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Aimen Dean, born Ali Al-Duranni, was MI6’s spy inside Al Qaeda from 1998 to 2006. In this episode I do a critical view of his autobiography Nine Lives: My Time as MI6’s Top Spy Inside Al Qaeda, and how Dean’s story connects to other people and events explored in this series. I analyse whether this story is actually true, and whether Dean has gone from being a spy for MI6 to being a propagandist, and whether MI6 deliberately contributed to the 9/11 ‘intelligence failure’.


If you’ve been watching the news for the last year and a half then you’ll probably be familiar with Aimen Dean because he has given a large number of interviews both before the publication of his book and since. The book was co-written with Paul Cruickshank and Tim Lister, two senior CNN reporters who have spent years specialising in hyping ludicrous terrorist schemes including the ‘liquid bomb plot’ and the ‘toner cartridge plot’. They also co-wrote the autobiography of Morten Storm, another spy inside Al Qaeda.

For those of you who haven’t heard of Aimen Dean or haven’t read his book, we’ll start with a summary. Ali Al-Duranni was born in Bahrain in 1978, the youngest of six brothers, but grew up in Saudi Arabia. When he was just four years old his father was killed in a random traffic accident, when Ali was supposed to be in the car with him. So he grew up in the care of his mother and several older brothers, but his mother died in 1991 when he was 13. As such, Ali had little contact with women, aside from his mother, for the first 25 years of his life.

While in Saudi he was a member of an Islamic study group where they talked about the Iranian revolution and the Soviet-Afghan war. One member of the group was particularly fundamentalist – he hated the Smurfs TV show because he believed it promoted witchcraft and was part of a Western campaign to subvert and destroy Islam. Likewise he believed that Pepsi stood for ‘Pay Every Penny to Save Israel’. Curious that Western fundamentalists have the exact same reactions to a lot of pop culture, calling it ‘cultural Marxism’ and claiming it’s part of a plan to destroy the West.

However, Dean was a soft drink addict – he talks about drinking Coke almost constantly throughout the narrative. Nonetheless he memorised the Koran, thanks to a photographic memory, and was a dedicated and devout Muslim. Much like Ramzi Yousef, he felt he had missed out on the Afghan jihad because he was born too late to take part in it, and so he was drawn into Al Qaeda largely due to his sense of having missed out on the action in Afghanistan.

He discovered one of his friends from the study group was going to Bosnia to fight in the war, so he tagged along despite being only 15 or 16. Stories of Serb atrocities against Bosnian Muslims were widespread, and were being used to recruit Muslims all the over the world to join the Bosnian jihad. So they flew to Europe, travelled through Croatia into Bosnia, getting a shuttle bus from Split to Zenica, which in the mid-90s was jihadi central.

Al-Duranni took the name Haydara al Bahraini and took part in the war and his account fits in with much of what we’ve already looked at. He talks of the Bosnian mujahideen being an ‘Islamic version of the International Brigade who fought in the Spanish Civil War’ and how he met lots of British and American converts to Islam, many of whom were members of the Blind Sheikh’s group. Al Bahraini reiterates the story that the mujahideen were somewhat mixed in with the Bosnian Muslim Army but were mostly reserved as ‘shock troops’ for especially dangerous missions.

Ali received training in various weapons and proved quite adept at handling mortars. Ali’s main role was tending to the injuried, including carrying the wounded and dying off hillsides with a war going on all around him. He also fought in the summer of 1995, leading up to the massacre at Srebrenica, firing off mortars at Serbs. When NATO started bombing Serb positions in late August 1995, Ali describes it as ‘far too little, far too late’.

I want to stop for a moment and take a diversion. Clearly, some of the mujahideen in Bosnia were totally unaware that a lot of the weapons, uniforms, medical supplies and communications equipment they were using had been provided by the Pentagon and the CIA. While some mujahideen were directly flown in by the Pentagon on ‘black flights’ – i.e. ones that weren’t logged and recorded in the usual way – most appear to have been international jihadis from here, there and everywhere who were totally unaware of NATO’s covert involvement. Indeed, Ali describes the 1995 bombing campaign as NATO’s attempt to stop the Serbs losing more territory, which is absolutely not what was going on.

