by Aimen Dean (Oneworld £18.99, 480 pp)
ABU al-ABBAS — slightly built, bespectacled and, at just 27, a veteran al-Qaeda terrorist who flitted between Afghanistan and Europe as a go-between for the murderous organisation — was on holiday in Paris between assignments.
Relaxing among tourists on a pleasure boat on the Seine, he heard his mobile phone buzz and saw an urgent message on the screen.
‘Brother, go into hiding,’ it read. ‘There is a spy among us.’
His blood ran cold. He knew full well that there was a spy in the organisation. It was him.
For almost eight nerve-shredding years, he had risked his life as an undercover agent for the British secret service, penetrating the ranks of al-Qaeda, from Osama bin Laden at the top, to sinister recruiting agents and rabble-rousers such as hook-handed Abu Hamza in the Finsbury Park Mosque in London.
Aimen Dean who once pledged his allegiance to Osama bin Laden (pictured hiding in Afghanistan in 2001) recalls the time he spent spying on al-Qaeda for the British Secret Services in a new book
Now, it looked as if his cover had been blown — outed in an act of crass stupidity by his presumed friends in the West.
The text message urged him to look at the website of Time magazine, where he found an article by a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist detailing how the CIA had been able to thwart a plot for a deadly poison-gas attack on the New York subway, thanks to an inside informant.
He was not named, as such, but enough of the story was true for al-Qaeda to put two and two together and identify him.
Not only was he done for as a spy, but his life was in serious danger.
He was swiftly in touch with his MI5 and MI6 minders and raced to London, where he was put in a safe house and given a new name.
But his days providing vital information about an organisation dedicated to bringing terror to the everyday lives of innocent people around the world were over.
It wasn’t his minders’ fault. They had shared with the Americans the secret information he had unearthed and someone in George W. Bush’s White House — bragging about how they were getting on top of the terror threat — had blabbed to a reporter.
It was a typical careless blunder in the West’s war against terror — another wasted opportunity.
Such cack-handedness — shooting ourselves in the foot, rather than the enemy — is, sadly, far too prevalent, according to Abu al-Abbas, writing under his new name of Aimen Dean in this frankly chilling memoir.
From the Iraq invasion onwards, too many armed interventions and retaliations have served merely as recruiting sergeants for jihadists in their holy war. Each time, more hearts and minds are lost, yet, argues al-Abbas/Dean, it is only by winning over the Muslim majority to a peaceful interpretation of their faith, rather than a violent one, that a resolution will be found.
The route he recommends is one he himself has taken.
Aimen (pictured) began secretly working for MI5 and MI6 from 1999 onwards after witnessing more than 200 people be killed at the hands of suicide bombers in 1998
Brought up in Saudi Arabia and schooled in the Koran, which he knew word for word, he started out as an extremist at the age of 16, committing himself to defending Muslim people from attack.
He fought in Bosnia and then went to Afghanistan, where he pledged his allegiance to Bin Laden in person.
However, he began to doubt the cause when he saw a psychopathic blood lust among some of his fellow fighters that was alien to his own reading of Islamic texts and his understanding of Islam as a compassionate faith. The slaughter of more than 200 people by suicide bombers in 1998 in an attack on the American embassy in Kenya was the final straw for him.
Such indiscriminate killing just wasn’t right.
How much money did Bin Laden leave in his will?
29 Millions of dollars left by Bin Laden in his will ‘to be spent on jihad
But it would have cost him his head to disclose his misgivings, so he chose to defect, slipping out of Afghanistan quietly.
He made contact with British intelligence and, from 1999 onwards, secretly worked for MI5 and MI6 as an undercover agent — one of just a handful actually operating inside Bin Laden’s organisation.
He had no trouble in infiltrating the radical Islamic community in Britain.
In the basement of the Finsbury Park Mosque, he met rows of impressionable young Muslims sleeping on the floor as they waited to be shipped as recruits to Afghanistan.
All the while, using the code name ‘Lawrence’ (after Lawrence of Arabia), he passed on information stored in his photographic memory — about routes, camps, personnel, bank accounts, networks and even Bin Laden’s private phone number.
It was all gold dust for the intelligence services as they struggled to play catch-up with a threat that, in those last years of the 20th century, they were only just beginning to comprehend.
NINE LIVES by Aimen Dean (Oneworld £18.99, 480 pp)
He visited mosques all over the country and was depressed when he saw young second and third-generation Muslims being seduced by the extremes of holy war and martyrdom.
He feared — rightly — that here was a ready-made supply of suicide bombers and felt that little was being done by politicians or the authorities to draw them away from their murderous intentions.
But other plots got through, such as the London bombings of 2005 that killed 52 people and injured more than 700.
He was still monitoring sinister activity — now more urgently than ever — when, the following year, that leaked disclosure in the American Press unmasked him and abruptly ended his undercover career.
A fatwa inevitably followed — any one of the faithful was licensed to kill him — and is apparently still in force.
He has gone to ground, now makes a living as an anti-terrorist consultant, has married and lives as quietly as he can.
He retains his faith, following what he calls ‘an Islam of private contemplation, spiritual reflection and study’.