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Guarding bin Laden: My Life in al-Qaeda

In Guarding bin Laden: My Life in al-Qaeda, published 22 June, Nasser al-Bahri, who was Osama bin Laden's personal bodyguard 1996 - 2001, gives a dramatic account of  daily life in the terror group's secret HQ and training camps. He also reveals how he gradually became disenchanted with violent extremism, falling out with bin Laden and eventually leaving the organization shortly before 9/11.

London, UK, 10 June 2013

 

Nasser al-Bahri decided to tell his story, considering himself a witness to history and in the hope that his first-hand account of a life of extremism, violence and eventual repentance, might dissuade other young men from jihad.

 

Al-Bahri's journey to extremism began in his teens when he was radicalized in Saudi Arabia. Headstrong and angered by American intervention in the first Gulf War, he determined to 'die a martyr' and went in search of jihad against the West; first in Bosnia, then Somalia and, eventually, Afghanistan where he fell in with al-Qaeda and the Taliban. Osama bin Laden was quick to spot the young Bahri's intelligence and spirit, rapidly promoting him to his personal security detail. The two men became close and al-Bahri describes bin Laden's domestic life, with four wives and a rapidly expanding family, as well as his relationships with the other leaders, such as Ayman al-Zawahiri.

Al-Bahri's first doubts arose when he was instructed to cold-bloodedly murder a colleague as 'practise' for killing an American soldier.

Arrested on his return to his native Yemen in Spring 2001, Bahri was interrogated by the FBI: 'A goldmine of highly important information,' said Ali Soufan, the FBI agent who interviewed him for several weeks.

For Michael Scheuer, former head of the CIA's 'bin Laden unit', Bahri was 'more important than any high-ranking prisoner we transferred to Guantanamo because he had direct access to bin Laden.'

Bahri's memoir, written in collaboration with the celebrated Figaro journalist, Georges Malbrunot, who was himself held hostage by al-Qaeda in Iraq, was originally published in French in 2010 by Michel Lafon (as Dans l'Ombre de ben Laden) and received excellent reviews. This is the first English translation.