Aminah’s journey started in Croatia in the summer of 2010, as the young, blonde social worker boarded a Turkish Airlines flight. Her destination: Yemen and a man she had only met on the Internet but whom she believed to be the man of her dreams: the al Qaeda leader Anwar al-Awlaki.
What she didn’t know was that her contact with Awlaki had been facilitated by a double agent, working with the CIA and the Danish secret service known as PET, in the hope that she would lead them to Awlaki.
The American-born terror leader already had two wives in Yemen but had told the undercover agent, Morten Storm, that he wanted to take a third wife—a white, Muslim woman. Two months later, Storm came across a Facebook group expressing support for Awlaki. He posted a message, encouraging people to get in touch. Soon, he received an inquiry, asking if Storm knew Awlaki personally. Aminah explained that she had recently converted to Islam and was now interested in marrying a Muslim.
Storm passed her information onto Awlaki who, in mid-December 2009, wrote to Aminah.
“There are two things that I would like to stress,” Awlaki’s message read in part. “The first is that I do not live in a fixed location, therefore my living conditions vary widely. Sometimes I live in a tent. Second, I sometimes have to seclude myself which means me and my family would not meet with any persons. If you can live in difficult conditions, do not mind loneliness and can live with restrictions on your communications with others then that is great.”
Storm agreed to meet Aminah in Austria to make sure she was who she claimed to be. “Of course, we wouldn’t want her to go to Yemen if she was crazy,” says Storm.
In the spring of 2010, he went to Vienna, carrying an encrypted file with a video message that showed Awlaki, dressed in white.
“This recording is done specifically for sister Aminah,” Awlaki says in the video. “I pray that Allah guides you ... to choose what is better for you regarding this proposal. I would also suggest that, if possible, if you could also do a recorded message and send it over that would be great.”
Watching the video, Aminah’s eyes welled up.
“You do know him—” she said, according to Storm.
Aminah now recorded two videos of herself, one with a scarf and one without.
“Brother, it is me without the scarf so you can see my hair,” says Aminah, visibly nervous in the second recording. “I hope that you are happy with me, Inshallah.”
Storm had already alerted Danish and American agents about the contact between Awlaki and Aminah, and a plan had been hatched to rig her suitcases with tracking equipment.
“The Americans loved the idea, and the PET joined in,” says Storm. “If the plan failed, the PET knew the consequences ... that Aminah risked being killed too.”
After confirmation that Aminah had arrived in Yemen, Storm received a text message saying that he had earned a reward from the intelligence agency for his part in getting Aminah to Yemen. Storm says he received $250,000 in cash, which has been confirmed by several other sources.
The plan of the rigged suitcase failed, however, as Awlaki’s courier in Yemen told her that for safety reasons she had to leave her suitcase in Sana before traveling onward to meet Awlaki.
But the terror leader was happy. Sometime later, Storm got an email, thanking him for sending Aminah. She didn’t live up to Storm’s description, Awlaki wrote, but added—after several blank lines—she was “much better!”
After Awlaki was killed by a U.S. drone strike in 2011, Aminah stayed in Yemen. She was unaware of the role that Storm had played in her fate, and in an encoded message sent to him wrote to thank him for his help. She also wrote of her hatred of the West—magnified after the killing of her husband—and her desire to become a martyr in a suicide attack. Unfortunately, she wrote, current Qaeda leaders in Yemen wouldn’t permit it because she is a woman. Still, she wrote, “I want to be killed the same way as my husband was ... Inshallah.”