REVIEW: INSIDE AL QAEDA: How I infiltrated the World's deadliest
organisation. By Mohamed Sifaoui. Granta Books, London. 2003.
France as Mes "Freres" Assassins by Le Cherche Midi 2003.
Background: February 1996. A sun- drenched spring day in Algiers. A van
packed with 300 kg of TNT weaves slowly through the downtown traffic and
stops outside Soir d'Algerie newspaper office as Mohamed Sifaoui steps
onto the pavement outside the building. His colleague wants to share a
In a flash the office explodes into flames and the air plumes with black
smoke and is reduced to a pile of rubble, ashes and dust. Thirty
passers-by are dead and in the debris are the bodies of two of his
Pausing to hear the joke saved his life.
February 2000. Sifaoui is now living in Paris working as a journalist,
writer and documentary maker. Covering the trial of two Islamic
fundamentalists in Paris he meets Islamic terrorist Karim Bouta [Bourti] a
member of the Algerian terrorist group, the GSPC, The Salafist Group for
Preaching and Combat, which has pledged to Al Qaeda. Bouta is also
'covering ' the trials-for operational reasons.
Inside Al Qaeda revolves from that simple twist of fate. In diary form it
describes Sifaoiu's successful penetration of an Al Qaeda cell in Paris
from October 2002 to January 2003. The author, an Algerian born Muslim
common linguistic and cultural background to the terrorists, was able to
create a successful 'legend' and developed the operational skills to
recruit Bouta the key Paris-based Islamic recruiter, fund raiser for
jihad and the keeper of the safe house keys, as an access agent.
What do we learn? From an operational perspective the book offers valuable
insights into Islamic terrorist tradecraft but the real value of the book
is the author's phenomenological insights into the terrorist's
consciousness - a consciousness formed by taqiya.
Taqiya: Islamic deception and disinformation
The terrorists Sifaoui meets are immersed in taqiya. Taqiya informs their
worldview and their tradecraft and most importantly their relations with
non-Muslims. Taqiya permits hypocrisy and elevates it into a virtue.
The author provides a detailed example of taqiya:
'He [Boutri] displayed a hypocrisy which knew no bounds.. Islamists often
use dissimulation; one of their slogans is ' war is a ruse'..
We asked him a question about the risk of a terrorist attack on
France.Karim tried to reassure us: he told us there was no risk to
France. A few
minutes later we asked:
'Were you serious when you claimed that Bin Laden didn't intend to strike
France? Do you think he will or not?'
'Oh yes, of course he will. Do you think he is just fooling around? Shall
let you hear the latest recording by the Sheikh [OBL] broadcast on Al
'So that was all for the camera just now? Now I can tell when you are
telling the truth and when you are lying.'
He laughed: 'Ah, good! You know when I am telling the truth and when I m
lying you've worked me out.'. He laughed again.
Karim was once again demonstrating his double-speak.. What he actually
believed was always the exact opposite of what he reserved for the
infidels. The double speak, takiya, is what the Islamists call it, is a
use in times of 'jihad with the enemy'.
'The whole way through the film we made with him he unfailingly engaged in
this double-speak. The first discourse was intended for me, and captured
what was really in his heart, allowing a fascist, war-mongering
hate-filled side to appear, in which a negation of other people was constant.
second, intended for the 'infidels', was smoothed out with tolerance,
understanding and respect. Karim didn't infringe the rules followed by
Islamists the world over whether they are self proclaimed 'moderates' or
'radicals'. They all employ manipulation and 'twin-track' language. It is
what they call 'taqiya'.
Karim was demonstrating once again his double-speak, an activity at which
he excelled. What he actually believed was the exact opposite of what he
reserved for the infidels. The double-speak, taqiya as the Islamists call
it, is a technique used in times of jihad with 'the enemy'. Never
divulging your intentions or what you really think to a non-Muslim is the rule
all fundamentalists. That's how organisations or individuals which draw their
doctrine from hard core fundamentalism obligingly allow themselves to be
labelled with the qualified 'moderate' by naive Westerners who judge them
exclusively by what they say.. This western naivety has allowed
fundamentalist to pass themselves off as respectable characters'.
Terrorist television: Al Jazeera
The author recounts meeting Boutri and listens carefully as he recounts
the role of Al Jazeera:
'It's time for us to take action'. Karim told me.
'Take action? But are we supposed to do that?'
'Of course, the Sheikh [OBL] has given the order'.
'What? Are you in touch with Bin Laden?'
No. I'm not in touch with him but in the last recording of his which
appeared on Al Jazeera he asked us to take action.' And Karim began to
explain, in fact to decode the latest message from Bin Laden.these
recordings also serve to serve the functions of 'sending messages to cells
which identify with Al Qaeda's struggle'.
This information made me feel dizzy. Karim was apparently deciphering for
me a semi-coded message from Osama bin Laden. He didn't stop there but
supported his claim by citing concrete examples.
Walking with the terrorist Karim the author is greeted by the father of
one of the victims of a recent terrorist attack.
'That man lost his daughter', I said, searching his eyes for any hint of
'Who gives a damn about his daughter'? he responded with terrible
'Anyway she's not even worth a prayer because she's an infidel.'
On another occasion:
'You can help us in another way if you want'.
'If you have information on prominent Algerians.don't hesitate to tell
'Why? I replied, still keeping up with my naivetй.
With a fixed grin which was telling in itself, Karim gave me a response
which sent a chill down my spine.
'Why do you think? To get rid of them'.
A chilling current runs through his text. American Islamic leaders may
claim that Islam is a peaceful religion. Perhaps moderate Islam is a contrast
concept - but this book implicitly raises questions relating to the
so-called moderate Islam.
Is 'moderate Islam' an operational artefact - another example of taqiya -
in the same frame as the blackmail pseudo-concept of 'the Arab Street'? Is
Islam a notional religion or a power seeking political ideology in the
name of religion? Is it a form of fascism? Is Islam a new or old form of
anti-Semitism? Does the hatred of Israel by Arab regimes and throughout
the Middle East reflect the Prophet's teaching which existed hundreds of years
prior to the foundation of the State of Israel? Are the so-called
fundamentalists the real Muslims?
Inside Al Qaeda by Mohamed Sifaoui is essential reading for an existential
and operational understanding of Al Qaeda and Islamic terrorism. This book
of 154 pages could save lives and should not be merely read - but studied.
We are indebted to the author - a man of honour and distinction.