Nasser al-Bahri was Osama bin Laden’s personal bodyguard from 1997 to 2001. In his memoir, Guarding bin Laden: My Life in al-Qaeda, published today for the first time in English, he describes how he became radicalized, defied his father and ran away to the Bosnian ‘jihad’ in search of ‘martyrdom’. Soon, he moved to Afghanistan where he fulfilled his dream of joining al-Qaeda; Osama bin Laden was quick to single him out to train for his own security detail.
Al-Bahri’s first doubts arose when he was instructed to cold-bloodedly murder a colleague as ‘practise’ for killing an American soldier.
London, UK, 22 June 2013
Later, he met the men who would carry out the 9/11 attacks…playing a video game which simulated flying a plane into towers. As the organization geared up for 9/11, tensions mounted and al-Bahri began to look for a way out. Married, and with a baby on the way, he had started to lose faith in violent extremism and longed for a ‘normal’ life.
After a row with bin Laden, al-Bahri abruptly left, with his family, for his native Yemen. On the FBI’s ‘most wanted’ list, he was arrested on arrival and interrogated by the bureau’s Ali Soufan who described him as ‘a gold mine of information’. After four years in jail, under threat of extradition to Guantanamo, he convinced Yemeni President Saleh, in a private interview, of his repentance.
Still wanted in 70 countries, al-Bahri is now a taxi driver in Sana’a, the only verified senior al-Qaeda leader at liberty to tell his story. ‘I was persuaded to write this book because I realize I am a witness to history,’ he says, ‘And because I hope that it will stop other young men from making the same mistakes as me and trying to join alQaeda’
For Michael Scheuer, former head of the CIA’s bin Laden unit, Bahri’s account of al-Qaeda is ‘more important than that of any high-ranking prisoner we transferred to Guantanamo’; he has given international intelligence services a clear picture of what they were dealing with in Afghanistan and what we may face again if – as many experts predict – al-Qaeda re-establishes itself in Syria and Iraq.
In vivid detail, Bahri describes every day life in al-Qaeda’s secret headquarters with its elaborate defences, strict hierarchy and organizational methods. He tells of battles and suicide bombings, spies in the camp and numerous assassination attempts on bin Laden.
On a more personal level, he discusses bin Laden’s personality and habits, his relationships with his four wives and his children, and his attitude to his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri – now al-Qaeda’s leader. Bahri also reveals how the Taliban and al-Qaeda became inextricably linked and were helped by Pakistan’s Army and Intelligence.
Guarding bin Laden: My Life in al-Qaeda was written with celebrated Figaro journalist, Georges Malbrunot. It was originally published in French in 2010 as Dans l’Ombre de ben Laden.
This is the first English translation, by Susan de Muth and is published by Thin Man Press, London.
Guarding bin Laden: My Life in al-Qaeda is available in paperback from Amazon priced £9.99/$14.95/ €12.99 and on Kindle and all e-book formats.