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Foreign Affairs Anthology Series

The Best of Books 2017

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The Exile: The Stunning Inside Story of Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda in Flight

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The Exile: The Stunning Inside Story of Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda in Flight
By Cathy Scott-Clark and Adrian Levy
Bloomsbury, 2017
640 pp.
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Scott-Clark and Levy tapped a remarkable array of sources to put together this detailed and intimate investigation into how Osama bin Laden, his family, and some of his closest collaborators spent the decade that began with the planning of the 9/11 attacks and ended with bin Laden’s death in Pakistan at the hands of U.S. Special Forces. The authors reveal the complex set of relations among bin Laden’s many wives and children, the disagreements within al Qaeda (most of its senior figures opposed the 9/11 plan), and the challenge posed to the organization by the brutal sectarianism of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of its affiliate in Iraq. The books sheds considerable (although not conclusive) light on the question of whether senior Pakistani officials knew that bin Laden was hiding in their country. Perhaps the book’s most fascinating sections explain how a large group of senior al Qaeda figures and bin Laden family members found unlikely refuge in Iran after the 9/11 attacks. They were both guests and hostages, providing Iran with some immunity from al Qaeda attacks and representing potential bargaining chips—ultimately never cashed in—during negotiations with the United States.