Posing as a fellow jihadist, undercover FBI agent Tamer Elnoury was in the midst of foiling a potentially deadly terrorist attack in Canada when his day went straight downhill.
He was on a road trip with wanna-be terrorist Chiheb Esseghaier from Montreal to Toronto, where the two were supposed to meet with another like-minded radical, and Elnoury's job was to keep Esseghaier talking to gather evidence. A little less than halfway into the six-hour ride Elnoury believed he had enough to put Esseghaier away, after Esseghaier opened up to him in detail about a plot to derail a train on the Toronto-New York City line.
But then Esseghaier had to go and keep talking.
"The brother, the one who is in charge, El Massoul, the Responsible One, that I met in Iran. He told me he has a soldier in the U.S.A. He's just sleeping, you know?" Esseghaier said, according to Elnoury's book "American Radical."
"My heart started to race," Elnoury writes. "Did Chiheb just tell me there was an American sleeper? I focused on the road as I regained my composure, because I had to work overtime not to show him I was losing my shit."
Elnoury, which is a pseudonym for the still-active FBI agent, gently prodded Esseghaier for more information on the American, but Esseghaier was mostly in the dark. He had never met the mystery man and only knew him as Al-Amriki, or "The American" in Arabic.
In his mind, Elnoury's Canadian mission just took a back seat to a new one: Identify and stop the supposed terrorist hiding in America.
"Chiheb was our only link to the American sleeper," he writes. "There was no way we could arrest him before we identified the other sleeper."
Canadian authorities, who were working jointly with the FBI on Elnoury's case, however, saw the more imminent train plot as the priority and Elnoury was told to stay the course as the investigation progressed. Still, Elnoury pushed Esseghaier to set up a meeting with the American sleeper.
They got as far as requesting the meeting through Esseghaier's handler when the Canadians abruptly shut down the operation. They arrested Esseghaier and others linked to the train plot.
"They are aware of the latest intel about the American sleeper, right?" an exasperated Elnoury asked an FBI colleague, according to the book.
"They know everything. It's over," the colleague said.
Though Esseghaier and a co-conspirator would be convicted in a Canadian court on terror-related charges, it was an unsatisfying ending for Elnoury, who remained unnerved by the ambiguous threat to the U.S.
Most of Elnoury's undercover operation and Esseghaier's arrest went down in 2013. More than four years later, Code and Dagger asked Elnoury if he thought the American sleeper was still on the loose and still a threat.
He let out a sigh. "I haven’t gotten the closure I’m looking for there," he said.
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