Officials fear ISIS may deploy bomb-carrying drones
An al-Qaida bomb maker-turned-spy says ISIS may be trying to develop explosive-packed drones. (Source: CNN/Russian Defense Ministry)

(CNN) – Authorities fear ISIS may have assigned one of its top bomb makers to a deadly new mission: arming unmanned aircraft with miniaturized bombs, possibly with an eye toward civilian targets.

A new book suggests the terror group, crippled and now on the run, may be trying to develop drones packed with explosives, capable of attacking crowded targets in the United States and Europe.

The Russian Defense Ministry said 13 drones – including some which appeared to have small bombs on them – attacked two of their bases in Syria earlier this year.

“They are developing the capability of having drones that explode on impact,” said Aimen Dean, a former bomb maker for al-Qaida. “The discussion within the ranks is that they are going to use these in Western contexts against aircraft, whether landing or parking or taking off, against sporting venues, against VIP motorcades.”

Dean once swore allegiance to Osama bin Laden, and at one time was one of al-Qaida’s most accomplished bomb makers.

He said the horrific 1998 terror attacks against the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania turned him against the terror group, even though he hadn’t made the bombs for those attacks.

“The death toll was just too much to stomach, and so therefore I decided that this is not for me,” Dean said.

Dean then spent nearly eight years working as a spy against al-Qaida – undercover, deep inside the group – on behalf of British intelligence.

In fact, Dean isn’t even his real name; it’s a cover to protect his identity.

His life as a spy inside the terror group is the subject of a new book, “Nine Lives,” by CNN terrorism analysts Tim Lister and Paul Cruickshank.

“Aimen Dean was arguably the most important-ever Western spy inside al-Qaida,” Cruickshank said. “His intelligence was priceless, his identity one of the most closely-guarded secrets in the history of British espionage.”

One of the book’s key revelations is about the attempt by ISIS to turn drones into bombs – the handiwork, Dean said, of an ISIS bomb maker named Hamayun Tariq.

Dean said he and Tariq crossed paths in 2004, while Dean was working undercover against al-Qaida.

Dean said Tariq is a “psychopath.” He also said Tariq, who’s from Britain, twice evaded British authorities.

According to the new book, Tariq is believed to have helped ISIS create laptop computer bombs, which could be disguised as batteries and taken on commercial planes.

Those bombs were the basis for the temporary ban last year on laptops being carried into airplane cabins.

Dean told CNN that his sources in Syria believe Tariq – if he’s still alive – is running a drone bomber operation, designed to evade coalition airstrikes.

“Instead of having a fixed, explosive laboratory, he is actually running a mobile laboratory,” Dean said. “Four refrigerated vans, where – you can use them for groceries, whatever – but basically they are using them now as mobile bomb-making labs.”

It’s this kind of information, Cruickshank said, which has made Dean so crucial to Western intelligence.

“He risked his life for nearly a decade and he saved countless lives, including many Americans,” Cruickshank said.

CNN contacted U.S. intelligence officials for comment on Dean’s information, but so far they haven’t responded.

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