Reporting from Brussels — Determined to die as martyrs, the French and Belgian militants bought hiking boots and thermal underwear and journeyed to the wilds of Waziristan.
After getting ripped off in Turkey and staggering through waist-deep snow in Iran, the little band arrived in Al Qaeda’s lair in Pakistan last year, ready for a triumphant reception.
“We were expecting at least a welcome for ‘our brothers from Europe’ and a warm atmosphere of hospitality,” Walid Othmani, a 25-year-old Frenchman from Lyon, recalled during an overnight interrogation in January.
Instead, the Europeans — and at least one American — learned that life in the shadow of the Predator is nasty, brutish and short.
Wary of spies, suspicious Al Qaeda chiefs grilled the half-dozen Belgians and French. They charged them $1,200 each for AK-47 rifles, ammunition and grenades. They made them fill out forms listing next of kin and their preference: guerrilla fighting, or suicide attacks?
Then the trainees dodged missile strikes for months. They endured disease, quarrels and boredom, huddling in cramped compounds that defied heroic images of camps full of fraternal warriors.
“What you see in videos on the Net, we realized that was a lie,” Othmani told police. “[Our chief] told us the videos . . . served to impress the enemy and incite people to come fight, and he knew this was a scam and propaganda.”