“American Radical” is the first public account of a Muslim FBI agent who successfully infiltrated al-Qaeda (AQ) cells. Tamer Elnoury’s book, written with journalist Kevin Maurer, holds up a fascinating mirror to the challenges of being both a devout Muslim and an American patriot who loves his country and would go the extra mile for it, even sacrificing his life to defend it. Many scenes are vividly described and draw the reader in as close as he or she can be to the real story.
The first three chapters cover the author’s early life as an undercover agent working on narcotics investigations in a New Jersey police department. The rest of the book provides great insights into the American war on terror at the sharp end: intelligence agencies spying on clandestine terrorist groups, thwarting attacks, dismantling cells, and bringing terrorists to justice.
Tamer Elnoury is a pseudonym. Because he is still active with the FBI, the 44 year-old author’s real identity is not revealed. What is known is that he is an Egyptian-born American Muslim and an Arabic speaker, serving as an agent with the FBI’s National Security Covert Operations Unit, which is charged with protecting Americans from terrorists and drug dealers.
The book gives us access to the mindset of radical terrorists as well as deep insights into the internal work of AQ sleeper cells. Its narrative is supported by detailed records and formal as well as informal documents. It is a walk through the agent’s life; from his early days as an inexperienced undercover police officer to the highly competent operative he is today.
The main story of the book is an investigation that started with a Tunisian scientist named Chehab Esseghaier, who was studying in Montreal, being flagged by the feds after visiting Iran and communicating with AQ operatives.
The author comes into Esseghaier’s life on a plane traveling to the USA to attend a conference. Elnoury sold his character as a rich real-estate businessman and a radical Muslim willing to harm the West and support global jihad. The investigation ended in 2013 with the arrest of Esseghaier in Montreal. A Palestinian-Canadian accomplice, Raed Jaser, was also arrested in Toronto. The two were found guilty of conspiring to commit a terrorist act by derailing a train between Toronto and New York City in association with a terrorist group.
The book reads like mesmerizing and captivating fiction, with a novel-like style. So much so, in fact, that the reader has to constantly remind him or herself that it is not fiction and recounts actual events and the astonishing sacrifices undercover agents make to protect their homelands. In particular and importantly, it shows the great work many western Muslims are doing to defend their countries and their fellow citizens against terrorism and crime. Mr. Elnoury, the devout Muslim and the loyal American, sends a strong message that displays the difference between radical violent Muslims and regular Muslims.
Nonetheless, although I understand that the FBI would never agree to release classified and identifying information, there are many unreasonable gaps, holes, and unanswered questions that sometimes take sense and logic away from the story.
For instance, in Chapter 22, one reads about Elnoury inviting the potential terrorist Chehab to New York, having him cancel his Singapore trip, and paying for his flight, hotel, and all other accommodations, just for him to help hide $200,000 in the suitcase of someone else to take it to Egypt. This should have sounded suspicious to any sane person. Yet there is nothing in the story about Chehab questioning any of that. Note that Chehab was declared to be probably schizophrenic during the trial.
In addition, Mr. Elnoury sponsored another alleged terrorist, Ahmed, whose student visa was canceled by Canada while on a visit to Tunisia. With the help of the FBI, Ahmed came to New York and started the legal process to get a work visa with Elnoury’s company. Why would the FBI sponsor a suspected terrorist who is already overseas, and take on the risks of bringing him onto U.S. soil? Ahmed was later deported to Tunisia for fraud and lying on federal documents.
These episodes raise an important issue. In some instances, the FBI has been accused of being a driving force behind plots by using tactics that amount to entrapment.  For instance, it has been blamed for implanting the ideology of militant jihad in suspects and inserting FBI agents into an operation during its early stages to provide cash, cars, fake weapons, and tactical guidance.  Arguably, sometimes suspects were essentially entrapped, manipulated, and taken down a path created by FBI agents themselves.  FBI agents reject these concerns, repeatedly asserting that their work is restricted to fitting in with the terrorists’ mindset and that they never cross the line to encouraging terrorism.
Those controversies aside, the story is a welcome account of the great work done by many Muslim agents to prevent terrorist attacks in western countries. The details of this original and nuanced volume should help other security agencies and undercover agents make better professional judgments when they deal with similar cases. It is also a valuable resource for terrorism experts, security analysts, and young students and researchers in the field of security and terrorism in North America and beyond.
 Aaronson, T. (2018). The terror factory: Inside the FBI’s manufactured war on terrorism. Brooklyn, New York : Ig Publishing.
Murtaza, H. (2018). One teen and three FBI operatives: was the government behind a 17-year-old’s terror plot in Texas? Can be accessed at:https://theintercept.com/2018/05/23/texas-teen-isis-mall-shooting/.
 Shipler, D. (2012). Terrorist Plots, Hatched by the F.B.I. Can be accessed at: https://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/29/opinion/sunday/terrorist-plots-helped-along-by-the-fbi.html.