Updated 8:25 a.m. October 18 with the video of Awlaki and “Aminah” released by Jyllands-Posten.
Morten Storm is either a serial liar or a former mole within al-Qaida for the CIA. And if Storm isn’t a serial liar, he just accused his handlers in U.S. and Danish intelligence of helping him arrange a marriage for Anwar al-Awlaki, the group’s notorious YouTube preacher, that would lead to the violent death of both husband and wife.
Storm’s wild claims have come in a series of interviews with Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten. His latest: serving as a matchmaker for his friend Awlaki. In 2009, Awlaki wanted a third wife, a “convert, a European Muslim.” But Storm, at that point already allegedly an informant for the West, saw an opportunity to get Awlaki a wife who would inadvertently lead the CIA to him, via a tracking device smuggled in her luggage. Once the two met, it would be a matter of time before a drone strike sealed their fate.
That was supposed to be what happened to a 23-year-old Croatian woman named “Aminah,” whom Storm found on Facebook. An al-Qaida sympathizer who frequented a pro-Awlaki Facebook group, she seemed perfectly expendable to Storm. “The idea was to find someone who shared [Awlaki’s] ideology and mentality,” Storm told the Danish paper, “so that both of them would be killed in an American drone attack.” That’s what would have happened, Storm claims, had the plan not abruptly fallen apart.
To be clear: Storm may not be telling the truth. Neither Danger Room nor other media have independently confirmed his story. The CIA declined to comment. Storm has also been accused of making the whole thing up to become famous. Jyllands-Posten reports Storm wants recognition for turning on al-Qaida. If Storm’s story is true, it would be a scandal in Denmark, which has a government that affirms it does not engage in “operations aimed at taking civilian lives.”
To corroborate his claims, Storm provided the paper with video recordings of Awlaki and a woman alleged to be Aminah. He also provided e-mail correspondence he claimed was between him and Aminah, and encrypted e-mails he claimed were sent to him from Awlaki. Storm also provided what he claimed were messages exchanged between him and the CIA; and travel receipts for two purported visits with Aminah in Vienna.
One video clearly shows Awlaki. In it, the preacher addresses a person named “Aminah” and references an intermediary whom he calls a “trustworthy brother.” Then, Awlaki says, “I pray that Allah guides you … to choose what is better for you regarding this proposal.” In a video response allegedly sent by a woman identifying herself as Aminah, the woman says, “I just want to tell you right now I feel nervous and this is very awkward for me.” She adds that the video is so the viewer can see how she looks, and that “I will accept everything what is needed to do this way that I have chosen.”
What Aminah didn’t know is that Storm was paid $250,000 in cash by the CIA and its Danish counterpart, he claims. The agencies also allegedly provided more funds for Storm to meet Aminah in Vienna and for her to fly to Yemen to meet her would-be husband. In between, Storm says, the CIA provided luggage and a cosmetics case for her that were implanted with electronic tracking devices.
While arranging for Aminah to travel to Yemen, the CIA purportedly sent Storm a message: “We suggest you can use the Hook’s guidance as a reason to give the sister the suitcase and cosmetic case.” Awlaki was “the Hook,” and Aminah was “the sister.” Along with the bugged luggage, Storm said CIA agents in Vienna, Instanbul and Yemen tracked her plane trip to Yemen in June 2011. Awlaki reportedly advised Aminah to travel light, recommending she take not much more than warm-weather clothes, cash and “personal hygiene stuff.”
But things didn’t go according to plan when Aminah reached the Yemeni capital of Sanaa. Awlaki, seemingly concerned for his safety, reportedly told her to leave her things before the final leg of her journey, taking only what she could carry in a plastic bag. That excluded the bugged cosmetic case. But Aminah and Awlaki indeed wed before the September 2011 strike that killed the propagandist. Awlaki’s sudden burst of caution may have saved Aminah’s life from the drone strike that ultimately ended Awlaki’s.
Storm claims that Aminah is still in Yemen, allegedly working for Inspire, al-Qaida’s English-language webzine. She allegedly e-mailed Storm as recently as this spring, according to Jyllands-Posten, musing about how al-Qaida commanders are blocking her wish to carry out a suicide operation because of her gender. If Storm is telling the truth, Aminah has already come close to death, at the behest of her dead husband’s pursuers.
Spencer Ackerman contributed reporting for this piece.