Danish spy claims key role in terrorist's death

Lara Logan reports on how an unlikely Danish spy managed to befriend one of the most wanted terrorists in the world, Anwar al-Awlaki

The following script is from "Morten Storm" which aired on Dec. 30, 2012, and was rebroadcast on Aug. 18, 2013. Lara Logan is the correspondent. Howard Rosenberg, producer.

Just over a year and a half ago in Yemen, a U.S. drone operated by the CIA unleashed a Hellfire missile killing one of the most wanted terrorists in the world, Anwar Al Awlaki. The American-born cleric had been waging Holy War against his own country. Because he was a U.S. citizen, it was one of the most controversial drone strikes in the campaign against al Qaeda.

To this day, the question of how the CIA zeroed in on Awlaki in that distant desert land remains a mystery. Some of that will be answered tonight, and as we first reported in December, you'll learn how an unlikely Danish spy named Morten Storm managed to get inside Awlaki's world and become one of his most trusted friends. And how, Storm says, he helped lead that fatal missile to its target.

[Anwar Al Awlaki: As you send us your bombs, we will send you ours.]

By the time of his death, Anwar Al Awlaki was at the top of the U.S. terrorist kill list. The Muslim cleric had become notorious for his fiery Internet sermons that incited attacks against America.

[Anwar Al Awlaki: Jihad against America is binding upon myself, just as it is binding on every other able Muslim.]

Awlaki had plotted with the underwear bomber, Umar Abdulmutallab, and he inspired Nidal Hasan's shooting rampage at Fort Hood, Texas, that left 13 dead. He had become the operational leader of al Qaeda in Yemen and was in the midst of planning more attacks. Morten Storm was one of the few people Awlaki trusted, what he didn't know was that Storm had become a double agent working for Danish intelligence and their partners, the CIA, who wanted Awlaki dead.

Morten Storm: At that moment now, Anwar needed to die by any means. He needed to be stopped. That was--

Lara Logan: Even though he was your friend?

Morten Storm: He was not my friend. He was a person I needed to get close to to stop his evil in him.

Lara Logan: How dangerous do you think he was?

Morten Storm: Very dangerous.

The two first met in Yemen in 2006 when Storm, a Muslim convert from Denmark, was as radical as Awlaki.

Lara Logan: What did you think of him, the first time you met him?

Morten Storm: Very kind person. You know, his character was-- how-- what do you call it? A joyful character.

Lara Logan: Did you two get on well from the beginning?

Morten Storm: From the very first minutes.

Lara Logan: And so you became friends?

Morten Storm: Yes. I liked him because of his views of jihad, because that was my views as well.

Storm's path to extremism began in prison when he converted to Islam at 21 -- a troubled kid with a violent past who had never found his place in the sleepy Danish town where he grew up.

Lara Logan: What would people have said about you at that time? How would they have described you?

Morten Storm: My reputation as a young teenager, I could punch very hard. I used to knock out a full-grown man with one punch. So, that's-- and I was known for that.

He says Islam offered forgiveness and comfort in ritual. A refuge for a young man who feared his life was going nowhere.

Morten Storm: I felt good about it. Praying. As if I was cleaned. My sins had left me.

Lara Logan: It freed you from your past.

Morten Storm: It did, yeah, and that's what I needed.

He moved to Yemen, learned Arabic, took an Arabic name, Murad, and a Muslim wife with whom he had three children. By 9/11, he was immersed in radical Islam and even named his son after Osama bin Laden.

Lara Logan: Why would you do that?

Morten Storm: Because he was born in-- just after 9/11, and Osama bin Laden was a hero. He was a Muslim soldier who stood up against the big Satan of America.

Lara Logan: You know, many Americans listening to that would be offended?

Morten Storm: Well, I'm telling the truth.

But over the years, Storm began to have doubts about his faith. As dramatic as his original conversion was, so was his break with Islam. This is how he explains it:

Morten Storm: I typed on my keyboard, on my laptop, "Contradictions in the Koran." That's the first time I ever done that. What I believed in for those 10 years suddenly was just ripped away from me. I discovered that it was all fake. I made a decision not to be Muslim.

Lara Logan: You can't go from believing all of this for 10 years to instantly not believing any of it, right?

Morten Storm: You know--you know what. It can happen. That can actually happen. It was a roller coaster, an emotional roller coaster.

Lara Logan: Because you were giving up everything?

Morten Storm: Yes, of course.

Lara Logan: So you made a decision. You called Danish intelligence?

Morten Storm: I called Danish intelligence.

Without saying why, Storm arranged to meet Danish agents at a hotel in Copenhagen. He was well known to them as a hard-core extremist and they'd been tracking him for years.

Morten Storm: So they say, "Oh, well, Murad" they say because that was my Muslim name, "What would you like to eat? Would you like to have fish or vegetarian food?" So I say, "No." I say, "I want something with bacon, pork." I said, "And I want a beer." So-- and they were, like, in disbelief looking at each other. I say, "I am no longer Muslim. And I want to fight these terrorists."

Storm now transformed into a double agent. He says one of the most important targets he was given by the CIA was his old friend Awlaki, an assignment that took him deep into the Yemeni desert to meet the al Qaeda leader.

Morten Storm: Two guys came out with AKs. I was like, "S**t." If they know anything about me, I'm dead now.

Inside, Storm says Awlaki was sitting in the midst of some 30 heavily-armed mujahedeen, or "holy warriors".

Morten Storm: Well, he stood up. He say, "Asalaam Aleykem Achi." Like, "Peace be upon you my brother," he say. And he walked up. He gave me a hug. And I was, like, "Whew."

