Morten Storm converted to Islam, and became friends with some of the top names of Jihad. Eventually, this man turned against his new faith and took on the very dangerous role of CIA agent. He then wrote a book about it on which the following is based.
Morten lived in Denmark. His father was an alcoholic who left the family when he was four, and when his mother remarried she married a brooding man who exploded into fits of violence. Morten himself was a difficult youth. He reduced teachers to tears, and was thrown out of school. At sixteen, his education was finished, but he joined up with a group branded the ‘Raiders” by local police because they roamed the town with Oakland Raiders hats. The Raiders were mainly Palestinians, Turks and Iranian Muslims. Their Muslim faith was worn lightly and they partied and drank and scored with as many girls as they could.
Morten was big and strong, defended his friends, got into various violent confrontations, and also developed a criminal record.
Then he joined the Bandidos – a biker gang. Denmark had thriving gangs, and the Bandidos were locked in a violent struggle with the Hell’s Angels. Across Scandinavia, the ‘Great Nordic Biker War’ had been raging, fueled by drugs from Southern Europe, with at least ten people murdered, and many seriously injured. Morten was in a cycle of drugs, gratuitous violence, and hardcore partying.
Then he abandoned this wild lifestyle.
After he converted to Islam, he ended up in Yemen, among fighters that he described as having a simple, intense loyalty.
There he met Anwar al-Awlaki, a jihadist leader in an area of Yemen were most people feared to go, including the government. Anwar al-Awlaki was a man who believed the end justified the means. The means to the glorious end involved killing civilians in Europe and America. Awlaki was born in New Mexico, and then at age seven returned to Yemen. He was a brilliant student, and won a full scholarship to study in the United States. He studied civil engineering in Colorado, and enjoyed fishing in the Rockies. He later spent time in San Diego and elsewhere. But at one point in Yemen he told Morten that the attacks on the U.S. homeland on 9/11 were justified.
It is interesting that in the austere desert of Yemen, these people worked for the purity and victory of Islam – and yet they were at home in the West as well.
Morten learned the details of Islam in an institute in Yemen among fellow students that included a Vietnam Veteran and converts from Britain, France, and Canada.
I should note that Morten did not convert to Islam to get a religiously sanctioned outlet for violent instincts. His conversion was not about Jihad; it was about spiritual discipline. Perhaps it was also about standing against injustice.
He says that he found this was what was driving many of the young men who studied with him.
They felt Muslims – and especially Arab Muslims – had been betrayed by their own leaders and exploited by the West. Dictators had robbed the people in a sea of corruption but had done nothing to help the Palestinians. The original religion had been corrupted by Western modes of thinking.
One Egyptian student asked
How can it be that the Custodian of the Two Holy Sites allows American troops to defile our lands?….They turn their back on Islam, allow alcohol, allow women to dress as prostitutes…
Morten went back to Europe, and ended up in Britain, where of his friends there he says
The new circle I had entered included plenty of angry young men looking to inflict revenge on the West for its persecution of Muslims. A few clearly had emotional or psychological issues, displaying wild mood swings or budding paranoia, but more were driven by an unshakable belief that they had found the true way to obey Allah.
Many of the militants had
difficult or violent childhoods, little education and few prospects; [were] unemployed, unmarried and seething with resentments.
This is interesting, because there is often a debate on what motivates acts of terror. Is it a criminal acting out his destructive instincts with a religious excuse? Is it a response to poverty and hopelessness? Is it belief? Belief is most definitely an ingredient; these people are serious about their religion. I speculate that perhaps the other factors may indirectly lead to belief, in some cases.
Jihad, to Morten, was a strictly defensive duty. He notes that the Koran said “Fight in the way of Allah against those who fight against you, but begin not hostilities. Lo! Allah loves not aggressors.” However, the line between defense and offense can get murky. As can the line between terrorism and fighting. One Saudi cleric said this:
When America attacked a pharmaceutical firm in Sudan, using its planes and bombs, destroying it and killing everybody in it, staff and labourers, what was this called? [Shouldn’t it be] ” considered as an act of terrorism?
Morten had a son with a Muslim wife in Yemen, and decided to name him after Osama bin Laden. He phoned Denmark and told his mother the name of her new grandson. She yelled into the phone “No, you cannot give him that name. Are you mad!”
Morten replied that “if that’s the case, no Western families can call their songs George or Tony. They are the ones who have declared war on Islam.”
Even worse, when three suicide bombers attacked the London underground train system (and a fourth attacked a bus), Morten felt the attack was justified – since “Brothers in Islam had struck fear into the hearts of the kuffar (infidel) and a blow at the financial heart of a state committed to war against Muslims.”
