By now the story of Omar Ismail Mostefai, the first of the perpetrators of the Paris attacks to be named, is depressingly familiar. One could almost have written his biography before knowing anything about him. A petty criminal of Algerian parentage from what all the world now calls the banlieue, he was sustained largely by the social security system, an erstwhile fan of rap music, and a votary of what might be called the continuation of criminality by other means, which is to say Islamism and the grandiose purpose in life that it gives to its adherents.
In the air on September 11th 2001, along with the four aircraft 19 Al Qaeda operatives hijacked to carry out their audacious attack on America, was another airplane on which was another Islamist, intent on another equally nefarious a mission. That other Islamist was Maajid Nawaz, author of this engrossing account of what led him to take that flight on that fateful day and what befell him upon arriving at his destination.
Unlike the 19 Al Qaeda operatives, who were all on board US domestic flights, the flight on which Nawaz was a passenger was an international flight from the UK to Alexandria in Egypt. Similarly, unlike the 19 Al Qaeda hijackers, Nawaz had no intention or wish to prevent his aircraft from arriving at its destination.
The ostensible purpose with which the 24-year-old British-born and bred Muslim of Pakistani extraction had taken that flight that day, along with his wife and small son, was to spend a year at the university there to improve his Arabic, as part of his degree in Law and Arabic at London’s School of Oriental and African Studies. His real purpose was to assist in the revival in Egypt of the Islamist party to which for the previous decade he had belonged and which, despite being legal in the UK and USA, had long been proscribed in Egypt.