While there is no doubt that atrocities were committed during the wars in Yugoslavia, the notion that it was all the evil Serbs is clearly untrue. For one thing, the president of Serbia, Slobadan Milosevic, was never convicted (in part due to dying on the eve of his trial, not unlike Anas Al Liby). For another, most of the atrocities committed by Serbs were the actions of Bosnian Serb forces led by Radovan Karadžić, the leader of the Bosnian Serb Republic of Srpska. Also, a great many events were exaggerated or simply fabricated in order to justify NATO’s intervention.

Among these were the Markale massacres, two bombardments of civilians in the marketplace in central Sarajevo. The first of these, in February 1994, was almost certainly carried out by Karadzic’s forces. The second, in August 1995, is more of a mystery. Initially blamed on Serbs, it was used as an excuse to begin the NATO bombing campaign just two days later. However, it is now fairly widely thought to have been carried out by Islamic fundamentalists, i.e. Bosnian mujahideen, in order to frame the Serbs and provoke the NATO intervention. A Top Secret CIA intelligence estimate from 1993 even predicted this, saying ‘The Muslims and remnants of government forces will be tempted to create violent incidents that could be blamed on the Serbs or the Croats.’

Despite this, the story Al-Bahraini tells fits in with the usual story put out by NATO countries – that NATO actually waited too long before intervening in Bosnia, and should have bombed and ethnically cleansed those people far earlier, to stop them being bombed or ethnically cleansed by anyone else, of course. Later in the book he praises Tony Blair for NATO’s bombing of Serbs in relation to Kosovo.

After nearly being blown up by landmines, Ali describes how his mujahideen brigade took prisoners – 250 Serbs. There was some debate about what to do with them – some favoured keeping them as a negotiating tool, others said they should be executed and as many as 100 were killed, mostly by beheadings.

He also talks about meeting several major Al Qaeda figures during his time in Bosnia, including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the supposed 9/11 mastermind, and Ramzi Binalshibh, who was an Al Qaeda facilitator in the late 1990s involved in the Embassy bombings, the Cole bombing, the Millenium Plot and 9/11.

Curiously, on the day the Dayton Accords were actually signed in Paris, the leader of Ali’s mujahideen brigade was killed. He was on his way to a meeting when he was ambushed, apparently by Croatian forces. This piqued my suspicion because one of the conditions in the Dayton Accords was that all foreign fighters would leave the Balkans. So I wonder whether this leader, Anwar Shaaban, was assassinated to help break up the Bosnian mujahideen now they’d served their purpose. After all, by this point the Croats and the Bosnians were fighting on the same side, against the Serbs, and were working alongside both British and American mercenaries. So it doesn’t make much sense for them to target a mujahideen leader unless the aim was to help destroy the Bosnian mujahideen.

In any case, after 14 months in Bosnia Ali left, initially going to Baku to work for a Saudi charity that was helping smuggle mujahideen into Chechnya. Ayman Zawahiri showed up, insisting he be taken to Chechnya. The first time he tried to get over the border Zawahiri was arrested by local police, who were bribed into letting him go. The second time he was picked up by the FSB and held for months before being released.

As Ali got bored of cooking the books for the Saudi charity, he decided to go the Al Qaeda camps in the Afghan-Pakistan border regions, so he departed for Peshawar and from there on to Darunta. The Darunta camps were run by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, a psychopathic warlord who had received the largest portion of the CIA assistance to the Afghan mujahideen. At this point Hekmatyar was fighting the Afghan Civil War against other mujahideen factions for control of Kabul.

En route to Darunta, Ali met Abu Zubaydah, who is an interesting character because of the contrasting reports about him. Some say he was Al Qaeda’s quartermaster, and he certainly functioned as a kind of gatekeeper for the training camps. He ran guest houses where mujahideen stayed on their way to the camps, but he never swore any oath of loyalty to Bin Laden, so exactly how involved he really was is difficult to judge.

When he arrived at Darunta, Ali took the name Abu Al Abbas al-Bahraini and began his Al Qaeda training, which was mostly done by Egyptians. He met Hekmatyar, Bin Laden, Abu Hafs al Masri and other senior Al Qaeda figures, and was involved in chemical weapons experiments. These were extremely crude – for example, they extracted nicotine from thousands of cigarettes and poisoned bunny rabbits with it to test its lethality. While you can kill people with pure nicotine, it isn’t the most sensible or sophisticated of poisons.