It is interesting that he had assumed in both cases that Islam was defending itself as opposed to engaging in aggression.
He also says of the American invasion of Iraq “There was an arrogance to the Americans’ war aims. They would make Iraq a beacon of democracy and the rest of the Arab would follow gracefully. Islam could take a running jump.”
That raises a question to me as well – did the American presence create jihadists? From the American point of view, the war was a preemptive defense against further terror. The events of 9/11 were fresh in American minds.
Luton, just north of London, had many Kashmiri immigrants whose children Morten described as having become
disaffected with mainstream British society and rejected their parents efforts at assimilation. They had turned to radical Islam, and the war in Iraq had added fuel to the fire.
Morten began leading groups of young British extremists to Barton Hills, a nature reserve north of Luton, where they conducted paramilitary exercises without weapons. “I loved being outdoors and so did my students. They got to play at being mujahideen for the day; shouts of ‘Allahu Akbar!” resounded through the forested hills.”
Extremists from as far away as Birmingham came to participate.
So what changed Morten Storm and took him from the holy path of Jihad back to the way of the infidel?
Oddly enough, it was a kind of roadblock. He was planning to join the Muslims in Somalia fighting against the Christian invader (Ethiopia) and had spent his remaining earnings on equipment for the fight. Then he received a phone call telling him it was too late – Ethiopians had surrounded the airport and were arresting all holy warriors who had come to fight.
This started Morten thinking. Why didn’t Allah let him go? And why had Allah let the Mujahideen lose yet again?
Dejection soon became anger, and anger began to ask some difficult questions. At every turn I had been stopped; every plan had disintegrated. I had spent a decade–what should have been the best years of my life–devoted to a cause, sacrificing my relationships ..And that cause now seemed so distant.
I sat in the darkened bedroom…my future seemed empty…I had sat in the library [when he first converted in Denmark], transfixed by the story of the Prophet’s battles against far greater forces in Mecca…
And then the unthinkable began to seep into my mind. Was my understanding of Islam flawed?…Or was Islam itself riddled with inconsistencies to which I had been blind?
I had already begun questioning the concept of predestination–Qadar–one of the articles of the faith….So what was the place of free will, where was the capacity to make a difference? It seemed that none of the scholars I had talked to could explain how Qadar fitted with the obligation of jihad, nor why Allah would create a man He had already condemned to hellfire.
Morten sat in front of laptop and impulsively typed “Contradictions in the Koran” and found more fuel for his doubts.
The whole construction of my faith was a house of cards…it had relied on a sense of momentum [ from becoming a Muslim to eventual Jihad].
“I also began to reconsider some of the justifications made for the murder and maiming of civilians…If they [the killings] were part of Allah’s preordained plan, I now wanted no part of it.
Morten’s whole worldview flipped. He started working for Western intelligence agencies against his former comrades.
So what can we learn from his story? First of all, the Jihadists are everywhere – in rural townships in Pennsylvania, in suburbs of London and in rundown neighborhoods of France and Belgium and Denmark and elsewhere. Secondly, that Islam does offer an appeal to the rudderless and lonely and purposeless people out there, as well as radicalized Muslim youth. The unfortunate fact is that the good parts of Islam that can bring a criminal to the straight and narrow path are swamped by the bad parts that convince him he must wage jihad on the unbeliever.
We can speculate that if Morten had embraced jihad just two years ago, the momentum would have been with him, and he might never have left the faith.
Islamic State has momentum and may not be stoppable at a price that Westerners are willing to pay, especially since it controls an area with big cities and millions of civilians. The fact that ISIS is in charge now of the schooling of the children of millions of Muslims also means that a large new generation of Jihadi holy warriors will take up their cause in the near future.
One Hadith that Morten quotes says this:
Allah’s Apostle (Mohammad) said, “I have been made victorious with terror.”
The prophet Mohammad was correct about this. He had some converts to his religion when he tried spreading it via peaceful persuasion, but it was after he embraced holy war that he spread Islam over vast territories.
This all leads to very depressing conclusions.
In the U.S. since the attacks in 2001 by 19 Muslims that killed almost 3000 people in a space of a few hours, the U.S. has resettled about 1.5 million immigrants from Muslim nations. Some 90 percent receive food stamps, and 70 percent are receiving free healthcare and cash welfare.
From the above, it is not hard to see that this is a recipe for disaster. We will have more alienated youth, searching for a purpose and finding it in Jihad. We will have terror plots that succeed, sometimes spectacularly.
The future may of course be full of surprises, but it does not look good right now.
Agent Storm – My Life Inside Al Qaeda and the CIA – by Morten Storm with Paul Cruickshank and Tim Lister