Wielding astonishing original research, including interviews with several of Osama bin Laden's wives and children, Clark and Levy offer an insight into the dynamics of jihadism—and the roles of Iran and Pakistan in promoting itby David Tonge / June 26, 2017 / Leave a comment
The Exile: The Stunning Inside Story of Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda in Flight, by Cathy Scott-Clark and Adrian Levy, Bloomsbury, £22.50
“Osama bin Laden in flight”—the mawkish subtitle may make you pause. But one look at the book’s 65 pages of notes and you’ll overcome that. The range of people interviewed by Cathy Scott-Clark and Adrian Levy, authors of The Exile is stunning. Presidents, generals and diplomats, spies and counter-spies, leaders of al-Qaeda and of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency (ISI), CIA officers and torturers, and many of Osama Bin Laden’s five wives and 21 children. The results have been combined with the reports, scoops and leaks which have emerged over the past decade. The result is an egregious family tale. Far more, it is an insight into the dynamics of jihadism—and the roles of Iran and Pakistan in promoting it.
In 2001, Iran had provided targeting details on al-Qaeda and the Taliban to the US, had helped Washington’s candidate, Hamid Karzai, become President of Afghanistan, and was negotiating to transfer Afghan warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar to Afghan government control. Then President George Bush denounced the country as part of his “Axis of Evil.” As the authors explain, that prompted the hard-liners in Tehran to decide that al-Qaeda should be treated as a potential asset and to offer a haven for its senior members.
The Quds Force of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, the body handling Iran’s covert foreign policy interests, gave refuge to them—and also to members of bin Laden’s family. In 2003, Iranian modernisers decided to offer these guests to Washington. They were curtly rejected. The Exile describes how the reclusive Major General Qassem Suleimani, head of the Quds Force, held four members of al-Qaeda’s military council for a decade, before eventually setting them loose to fight Islamic State in Syria. The authors argue that Ayman al-Zawahiri, who took over command of al-Qaeda after bin Laden was killed in 2011, still operates from Iran.
The Exile makes clear the strength of Iran’s state within a state. By contrast, the authors’ description of Pakistan makes one hesitate even to describe it as a state. Islamabad has lost control of large parts of the…