At that meeting, Storm told us, Awlaki drew him into his small circle of confidantes and gave him the encryption keys to his secure communications network which he showed us. Using couriers, they would now send each other flash drives with encrypted emails, photos and videos. Awlaki asked storm to recruit followers and raise money for him and he wanted something else.

Morten Storm: He asked me if I knew any sisters who might be interesting in marrying him.

Lara Logan: And you, of course, said?

Morten Storm: Yeah.

Storm says the CIA saw Awlaki's request for a bride as an opening, a way to get closer to the elusive terrorist. And they eagerly signed onto a plan to find Awlaki a new wife. Storm went on Facebook, of all places, and tried to connect with Awlaki supporters.

Morten Storm: I had no one except for a woman contacting me, saying, "Do you know Sheik Anwar?" I said, "Yeah." And then, that was Aminah."

Aminah, a 32-year-old Croatian whose real name is Irena Horak, had recently converted to Islam. She wrote to Storm that she wanted to marry Awlaki. To prove to her that he really knew the al Qaeda leader. Storm had Awlaki send him this video which he gave to us.

[Anwar Al Awlaki: This recording is done specifically for sister Aminah at her request and uhh, the brother who is carrying this recording is a trustworthy brother.]

Lara Logan: When he says, "The brother who is carrying this video is a trustworthy brother," that's you?

Morten Storm: That's me.

Awlaki, who already had two wives, wanted to see his bride to be....

[Anwar Al Awlaki: ...if you could also do a recorded message and send it over. That would be great.]

Storm made two videos of Aminah which have never been broadcast before. Here she is in the first--

[Aminah: Brother it's me Aminah... I just taped this just to see, that you can see how I look...]

And then this: a second, more revealing video of her.

[Aminah: Brother this is me without the head scarf so you can see my hair I described it to you before. So now you see me without it and I hope you will be pleased with it.]

When we looked into Aminah's past, we could find nothing to explain why this seemingly ordinary woman -- once a champion runner and an advocate for the disabled -- suddenly abandoned everything she knew and committed her life to a terrorist leader. By June 2010, she was living in Yemen, in the arms of her new husband, Anwar Al Awlaki.

Lara Logan: Why was the C.I.A. in favor of you arranging this marriage?

Morten Storm: She would be a live bait to Anwar without a doubt.

Storm says the CIA hoped Aminah would lead them right to Awlaki and they rewarded him with a bonus $250,000.

He was so excited he took this photograph of the briefcase packed with hundred dollar bills. But once Aminah got to Yemen, Storm believes the CIA lost track of her and Awlaki.

Lara Logan: After he'd been missing for months, CIA, U.S. intelligence had no idea where he was?

Morten Storm: No.

Lara Logan: And you found him in four weeks?

Morten Storm: That's correct.

Awlaki, who still had no idea Storm had turned against him, sent a courier to him with a shopping list. It included bomb-making supplies. Storm told us he left some of the harmless items on the list with a middleman and promised to deliver the rest later. He then arranged with Awlaki for a pickup by a courier and reported back to his handlers in Denmark.

Morten Storm: I didn't think any more about that.

Lara Logan: Until?

Morten Storm: Until well I read that Anwar was killed. And I read how they tracked him down with-- that was my mission.

Lara Logan: They tracked him down through a courier?

Morten Storm: Yeah.

Storm read a newspaper report that quoted unnamed U.S. intelligence officials as saying they tracked Awlaki through a "young courier," a description that matched the courier his middleman said had picked up the items he left for Awlaki.

Lara Logan: Is there any doubt in your mind at all that it was your mission?

Morten Storm: No.

Lara Logan: That led to Awlaki's death?

Morten Storm: No. There is no doubt.

Lara Logan: What did you think when you heard that Anwar Al Awlaki was dead?

Morten Storm: It was a lot of joyment, I say, because it's good he died anyway. It is good.

He says his joy turned to anger when he realized the CIA was not going to give him any credit, or reward money, for helping to kill Awlaki. Instead, he learned from his Danish spy masters that the CIA denied it was his intelligence that led to the hit, and claimed they had a parallel operation.

Furious, he went to confront his CIA handler at a seaside hotel in Denmark. In the hotel lobby, moments before the meeting, Storm switched on his phone's video recorder and slipped it into his pocket. He gave us that recording and you can hear Storm challenging the man he claims is a CIA officer known to him as Michael.

[Morten Storm: The Americans have failed in every single attempt to arrest or kill Anwar Awlaki except when we went in...We just want gratitude from your government!]

The American calmly tried to reassure him.

[Michael: This whole thing was a team effort...of which you played the highest role. OK. And it is because of that there are a lot of people in my government..."

Morten Storm: Obama!

Michael: I am talking about the president of the United States, OK.

Morten Storm: Yeah.

Michael: He knows you. The president of the United States doesn't know who I am. But he knows about your work.

Morten Storm: Yeah.

Michael: OK? And for that, we are thankful.]

Morten Storm wasn't satisfied and it was after that meeting that he decided to go public which is why he spoke to us. We asked the CIA and Danish intelligence for comment, but they both declined. By the time we met Storm at a remote location in the Danish countryside, Awlaki's followers had vowed revenge.

Lara Logan: So you're gonna spend the rest of your life looking over your shoulder?

Morten Storm: If I try to hide every day and be scared, they have won.

Storm is working on a new identity for himself and his family.

Lara Logan: So what are you going to do?

Morten Storm: I take one day at a time.

Lara Logan: Is this what your life will be now?

Morten Storm: It's going to be. If it's going to be short or long, I don't know. But I don't regret anything.


  • Lara Logan

    Lara Logan's bold, award-winning reporting from war zones has earned her a prominent spot among the world's best foreign correspondents. Logan began contributing to 60 Minutes in 2005.

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