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Nine Lives

My Time As MI6's Top Spy Inside al-Qaeda

By Aimen Dean with Paul Cruickshank and Tim Lister
16-minute read
Audio available
Nine Lives by Aimen Dean with Paul Cruickshank and Tim Lister

Nine Lives (2018) is the thrilling story of Aimen Dean, a double agent who worked for British intelligence from inside al-Qaeda at the turn of the millennium. Once a committed jihadi, he lost faith in al-Qaeda’s mission and turned informant.

  • People interested in the War on Terror
  • Memoir enthusiasts
  • Lovers of a good spy thriller

Aimen Dean was once a member of al-Qaeda who later spied on the organization for MI6. His coauthors Paul Cruickshank and Tim Lister are, respectively, CNN’s terrorism analyst and editor-in-chief of CTC Sentinel, and a British producer and reporter who has worked for the BBC and CNN. Cruickshank and Lister previously wrote Agent Storm with Morten Storm.

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Nine Lives

My Time As MI6's Top Spy Inside al-Qaeda

By Aimen Dean with Paul Cruickshank and Tim Lister
  • Read in 16 minutes
  • Audio & text available
  • Contains 10 key ideas
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Nine Lives by Aimen Dean with Paul Cruickshank and Tim Lister
Synopsis

Nine Lives (2018) is the thrilling story of Aimen Dean, a double agent who worked for British intelligence from inside al-Qaeda at the turn of the millennium. Once a committed jihadi, he lost faith in al-Qaeda’s mission and turned informant.

Key idea 1 of 10

Ali al-Durrani lost the first of his nine lives as a teenager in the Bosnian War.

Aimen Dean was in Dubai packing for his nephew’s wedding in Bahrain when the call came. It was the groom-to-be himself, but he was calling with bad news.

The Bahraini security services had been in touch: there was a plot against Aimen’s life. He couldn’t safely attend the wedding.

It was 2016 – eight years since Aimen had been uncovered as a spy working for British intelligence. But al-Qaeda had not forgotten. 

Why was Aimen still a marked man? His story begins in his childhood – back when he was Ali, not Aimen. His involvement with the Islamist cause started out in Bosnia, but eventually took him all around the world, from Afghanistan to the Philippines and eventually to the UK.

The key message here is: Ali al-Durrani lost the first of his nine lives as a teenager in the Bosnian War.

Born in 1978, Ali was the sixth Durrani child, much younger than his five brothers. Aged four, he lost his father in an accident, and when he was 12 his beloved mother died of an illness. Devastated, the intense and studious child, who had already memorized the Koran, found solace in a controversial religious text: In the Shade of the Qur’an, by Sayyid Qutb, the father of the modern jihadi movement.

Qutb was executed in 1966, becoming a martyr. He wrote that, in life, one’s words are unlit candles. They burst into light at the moment of martyrdom.

Ali was also taught anti-Western beliefs in religious study groups – although he didn’t always agree with them. He kept on drinking Coca-Cola and continued watching The Smurfs despite being told that it was a Western conspiracy. However, in most respects, he was a devoted student.

So nobody could stop Ali, just turned 16, traveling to Bosnia to defend his fellow Muslims from vicious Serbian attacks in 1994. He became a battlefield medic, treating injured soldiers and witnessing disturbing sights. At one point, he got his legs entangled in four landmines at once. His survival was a miracle.

Ali was not comfortable with all the violence he witnessed. He believed that executions should be swift, and civilians should be spared. Instead, he saw the opposite – as well as indiscriminate torture. He even watched his friend Khalid behead a Serb. But he couldn’t bring himself to do the same.

Yet he remained devout. Against the odds, Ali was still alive in Bosnia after a year. He wept – God had not made him a martyr.

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