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Here is the Gun to Kill Me With: an extract from Guarding bin Laden

From Guarding bin Laden: My Life in al-Qaeda 

 by Nasser al-Bahri aka Abu Jandal

Just before sundown, Ayman al-Zawahiri and Abu Hafs al-Masri went to the garden to recite verses from the Koran and say their evening prayers. Sheikh Osama had stayed alone in his office, on the first floor of a safe house in Kabul that the al-Qaeda leadership moved into after the 1998 attacks on the US Embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salam. He saw me passing and beckoned me in, smiling:

‘Abu Jandal, come in! I want to tell you a secret.’

I went up to him, and he brought a hand gun out of his thawb (traditional tunic).

‘I hope that God never wills it, but if one day the enemy traps us, and we are certain to be arrested, I want to be shot twice in the head rather than be taken prisoner. I must never, ever, be taken alive by the Americans. I want to die a martyr and above all, never end up in prison.’

‘Oh Sheikh, may God never give me a reason to kill you! May God protect you!’

Then Sheikh Osama placed two bullets in my hand and said, ‘From now on, this is your mission. You must use them to kill me if ever we are surrounded.’

As I was leaving, I felt the weight of responsibility that would stay with me from now on. Eliminate Osama bin Laden so as to spare him the humiliation of being caught alive – either scenario would be a real catastrophe. Nor had he given any further details – it would be up to me to assess the level of danger he was in and decide when to kill him. From then on I was full of dread every time the alarm was raised – and that was usually several times a month!

Soon afterwards, I handed my old gun (the kind that every member of the Sheikh’s security details carries) to a colleague, and began to carry the one bin Laden gave me; I took it everywhere, along with my Kalshnikov. I never trusted anybody else with that gun. Every evening I checked that the two bullets were in the chamber. And every time I cleaned it I said to myself, ‘May God never give me a reason to carry out this terrible duty!’.

I was the only one in bin Laden’s entourage entrusted to eliminate the most wanted man in the world, on whose head the Americans had placed a $25 million bounty.

A while later, I went to the Sheikh to give him my bayat [oath of allegiance]. He seemed surprised:

‘But Abu Jandal, there’s no need for that now!’

I had the power of life or death over him. This privilege gave me reason to think long and hard about my responsibilities, especially as Osama bin Laden was always saying, ‘When I can’t hear Abu Jandal’s voice, I never feel totally safe.’

A few months earlier, I had made an impression on bin Laden and his Egyptian guards when I protected the Sheikh from an over-enthusiastic jihadi. This was Abu Ashatha, a Sudanese Takfiri  who had been in the Afghan Mujaheddin in the 1980s and had now returned to Afghanistan. He was known for his aggressive behaviour and his hostility to anyone he thought impious. One day, Abu Ashatha came to see Sheikh Osama. I was opposed to these face to face meetings without any security present and said, ‘Shall I sit next to you, Sheikh?’

‘No,’ bin Laden replied. ‘You wait outside.’

I went out but watched the conversation through the keyhole. Osama kept his hand on his gun and was obviously suspicious. Abu Ashatha started shouting, throwing his arms about and at one point he was so agitated that it looked to me as though he was going to grab for bin Laden’s beard. I rushed in and neutralized Abu Ashatha, throwing him to the ground, my knee in his solar plexus.

‘What are you doing? You’re going to kill him! Let him go!’ bin Laden ordered. Afterwards he gave the man a bundle of dollars by way of compensation for the thrashing I’d given him.

My adolescent dream of devoting myself to the cause of Jihad, conceived ten years earlier in Jeddah, where I grew up and first found God, had come true. But never in my wildest reveries did I ever imagine that I would one day become Bin Laden’s personal bodyguard.

Read more about ‘Guarding bin Laden: My Life in al-Qaeda’ here

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