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Airey Neave Memorial

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Review date 23/07/2018

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Year of publication 25/10/2017

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For a change, a review of a set of books; the four short-listed for the Airey Neave Memorial Book Prize 2017.

They are:

Al-Qaeda’s Revenge: The 2004 Madrid Train Bombings by Fernando Reinares with foreword by Bruce Riedel (Columbia University Press, pictured).

Reinares as the title suggests goes over the 2004 Madrid plot, its history and components. A Spanish academic, he had access to official documents and interviewed officials. He stresses the complexity of Islamic State and AQ in Europe and the long, years-long germination of the conspiracy and the attack - which killed 191 people and injured more than 1800. Also an al-Qaeda conspiracy in Spain had an international element, drawing on the like-minded in Morocco, Egypt, Pakistan and Italy. As in other such networks, at least some of the members were criminals or 'delinquents' that turned, or were turned, to terrorism. As in the United States after 9-11 and in Britain after the London bombings of July 2005, the Madrid train bombings had political fall-out.

Anatomy of Terror: From the Death of bin Laden to the Rise of the Islamic State by Ali Soufan (WW Norton &Co).

Soufan, a former FBI special agent, is also the author of The Black Banners: The Inside Story of 9/11 and the War Against al-Qaeda (2011). Here he takes the story further. The shooting of Osama bin Laden did not deal a blow to his movement; nor did the Arab Spring of uprisings against corrupt and unresponsive Middle Eastern governments. Instead we have seen the rise of Islamic State, as an off-shoot of AQ. It might sound trite but it's also of political and indeed military importance that Soufan shows jihadi figures in human terms, including bin Laden’s son Hamza. It's not enough to identify who the terrorists are, so as to kill them; by describing what sort of people they are, where they come from, and how they work and relate to each other, and what motivates them, the rest of the world can better tackle them. For as the years mount since 9-11 - and as Soufan's earlier book showed, bin Laden's work began well before - it becomes ever plainer that bin Laden's terrorism cannot be snuffed out by force alone, as if it is a body (to return to Soufan's 'Anatomy' of the title) that can be physically throttled.

Hacking ISIS: How to Destroy the Cyber Jihad by Malcolm Nance and Christopher Sampson (Skyhorse Publishing). Soufan provides a foreword. To carry on that idea, ISIS having gained territory and proclaimed an 'Islamic State' attracted hundreds of 'foreign fighters' and gained publicity and prestige; and the fighting to eradicate its physical territory has been arduous. Even when the 'State' is no more, it still recruits by spreading its message online, which indeed was one way the jihadists won over fighters and raised the necessary money to be powerful enough to seize ground in the first place. Talking of cyber, Nance is also the author of The Plot to Hack America : How Putin's Cyberspies and WikiLeaks Tried to Steal the 2016 Election.

Soldier Spy by Tom Marcus (Penguin Books).

The first-person account of an MI5 operative. Tom (not his real name) became a target for an attempted beheading. His work included being part of an operation that stopped a planned bombing of a shopping centre in Manchester over an Easter weekend. Besides the vivid insight into what work goes on to keep the UK and indeed other countries safe from terrorism, it's also striking the effect that such work has on those that do it. Tom Marcus, a former soldier, and son of a soldier, not only had the memories to get over, but the blanks in his CV to explain if he were to take up normal civilian work. As he told the Victoria Derbyshire show on BBC TV last year: "It's been hugely difficult to get a job."

As in any book prize set of finalists, and in the ranking of any books on the same subject, judges have an impossible job. Leaving aside the judges - each one will have their own background and idea of what makes one book more deserving of winning than the others - how can you say that Tom Marcus' remarkable story is 'better' than a contemporary historian's work?

The winner will be announced on November 22, and will be presented by Lord Evans of Weardale KCB DL (Jonathan Evans, former Director-General of the UK's Security Service) and a cheque for £5,000 will be handed to the winning author by Julian Enoizi, CEO of Pool Reinsurance Company. Judges are Sir David Omand; Prof Michael Clarke; Sir David Venness; and Brigadier Ed Butler.