Born in Denmark, lived in Yorkshire, led the CIA to al-Qa'ida's leader in Yemen
Jonathan Brown on the extraordinary double life of motorcycling outdoor pursuits enthusiast Morten Storm
When Morten Storm arrived in Luton ten years ago he cut quite a swathe. The beared former cage fighter had served a prison sentence in his native Denmark but said he had put a life of drugs and crime behind him. He had also converted to Islam.
At first the ex-biker appeared to embrace the moderate teachings of his Islamic centre, but before long he was an outspoken supporter of extremist groups such as al-Muhajiroun and a devoted follower of Osama bin Laden – even naming his eldest son after the late al-Qa'ida leader.
But the truth was far more complex. While posing as a radical Islamist known as Murad Danish, Storm was actually a CIA agent who played a crucial role in the US fatal drone attack on Anwar al-Awlaki in Yemen, he claimed yesterday.
In a series of interviews with the Danish media, the 36-year-old said he had exploited his friendship with the US-born al-Qa'ida chief to help in the assassination of the radical cleric last year. Storm claims he located Awlaki using an encrypted USB device passed to one of the militant cleric's messengers during a visit to Yemen in 2011. Awlaki is alleged to have orchestrated attacks on Western targets including one involving underpants bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmuttalab.
According to the newspaper Jyllands-Posten, since 2006 Storm was under the command of a joint CIA, MI6 and the Danish Intelligence Service PET operation to infiltrate the highest echelons of al-Qa'ida. But he later fell out with his US handlers after they appeared to renege on the offer of a reward for killing Awlaki.
Storm is now thought to be in hiding, but attention is focusing on his life in Britain. The Independent has learnt that he rented an area of woodland near Wetherby, West Yorkshire, where he intended to carry out training on behalf of his outdoor pursuits company.
However, although he conducted a couple of exploratory exercises there, he disappeared without paying his rent last year. Locals described him as a plausible figure who never revealed his Islamic faith.
The website of his company, Storm Outdoors, refers to the founder's experience travelling in some of the world's "most hostile environments" and living among Bedouin tribes in North Yemen.
For much of his time in the UK, he lived in Luton, where he drew attention by proclaiming radical views at a time when community leaders were trying to keep a lid on extremism in the wake of 7/7. Storm also coached young Muslims to box, learnt Arabic and described himself as a "holy warrior" helping recruit members for groups such as the now banned al-Muhajiroun, it is claimed.
Farasat Latif of the Luton Islamic Centre said he initially found Storm to be "friendly and very jolly" but the pair rapidly fell out over his extreme views. "He loved the attention. He first introduced himself as an ex-member of a biker gang and told me about his escapades. But he said he wanted to put all that behind him and become a good Muslim," he said.
But within six months Storm was accusing mosque leaders of apostasy – while spying for the intelligence services.
"Morten Storm not only infiltrated extremist groups in Luton, he promoted them, helped them recruit members, and aided them in theologically refuting their opponents. In short, while he was doing the CIA's dirty work in Yemen, he gave religious extremism a huge boost in Luton," said Mr Latif.
Community members were baffled that the father of two, who had to borrow money to buy nappies for his children, was able to afford to travel to Yemen.
Storm claims to have first met Awlaki in 2006 in the Yemeni capital Sanaa. He said the intelligence organisations "knew that Anwar saw me as his friend and confidant. They knew that I could reach him, and find out where he stayed".
The first plan was to plant a tracking device on the militant cleric who by 2009 was living in the remote Shabwa province. Their final meeting was at the home of a sympathiser in September that year, during which Morten claims Awlaki discussed plans for "poison attacks" on Western shopping centres.
When he returned to Copenhagen he met PET and the CIA who identified the house where they had met using satellite pictures. The premises were later destroyed by Yemeni security forces. In April 2011 Storm claims to have held another meeting with agents at a hotel in Helsingor, eastern Denmark where the plan to pass a USB stick to Awlaki was hatched.
At a meeting with a US official after Awlaki's death, Storm claims he was told his work had been recognised. A recording he made caught the official saying: "I'm talking about the President of the United States. He knows you. So the right people know your contribution. And we are grateful."
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