Terrorist bashing Inside Al Qaeda: How I Infiltrated the World's Deadliest Terrorist Organization by Mohamed Sifaoui (Granta), 154 pages, $16.95 paper. Rating: NNN
It seems that books about the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon began hitting bookstores just about the same time the planes hit the buildings. Since that horrible day, a cottage industry has grown up of publications on al Qaeda, Islamic terrorism and 9/11. A strange and unique addition to this terror trove is a thin book out of France called Inside Al Qaeda, boastfully subtitled How I Infiltrated The World's Deadliest Terrorist Organization.
Mohamed Sifaoui is one angry journalist. That's not surprising, since he lost a number of colleagues when Algerian terrorists blew up the offices of the newspaper he worked for in 1996. Since then, he's made it his journalistic mission to expose what he labels Islamic fascism.
From this account, all you need in order to infiltrate al Qaeda is a pseudonym and an interest in jihad. Sifaoui's entry into an al Qaeda cell begins when he meets a terrorist recruiter at the trial of Algerian militants linked to bombings in France.
Sifaoui asks the terrorist, "You're a Muslim, aren't you?" and in no time he's escorted into the heart of darkness.
It's obvious from the book that this French al Qaeda cell isn't made up of the sharpest knives in the drawer. Not only had Sifaoui appeared on French TV attacking Islamic extremism, but his picture was on the dust jacket of a book he'd just written on the topic.
For four months he travelled in the terrorist world. He secretly filmed his "brothers" as they made damaging statements supporting Osama bin Laden and terrorism in general, documenting how these fanatics showed a more benign face to the world while applauding murder when among their comrades.
Don't look for any qualms of conscience from the author about befriending and then betraying these men. Sifaoui makes it clear that he revels in his "hypocrisy." He also bristles at those leftists who he feels give Islamic terrorism a pass.
There are some glaring failures in the book. Sifaoui often abandons his story to preach at the reader, and his sanctimonious digressions become irritating after a while. And, unfortunately, the poor translation from the original French is plagued with grammatical errors from cover to cover.
Still, for an interesting psychological profile of both the terrorist and the journalist, this little book will do nicely.
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