I was told to come alone. I was not to carry any identification, and would have to leave my cell phone, audio recorder, watch, and purse at my hotel . . .
For her whole life, Souad Mekhennet, a reporter for the Washington Post who was born and educated in Germany, has had to balance the two sides of her upbringing - Muslim and Western. She has also sought to provide a mediating voice between these cultures, which too often misunderstand each other.
In this compelling and evocative memoir, we accompany Mekhennet as she journeys behind the lines of jihad, starting in the German neighbourhoods where the 9/11 plotters were radicalised and the Iraqi neighbourhoods where Sunnis and Shia turned against one another, and culminating on the Turkish/Syrian border region where ISIS is a daily presence. In her travels across the Middle East and North Africa, she documents her chilling run-ins with various intelligence services and shows why the Arab Spring never lived up to its promise. She then returns to Europe, first in London, where she uncovers the identity of the notorious ISIS executioner 'Jihadi John', and then in France, Belgium and her native Germany, where terror has come to the heart of Western civilisation.
Mekhennet's background has given her unique access to some of the world's most wanted men, who generally refuse to speak to Western journalists. She is not afraid to face personal danger to reach out to individuals in the inner circles of Al Qaeda, the Taliban, ISIS and their affiliates; when she is told to come alone to an interview, she never knows what awaits at her destination.
Souad Mekhennet is an ideal guide to introduce us to the human beings behind the ominous headlines, as she shares her transformative journey with us. Hers is a story you will not soon forget.
Souad Mekhennet is an award-winning journalist who was born in Germany and grew up there and in Morocco. She is currently a correspondent for the Washington Post.
If only every journalist with Souad Mekhennet's culture-straddling perspective and access would write an incisive book like this. It will haunt you, because the truth on the page is vaster than anything we're usually offered — Azadeh Moaveni, author of Lipstick Jihad and Honeymoon in Tehran
More than just a great narrative, I Was Told to Come Alone is a story for our time: a penetrating look at the roots of Islamist radicalism from a gifted and extraordinarily courageous journalist. Souad Mekhennet dares to confront the issues head-on, often at great personal risk, and she weaves her own experiences into an unforgettable and deeply absorbing tale. If you want to truly understand the nature of the crisis facing the West in the twenty-first century, this is the place to start — Joby Warrick, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Black Flags: The Rise of ISIS
I Was Told to Come Alone reads like a thriller, as Souad Mekhennet takes us on a journey into the heart of the Muslim world. Mekhennet is a Western journalist who is female and Muslim, which gives her access that few reporters can match. Through her eyes we see how terrorism develops and that it produces no winners on either side. Her insights are sobering but deeply wise, and especially urgent today — Jessica Stern, coauthor of ISIS: The State of Terror and author of Terror in the Name of God
Souad Mekhennet has written a fascinating memoir that functions on two levels. In the first, she is the daughter of Muslim immigrants to Germany, seeking ways to bridge these two worlds. In the second, she is an intrepid reporter investigating some of the most dangerous and important stories of recent years, and gaining unparalleled access to leading jihadist militants. Both stories are hers, and together they are truly compelling — Peter Bergen, author of United States of Jihad: Who Are America’s Homegrown Terrorists, and How Do We Stop Them?
This book is a monument to her professionalism, dedication and courage, but also as proof of her humanity: her ability always to see the human cost on both sides — Sunday Herald
An enthralling and sometimes shocking blend of reportage and memoir from the centers of jihadi networks in the Middle East and North Africa — New Yorker
One could hardly imagine a more suited writer . . . a brave, resourceful, canny and tireless reporter — Washington Post
Mekhennet's book is much more than a book of journalism, admirable as hers is: it is a remarkable record of a Muslim woman struggling to understand those who kill in the name of her religion, and to explain their actions to the uncomprehending Western world to which she belongs — The Economist
The surprise delight of the year for me . . . remarkable and at times personally risky series of interviews with
jihadi leaders. But it's also a highly readable primer on the forces that gave rise to jihad, and an insight into the complexities of immigrant identity and loyalty . . . In a slippery post-truth world, her book is a reminder of just how much meticulously investigated and reported truths matter