In 1997 Abu left Afghanistan for the Philippines, and joined the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, or MILF. He spent a few months there fighting in the jungles against government forces, before being injured with shrapnel. He describes this period of his life as ‘more like an episode of Lost than Homeland’. Abu realised that MILF had no ability to actually take over the government, despite their proclamations, and he had grown sick of jungle living. So he went back to Peshawar and back to the Al Qaeda camps.

In 1997 he pledged an oath of loyalty to Bin Laden, supposedly in the same room that KSM got the go-ahead for the 9/11 plot. Bin Laden asked him to help indoctrinate the Yemenis, because Abu had a very good knowledge of scripture (much better than Bin Laden’s). He also got involved in explosives training, and in developing methods for maximising the production of TATP, a peroxide-based explosive supposedly used in everything from 7/7 to the Manchester bombing. In late 1997 Abu became ill and was sent to Qatar for treatment, before returning to the Faruq camp in 1998. He was then sent to London to pick up a satellite phone for Abu Zubaydah, showing how the Al Qaeda leadership trusted him intimately.

Then the Embassy bombings happened, which changed everything. Watching the news footage from East Africa, Abu began to change his mind about the organisation he had joined. Not long afterwards, US missiles rained down on the Faruq camp, destroying it and killing most of the inhabitants. Abu only survived because he was in the toilet block at the time. In late 1998 Abu left the region to return to Qatar, where he was almost immediately picked up by local security. He started telling them everything he knew, and they suggested he get a job as a spy for Western intelligence.

Given the choice between the French, the British and the Americans, Abu chose the British and within days was meeting with his new handlers for MI5 and MI6. He provided them with details of people, leadership, organisational structure, bank accounts, travel routes, financing sources – everything he knew about. He was given the codename Lawrence, as in Lawrence of Arabia. While receiving treatment for ongoing medical problems in London he tapped into the local jihadi scene, most prominently Al Muhajiroun.

After around a year in London he returned to Afghanistan, just in time to hear about the Russian apartment bombings, which were privately being claimed by Al Qaeda. He met Abu Musab Al Zarqawi, who would go on to lead Al Qaeda in Iraq/The Islamic State of Iraq. Our guy then supposedly helps bring down the Millenium Plot, helps broker a deal with the Taliban to ensure no one attacked the Sydney Olympics, and escaped from an ISI jail with the help of MI6.

This takes us up to the summer of 2001 when, according to Abu, the camps were rife with predictions that ‘something big was about to happen’. In June 2001 he was sent back to the UK, carrying letters for Al Qaeda figures, telling them to scatter. He informed his handlers of all this, who basically do nothing. While Abu Qatada, the Jordanian cleric and leader of Al Muhajiroun was picked up after 9/11, they let him go apparently because they didn’t want to use Abu as a witness and reveal their spy.

So Abu goes back to Bahrain, where a plot involving the mubtakkar – a device he helped develop, designed to spread chemical or biological poisons – falls into his lap. The plot, which targeted the NY subway system, was apparently called off by Zarqawi due to fears it would help NATO’s case for the war in Iraq. While helping to bust up a similar plot in Bahrain a few months later, Abu collapsed, and woke up to find he was diabetic.

He goes back to the UK for treatment, and again plugs into the UK jihadi scene. He attended a speech in Dudley by Anwar al Awlaki, and helped break up a nicotine plot in the West Midlands which sounds more like Four Lions than anything serious. He continued spying for British intelligence until the summer of 2006, when he was essentially identified in a Time magazine article based on Ron Suskind’s book The One Percent Doctrine. While he wasn’t named in the article, there was enough detail that he could have been identified, so his career as a spy was over.

Is Aimen Dean’s Story True?

The biggest question I have about this story is whether it is true. One problem is that the book isn’t just Ali’s account of his own life – it frequently breaks off into discussion and analysis that was clearly written by his co-authors, who have a long history of hyping up nonsense terror plots. The book also contains a number of claims that are simply not true, but which fit into the preferred NATO narrative about the war on terror.

As I mentioned, one of these is the idea that NATO held back from the Bosnian war, that they stood back and let the atrocities happen when they should have been committing their own atrocities much earlier. This is total bullshit, it was NATO policy to break up Yugoslavia and they ignored their own arms embargo by covertly supplying both the Croatians and the Bosnian Muslim Army/Bosnian Mujahideen. NATO’s bombing campaign started at a time that was strategically useful to them.

