nicknamed “al Kanadi, (the Canadian) was killed in October 2003 in Pakistan’s border province of Waziristan. He was with his son Karim at the time. Nasiri stated that he personally saw Ahmad Said Khadr going into the explosives laboratory in Khalden camp with Ibn Sheikh al Libbi, who is now detained by the Americans. At that time, Ibn Sheikh was the Khalden camp commander.
In a separate chapter entitled “Catching the Big Fish,” Nasri writes that his initial task “was to find exiled members of the Groupe Islamique Armée (GIA), which was engaged in a civil war in Algeria. Outside the mosque in Regent’s Park I bought Al-Ansar, the GIA newspaper, which invited its readers to a conference to hear a sheikh named Abu Qatadah.”
Nasiri continues, “Qatadah turned out to be in his thirties with a large belly. He was dressed like an Afghan, although I could tell he wasn’t one. The clothes were a political statement — he was demonstrating his allegiance to the land of jihad. He had a kind of aura and was highly intelligent. When I listened to him talk about armed jihad a few nights later at a place called the Four Feathers youth centre, a large brick building near Regent’s Park, my mind flashed back. He was speaking almost identical language to that I had heard in the camps. He said over and over again that the life of a mujahid was the highest calling for any Muslim. I returned to the Four Feathers frequently. It was clear there were a number of extremists there. I noticed all the signs: the way these men moved their lips in constant, silent prayer, the way they kept their eyes trained on the ground in front of them, the way their trousers always hung just above the ankles, the way some of them walked. It was the same light step I had seen and learnt in the camps. I noticed the tranquil voices, the calm, steely eyes and the dark circles beneath them.”
In ‘Inside the Jihad’, Nasiri says, “When I said goodbye to Abu Zubaydah in his safe house in Peshawar, the Pakistani border town, he gave me his two mobile phone numbers, the number of his bank account and a radio frequency. I was to stay in touch and send back money once I had a job.”
At another point Nasiri states, “One day Daniel gave me a mobile phone. “Don’t lose this,” he said. “I mean it, you really have to be careful with this. Don’t leave it anywhere. Make sure you have it with you all the time, okay? If it breaks, bring it back to me, okay? Don’t take it into an electronics shop or anything like that.” He and Gilles were impressed when I used it to call Zubaydah, but they looked shocked when I said needed some money to send to him. “What do you mean?” Daniel asked. I explained that I was expected to send money back to support the jihad. It was one of the reasons they had sent me to Europe. “We can’t send money to these people,” Daniel said as Gilles nodded in agreement. “It’s not legal.” “Well, how do you expect me to keep my cover then?” I demanded. “I just told them that I’m living in London and that I have a mobile phone. Of course they think I’m going to send them money.” Daniel and Gilles looked at me silently and then at each other.”