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SMALL MAN WHO FOOLED THE WEST

Architect Of Global Jihad: the Life of al Qaida Strategist Abu Mus’ab al-Suri By Brynjar Lia, Hurst, Rs 695

Books are written with target readers in mind. It is not known which kind of readers Brynjar Lia had in mind when he wrote the book under review. As the subtitle indicates, it is about al Qaida and one of its important strategists. Thus we not only get to know about the terrorist organization but also get a biography in the bargain. Till recently the world knew nothing about Abu Mus’ab al-Suri except that the US government had declared a reward of $5 million on his head. Who is this man who has suddenly acquired a larger-than-life image? He is also called Mustafa bin Abd al-Qadir Sitt Maryam, and has enough aliases to turn one’s head. The book tells us that he was born in the city of Aleppo in Syria in 1958, to a noble family with a religious background. Not much is known about his early life except that he abandoned his studies at Aleppo University to join Syria ’s Islamist opposition. “Henceforth his life was inextricably tied to the armed struggle against the Syrian regime, and subsequently against all corrupt and oppressive Muslim rulers and their Western backers. This inaugurated his life as a jihadi,” writes Lia.

Lia begins by telling us about the different sources that he used to unearth the life of this extraordinary man who has been referred to as ‘James Bond’ by fellow jihadis and as “the most dangerous terrorist you’ve never heard of” by CNN. Al Suri is a short man, with red hair and Caucasian features. The last helped him escape the notice of the authorities when he lived in Spain and London. But not for very long. Soon, he became the most sought after man for the police in the West.

The book is not strictly a biography. Lia’s intention is to concentrate on al-Suri’s deeds as a jihadi. As far as the jihadi life is concerned, Lia pays more attention to his written works and lectures rather than to his activities in different countries. Afghanistan occupies a lot of space, for al-Suri considered this country under Taliban rule to be the ideal Islamic Emirate. We come to know about his disagreements with bin Laden, but hardly anything more about the man. Al-Suri is also presented as a strategist, who wrote and lectured about jihad more than he put his ideas into practice.

It seems that Lia wanted to provide information just as a government agency would. Although he sets out to present al-Suri as a ‘global jihadi’, Lia’s real intention surely is to portray the man as a terrorist. The Western media reported in November 2005 that al-Suri had been captured in Quetta, by the Pakistani security services. But the timing of his capture is also mysterious, the jihadi sources claiming that he was arrested much earlier.

The book may be treated as a pioneering work on al Qaida and one of its best strategists. It can help government agencies of different countries to combat terrorism more effectively. But will it find a similar reception among the reading public?

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