Similarly, the fact that NATO countries were using mujahideen in a number of regions, from at least the 1970s onwards, is totally ignored. When the Soviet-Afghan war is first discussed it is only Saudi support that is mentioned, and the book contains only one reference to American support for the Afghan mujahideen. The role of numerous other countries is left out of the narrative entirely, as is NATO support for the Bosnian mujahideen. While Ali himself might be ignorant of these facts, there’s no way his co-authors have that excuse.

When it came to the African embassy bombings the book says, ‘The intelligence community had picked up no chatter, let alone actionable info about the plot’. As we looked at in the African embassy bombings episode, this is also total bullshit. The CIA and NSA were both monitoring Al Qaeda’s communications hub, a walk in source told them about the plot ahead of time, and the CIA’s special operations guy inside Al Qaeda – Ali Mohamed – was basically running the Kenyan part of the plot.

After Ali becomes a spy for MI6, we see more of the same. His handlers complain about the ‘Londonistan’ tag, when it was British intelligence who had some kind of relationship with Al Muhajiroun because they were helping recruit people to continue the fight against Serbia in the Balkans. As I explored way back in a very early episode of this podcast, British intelligence had at least a dozen spies inside Al Muhajiroun, and had meetings with all three of its leaders – Abu Hamza, Abu Qatada and Omar Bakri. The book even refers to Abu Hamza’s lawyers bringing up these contacts during one of his trials, though this information is relegated to a footnote and the book concludes, ‘nothing has come to light suggesting he ever wavered in his commitment to the broader jihadi cause’.

This maintains the ludicrous binary opposition, that Abu Hamza was either a committed jihadi leader or he was working with British intelligence, as though both cannot be true. Because Ali’s story is of a repentant jihadi, someone who was recruited as a spy because he lost faith in the jihadi ideology and cause, the notion that someone who was still committed could be an asset for British intelligence is unthinkable. That doesn’t make it any less true, of course.

The book also brings up the long-running talking point that British anti-terror laws weren’t tough enough, that they couldn’t do anything about Al Muhajiroun unless they were plotting to blew up a plane or whatever. Again, this simply isn’t true. Abu Hamza was arrested in 2004, and was eventually found guilty of stirring up racial hatred, contrary to the Public Order Act of 1986; of possessing a document likely to be useful to someone preparing an act of terrorism, contrary to the Terrorism Act of 2000; and of soliciting murder contrary to the Offences against the Person Act of 1861. Again, this narrative has been used to justify later counter-terrorism legislation, hardly any of which has actually been used against Al Muhajiroun members.

In another paragraph Ali complains about his meagre salary from MI6, and even bitches about people who were falsely imprisoned and tortured in GITMO getting millions of pounds from the British government. This is the one moment in the book where I started to wonder if this guy is simply a callous asshole. The notion that compensating victims of torture is something we should complain about is so lacking in basic human compassion that I wonder about Ali’s mental state. Nowhere does he criticise the torture of innocent people by the West. The only time he mentions it is to bitch about them getting compensated years later.

When it comes to 7/7 I’m also doubtful that Ali is telling the truth. He claims that at the meeting in Dudley where he heard a lecture by Anwar Al Awlaki, he unwittingly met three of the supposed 7/7 London bombers – Sidique Khan, Germaine Lindsay and Shehzad Tanweer. I have never heard this story before. I have seen it reported that the alleged bombers watched Awlaki’s lectures online and even transcribed some of them, but never that they travelled to Dudley in order to listen to the man speak.

It also seems like one convenience too far. According to Ali he met just about everyone you’ve ever heard of in the entire history of Al Qaeda. While it’s true that Al Qaeda itself never numbered more than a few hundred people, Ali is also claiming he met three of the four 7/7 bombers, who weren’t members of Al Qaeda. He didn’t meet them via his spying on Al Muhajiroun, but entirely by chance in a meeting in Dudley that has never been reported before?

And let’s face it, it would have been reported. After the bombings Ali was shown photos by his handlers and picked out the three men he says were at the Dudley meeting to listen to al Awlaki. So this was known to British intelligence within weeks of the attacks. But it is never mentioned in any intel reports or documents, it was never reported by the press (as far as I know). Given how big Awlaki became in the 2000s, when he replaced Bin Laden as the media’s terrorist of choice, this just doesn’t add up.

