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Experience: I made bombs for al-Qaida | Life and style

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I grew up in Saudi Arabia, the youngest of six brothers. By the time I was 13, I had lost both my parents: my father in a traffic accident and my mother to a brain aneurysm.

Not long after they died, in 1992, the Bosnian war began. The evening news detailed atrocities perpetrated against defenceless Muslims, and the papers praised the bravery of the Saudi men who went to fight alongside them. My eldest brother had lectured us on the importance of fighting in defence of Islam, and when I learned that a childhood friend had decided to join the Bosnian mujahideen, I felt someone was paving the way for me.

I found the training empowering. A few weeks earlier I’d been a bookish nerd living in a conservative police state. Now I was in a training camp, high in the mountains, holding my first AK-47. It was intoxicating. I became a committed jihadist – when we were shot at, the adrenaline would take over and I’d retaliate. Always, I was willing to die. In the back of my mind, was the thought: this could be the day I cross into eternal bliss.

I met al-Qaida’s Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who would go on to mastermind 9/11, at a wedding after the Bosnian war ended, where he spoke passionately about the need to rid the Muslim world of American influence. He persuaded me to begin training with them. Before the year was out I had met Osama bin Laden and sworn an oath of allegiance.

Still only 19, I was put to work training new recruits who often lacked even basic knowledge of Islamic theology and history. Many enrolled just to escape dire poverty in Yemen. Later, I made explosives and chemical and biological weapons. I was fascinated by the science, and pushed the potential consequences out of my mind. I thought these bombs were to be used on US military bases in the Middle East, and the possibility of civilian casualties never occurred to me.

When news of the bombing of two US embassies in east Africa reached us in 1998, it was a turning point – 200 innocent Africans killed just to get at 12 American diplomats. When I asked an al-Qaida leader how this had been justified, he mentioned a 700-year-old fatwa that excused the killing of civilians. I felt we were twisting our principles past breaking point. I no longer wanted to be part of it.

I used a planned health check-up as a pretext for travelling to Qatar. I had no intention of returning, and it was a relief when I was arrested on arrival for suspected terrorism offences. I confessed immediately to my al-Qaida involvement – as far as I was concerned, this was fate.

I was relocated to the UK for seven months of debriefings. During that time, many of my long-held beliefs were erased by the kindness I was shown. I had been trained to view westerners as animals, yet here I was having meals and lengthy discussions with decent people.

When I was asked to spy on behalf of MI5 and MI6, I agreed straight away. For the next eight years, I travelled regularly between London and Afghanistan: as far as al-Qaida were concerned, I was running money and equipment and helping them recruit in the UK. Instead, I would commit information to memory and smuggled back to MI6 the designs of a device to disperse deadly chemical agents.

I knew the risks, and had sleepless nights. But my time as a double agent didn’t end until 2006, when classified information about my work was leaked to journalists, and information that inadvertently blew my cover was published in Time magazine. I learned this while on holiday, when I got a text from an al-Qaida colleague saying, “There is a spy among us.” They hadn’t realised the spy was me.

Eventually, a fatwa was issued against me, and three years ago security services uncovered a plot to kidnap and murder me, hatched by a former al-Qaida ally. By that time I was married and my wife was five months’ pregnant. But I have no regrets about working for the west – I know planned attacks were foiled thanks to the intelligence I gathered, and many lives were saved.

I still live in the UK, and co-host a podcast using my experience to shine a light on the Middle East; I also work as a security consultant. I will never feel entirely safe, but I take what precautions I can.

As told to Chris Broughton

Do you have an experience to share? Email experience@theguardian.com



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Who said it – Trump or Bloomberg? Take our revealing quiz | Opinion

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Sign up for the Week in Patriarchy, a newsletter​ on feminism and sexism sent every Saturday.


Battle of the bigoted billionaires

Just a few minutes into Wednesday’s Democratic debate, Elizabeth Warren spectacularly threw down the gauntlet.

“I’d like to talk about who we’re running against,” the senator said. “A billionaire who calls women ‘fat broads’ and ‘horse-faced lesbians’. And no, I’m not talking about Donald Trump. I’m talking about Mayor Bloomberg.”

The comments Warren cited come from a 1990 booklet called The Portable Bloomberg: The Wit and Wisdom of Michael Bloomberg, which the businessman’s colleagues put together for his 48th birthday. An editor’s note by the Bloomberg company’s former chief marketing officer Elisabeth DeMarse reads: “Yes, these are all actual quotes. No, nothing has been embellished or exaggerated. And yes, some things were too outrageous to include.”

