Let’s be cowboys, in search of our lost herd. Or you be a dinosaur and I’ll be an alligator. Let’s pretend we’re cooking dinner, crawling through the desert, exploring stars. It’s fun to be something you’re not for a while — unless, as in “American Radical” by Tamer Elnoury (with Kevin Maurer), it’s a matter of international security.
Born in Egypt and raised in New Jersey by devout Muslim parents, Tamer Elnoury saw an armed man praying at a local mosque one afternoon and it made him realize that he wanted to be a cop. He’d set his sights on federal law enforcement and, shortly after graduation from the police academy, the FBI came courting but Elnoury turned them down. Post-9/11, he wondered if he’d made a mistake.
He reached back out to the bureau. Seven years later, they returned his call.
As a newly minted FBI agent who spoke fluent Arabic and English, Elnoury’s first task was coming up with a “legend” for his undercover work. He needed a story that was memorable and believable: a pseudonym, a fake family and a reason for breaking the law. He had to make a target like him without questioning his identity or he needed to “bump” the guy to “take his temperature.”
But being someone you’re not is exhausting work: Elnoury remained in his role nearly every minute he wasn’t with other agents or a “handler.” Apartments he occupied weren’t his, nor were the cars he drove. His attire had to fit the story. A case might mean several cross-country flights in a single week. Perhaps most difficult: He had to hide his own “disgust” while he continued gathering information.
That ability came in handy in his biggest case.
Elnoury was a busy agent with a packed schedule on the day he got an urgent call: The FBI and Canadian officials were investigating a “very bad guy” they believed had ties to al-Qaeda — or worse. Or maybe not. Learning more would require finesse, and Elnoury’s part was supposed to be a quick “bump.”
And it chilled him to his core …
The first thing you’ll want to do before you read “American Radical” is this: Throw out everything you think you know about Islam if you’re not Muslim.
Elnoury (a pseudonym) and Maurer stress, often and specifically, what’s in the Quran and what Islamic terrorists claim is in the Quran. Those are two different things, the explanation of which makes readers understand clearly the danger Elnoury faced with a guy who might’ve been a friend, were it not for the man’s radical beliefs. Quiet mindfulness mixes with straining awareness, frustration and “evil” then, adding to the tension of a tale and an aftermath that, even though parts of this book needed to be omitted for security reasons and conversations were partially re-created, reads like a palm-sweaty, heart-pounding thriller.
And isn’t that what you want for a long winter’s read? Of course it is, so go find “American Radical.”