Imagine a world where a boy’s dreams dictate the behavior of warriors in battle; where a young couple’s only release from forbidden love is death; where religious extremism, blind hatred, and endemic corruption combine to form a lethal ideology that can hijack a man’s life forever. This is the world of Terrorists in Love.
A former federal prosecutor and congressional investigator, Ken Ballen spent five years as a pollster and a researcher with rare access—via local government officials, journalists, and clerics—interviewing more than a hundred Islamic radicals, asking them searching questions about their inner lives, deepest faith, and what it was that ultimately drove them to jihad. Intimate and enlightening, Terrorists in Love opens a fresh window into the realm of violent extremism as Ballen profiles six of these men—from Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Saudi Arabia—revealing a universe of militancy so strange that it seems suffused with magical realism.
Mystical dreams and visions, the demonic figure of the United States, intense sexual repression, crumbling family and tribal structures—the story that emerges here is both shocking and breathtakingly complex. Terrorists in Love introduces us to men like Ahmad Al-Shayea, an Al Qaeda suicide bomber who survives his attack only to become fiercely pro-American; Zeddy, who trains terrorists while being paid by America’s ally, the Pakistani Army; and Malik, Taliban leader Mullah Omar’s personal seer. Lifting the veil on the mysterious world of Muslim holy warriors, Ballen probes these men’s deepest secrets, revealing the motivations behind their deadly missions and delivering a startling new exploration of what drives them to violence and why there is yet an unexpected hope for peace. An extraordinarily gifted listener and storyteller, Ballen takes us where no one has dared to go—deep into the secret heart of Islamic fundamentalism, providing a glimpse at the lives, loves, frustrations, and methods of those whose mission it is to destroy us.
Ballen, a former federal prosecutor and the founder and president of the non-profit research institute Terror Free Tomorrow, profiles six former jihadis in this provocative study. With the assistance of Saudi Arabian authorities and well-placed Pakistani journalists, Ballen interviewed more than 100 former jihadis during five years of research, focusing on six very different, very complex individuals whose lives were so different from Western conceptions of the terrorist that he felt compelled to tell their stories. The six include a mama's boy, a homosexual, a sexually abused dreamer, one-half of a "jihadi Romeo and Juliet," a homesick and gullible suicide bomber, and "Pakistan's most notorious terrorist you never heard of." The author's dynamic with terrorists is fascinating ("I was everything he hated: an American, a Jew, and once a prosecutor of terrorists like him"), and he culls fascinating observations from what motivates terrorists ("the story of Islamic radicals and terrorists... is as much about love as hate") and how they can be overcome ("they are, in fact, a small group that can be isolated and defeated"). An unprecedented and unusual look at Islamic radicalism.