The book also claims, as with the embassy bombings, that ‘MI5 realised that several [of the 7/7 perps] had been on the edge of their radar screens but they’d not been seen as dangerous’. Again, this is total bullshit. MI5 had followed these men on multiple occasions, had surveillance video and audio of them, had their license plates, knew who they were meeting with, even tapped at least one of their phones. MI5 even ran a specific operation to identify and assess the men which supposedly didn’t put two and two together. But then, the operation was codenamed Downtempo, so it might as well have been called ‘Operation Don’t Bother’.

Bizarrely, Ali’s book even introduces another alleged mastermind behind the plot – Marwan Suri, a student of Al Qaeda explosives trainer Abu Khabab. There are so many problems with this claim that it’s difficult to know where to start. For one thing, he offers no evidence for this claim, it’s simply an assertion. For another, I’ve counted at least 6 supposed masterminds behind the 7/7 plot, none of which add up. For another, his co-authors wrote a piece claiming that Rashid Rauf, a Pakistani militant with ISI connections, was the mastermind behind the bombings, as well as being behind the non-existent ‘liquid bombs plot’. So, all of this fits in with the same lies MI5 and the British media have been telling about the 7/7 bombings since day one. All of this echoes the same bullshit we’ve heard and debunked a dozen times.

The book also repeatedly makes out like it’s the Pakistani ISI who are collaborating with Al Qaeda and other Islamic extremists. This is true, but it’s the same convenient limited hangout horseshit that became very popular in the Obama years. Of course those brown governments, they might be colluding with terrorists. But our pristine, white Western governments, oh no, they’d never do anything like that. Even though it’s our pristine white supremacist CIA who basically fund the ISI.

All of which leads me to ask – is this book a piece of MI6 propaganda? Is Ali still working for MI6, but now his role is to sell a carefully sanitised version of the history of Al Qaeda? Because if he isn’t, then all of these flagrant violations of the truth are hard to explain. One possibility is that he made up the story, or MI6 made it up and employed him to tell it. He claims to have met all these Al Qaeda royalty, as well as numerous ground-level operatives, which would be a risky lie except that almost all of these people are now dead. So corroboration is difficult to come by, and proving that the overall story is a lie is impossible. Nonetheless, I have a creeping suspicion that Ali is a psychopathic conman, and not the innocent boy who was led astray by the jihad that he now paints himself as.

The Intelligence Failures

Indeed, Ali frequently suggests that some of his friends who joined Al Qaeda were psychopaths, one in particular who beheaded one of the captured Croatian fighters in Bosnia. He describes Al Qaeda as ‘awakening the psychopaths’ within its recruits, rather than being a religious fundamentalist terror gang.

So is Aimen Dean a psychopath? In interviews he comes across quite cold, and there are few moments throughout this story where he seems morally perturbed or emotionally upset. And yet this is a guy who, if his story is to be believed, was pulling bodies off hillsides in Bosnia and firing mortars at people when he was just 16. At one point in the story his MI6 handler tries to explain to him that this stuff will have messed him up, and offers him empathy. But there’s no description of Ali feeling gratitude. Indeed, the book is almost entirely bereft of human emotion, apart from the initial part of the story where he’s often excited by these adventures. He never describes being frightened due to the danger he’s in, and yet he finds the time to bitch about torture victims getting compensation.

As I say, I do wonder about this guy, because if he’s a psychopath then there’s no reason to trust a word he says.

Another aspect to this story that interests me is how Ali was outed, which is entirely blamed on the Americans, specifically the Office of the Vice President, who at that time was Dick Cheney. The way the book tells it, this was happening at the same time as the Valerie Plame leak investigation, which also centred on Cheney’s office. Exactly why they would have leaked his name to a journalist at that moment in time isn’t clear, but it reminded me of something I explored in my first 7/7 documentary.

Mohammed Naeem Noor Khan was an Al Qaeda computer expert who was arrested in July 2004, as part of the ‘Financial buildings plot’. Following his arrest he agreed to work with the authorities, and continued to communicate with Al Qaeda members as part of a sting operation. But the White House almost immediately leaked his name to the press, and hyped up the threat against US financial buildings. They acted like this was an imminent attack, foiled due to the President’s leadership. In reality the information was several years old, the plotters had no ability to carry out the attack, and the White House had just outed a highly useful informant. It appears they did this to give the President a boost going into the 2004 Presidential election, but it forced the British authorities into arresting people connected to Noor Khan in case they read in the newspaper that he was now an informant.