A few quotes that weren’t considered “too outrageous to include” in the booklet:

  • “If women wanted to be appreciated for their brains, they’d go to the library instead of to Bloomingdales.”

  • “What do I want? I want an exclusive, 10-year contract … And I want [oral sex] from Jane Fonda. Have you seen Jane Fonda? Not bad for 50.”

  • “I know for a fact that any self-respecting woman who walks past a construction site and doesn’t get a whistle will turn around and walk past again and again until she does get one.”

  • “The [British] Royal family – what a bunch of misfits – a gay, an architect, that horsey faced lesbian and a kid who gave up Koo Stark for some fat broad.”

  • Bloomberg computer terminals “will do everything, including give you [oral sex]. I guess that puts a lot of you girls out of business”.

  • On being asked to name a sport that doesn’t use balls: “Lesbian sex.”

Bloomberg’s alleged “Wit and Wisdom” has come back to haunt him throughout his political career. Whether the introduction to the 32-page booklet is correct and he actually said everything included in it is disputed. The Washington Post notes that “Bloomberg has given varying responses over the years when asked about some of the quotes … In 2001 his spokesman conceded ‘some of the things he might have said’ and Bloomberg apologized to ‘anyone that was offended by the comments’.”

More recently, Bloomberg’s spokesman told the Washington Post that “Mike simply did not say the things somebody wrote in this gag gift.” However, Bloomberg’s spokesman went on to admit that: “Mike openly admits that his words have not always aligned with his values and the way he has led his life and some of what he has said is disrespectful and wrong.”

“Disrespectful and wrong” is one way of putting it. “Sexist, racist, and Donald Trump-esque” is another. Putting aside the quotes in that booklet – as well as the incredibly crass things the former mayor is alleged to have said in the multiple lawsuits against Bloomberg LP – Bloomberg is indisputably on the record saying things that make it clear he is simply a richer version of Trump. Indeed, the two often sound virtually indistinguishable from each other. Take a look at this list of quotes, for example, and see if you can guess who said what. Bloomberg or Trump?

  • “I like theater, dining and chasing women. Let me put it this way: I am a single, straight billionaire in Manhattan. What do you think? It’s a wet dream.”

  • “There’s this enormous cohort of black and Latino males, age, let’s say, 16 to 25, that don’t have jobs, don’t have any prospects … don’t know how to behave in the workplace where they have to work collaboratively and collectively.”

  • “I think [the police] disproportionately stop whites too much and minorities too little.”

  • Obamacare is a “disgrace”.

  • Trans rights are about “some guy wearing a dress and whether he, she, or it can go to the locker room with their daughter”.

The answer? Bloomberg said it all. It beggars belief that this is the guy many in the Democratic establishment want us to see as a “moderate”. If he becomes the nominee, the Democratic party will have lost any claim it ever had to the moral high ground. It says a lot about America , and the Democratic party, that wanting universal healthcare appears to make you a “radical” communist but having a record of sexism and racism puts you firmly in the centre.

Free clothes for female candidates

Good news if rage at the current political situation has you itching to run for office: clothing company MM LaFleur is lending clothes to any woman running for public office at any level. The genius marketing scheme got Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s attention. “When I was running for office (even now!), accessing clothing for the job was a big challenge both logistically and financially,” the congresswoman wrote on Instagram.

Cambodia’s prime minister threatens female Facebook users

During a recent speech to the Cambodian National Council for Women, Hun Sen ordered authorities to take action against women wearing “revealing” clothing while selling products on Facebook Live streams. A spokesperson from Amnesty International said “The prime minister’s order to track down and ‘educate’ women represents a menacing application of the state’s surveillance apparatus to advance a discriminatory and patriarchal agenda.”

Why do men get away with killing women?

The number of women being killed by men in the UK is increasing and the conviction rate for rape is at an all-time low. “We must believe women when they say they fear for their lives,” Julie Bindel writes in the Guardian. “[W]omen die because there is a virtual amnesty on male violence.”

Do fans of digital porn stars hate real women?

According to a fascinating piece in Wired, “The fanbase of Projekt Melody – an anime camgirl and the next step in digital sexuality – may overlap with the more misogynistic corners of the internet.”

Gwyneth Paltrow hosted a ‘no makeup’ party

Paltrow called the party “a beautiful gathering in celebration of beauty just the way we come”.

Goop feminism at its finest.

Forget bra-burning, Victoria’s Secret is bra-binning

The embattled lingerie company has been criticised after hundreds of bras were found discarded in a bin near a closed branch in Colorado.

The week in poultry-archy

I regret to inform you that Kentucky Fried Chicken and Crocs, two of the most disgusting things ever created, have teamed up to create a shoe that looks and smells like fried chicken.



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