Given that we’re constantly told how difficult it is to get human intelligence assets inside terror networks, the decision to leak Noor Khan’s name makes no sense. Likewise, the decision to leak Aimen Dean’s story. If the US were truly, genuinely trying to fight Al Qaeda in the years after 9/11 then neither of these decisions would have been taken.

But there is something even bigger than that, which bothers me a lot more. According to the book Ali came back to the UK in June 2001, having heard in the camps that something very big was about to happen. He told his handlers, who responded ‘We’ll see what else, if anything, is being picked up and of course raise this with our colleagues across the pond’. He was told to deliver the letters telling London’s jihadis to scatter, so he could monitor their reactions. But the book only says he met with one of them, and he said he would tell the others.

Then, nothing happens. The next we know Ali is walking down Oxford Street on September 11th and notices a crowd watching TV in a Dixons’ window display. Obviously, it’s the World Trade Center and Ali claims to have known instantly that it was Al Qaeda.

Again, there are so many problems with this it is difficult to know where to begin. Firstly, how could Ali have possibly known straight away that it was Al Qaeda if he had no foreknowledge of the attack? This sounds like a bullshit story, based on other people’s accounts of having been walking down Oxford Street and watching the attacks through a shop window.

More importantly, why the fuck didn’t MI6 send him back to the camps in Afghanistan? The way Jon Kiriakou tells it, in the summer of 2001 the CIA was going batshit. Their head of counterterrorism Cofer Black was asking any Middle Eastern intelligence service he could find if they had any assets inside Al Qaeda or close to Al Qaeda. Tom Wilshere was sending emails saying that something very big and very bad was about to happen, and that he thought it would involve Khalid Al Mihdhar.

And we’re supposed to believe that British intelligence get in touch with the CIA and tell them their informant inside Al Qaeda has told them something very big is about to go down and the CIA didn’t tell them to get their man back inside the group as soon as possible? Or that MI6 wouldn’t figure out for themselves that the most important, most vital thing they could possibly do, was send Ali back to Afghanistan to try to find out more specific information?

Are you fucking kidding me? According to the book Ali returned to the UK in June 2001, leaving the whole of July, August and the start of September for him to get back to Afghanistan and try to get something specific. He claims that Abu Hafs Al Masri a.k.a. Mohammed Atef – an Egyptian who was Al Qaeda’s military leader – told him to not come back, to stay in England, and this is why he couldn’t go back to Afghanistan. Apparently his handlers agreed it would arouse suspicion. But Ali had spent the previous three years working for MI6, going from country to country, sometimes dropping in on the camps for a while without needing permission, before disappearing for medical treatment or to get his glasses fixed or whatever. He describes the camps as being ‘like a luggage carousel’.

Furthermore, even if this is true and they did think it might arouse suspicion – why not risk it anyway? Why not come up with a cover story and at least try to get some more information? Instead he hung around in London for over a year, not doing an awful lot. In the wake of the biggest terrorist attack in history, MI6 had their best spy inside Al Qaeda just sitting around counting the birds flying past the window.

It’s ludicrous. Not only that they didn’t send him back to Afghanistan in the summer of 2001, but that they didn’t send him back inside the jihadi scene for more than a year. And when they did, there was apparently no suspicion about where he’d been or who he’d been talking to, and the first mubtakkar plot just falls straight into his lap as soon as he goes back to Bahrain. So this notion of jihadis being really suspicious about possible spies and informers is clearly inaccurate, again begging the question of why he spent the most important year of the entire war on terror sat around in London doing sod all of any significance.

Indeed, if he is at such risk of being attacked by the jihadists he betrayed, or their sons, brothers, cousins and so on, why is he now out in public giving interviews? This has happened before, with both Reda Hassaine and Omar Nasiri, and a few years later Morten Storm as well. So it isn’t unheard of, but it shows that these groups don’t have the global reach that the news media love to claim that they have.

As such, I think there are serious reasons to doubt Aimen Dean’s story. While parts of it may well be true, the whole thing feels like a carefully constructed revelation designed to shore up a NATO-friendly narrative. Key sections, such as around the time of the 9/11 attacks, make no sense, and Aimen himself comes across as very cold-blooded and certainly the sort of guy who would lie about these things in order to make money and get famous.