Reviews Photos Maps Source Notes

Terrorists In Love by Ken Ballen
Buy the book
Amazonbarnes and noble
indieboundsimon & schuster

Book Trailer - The Real Lives of Islamic Radicals

Peter Bergen interviews Ken Ballen
about Terrorists In Love Watch


“Ken Ballen found one of the first suicide bombers in Iraq to survive his attack, and elicited other fascinating confessions [including] a Saudi militant who was from a prominent religious family and who had a passionate love affair with his male first cousin.”
"[M]ore than a captivating read… exposing first-hand personal accounts… within the terrorist movement [that] likely will hasten its demise."
Foreign Policy
Terrorists in Love was also chosen by Foreign Policy as one of the twelve best books on Islamist terrorism.

"[S]ix fully drawn portraits of people often reduced to caricatures in
American thinking…[The author] adds nuance to a problem that Americans
have tended to understand only in terms of good and evil …a much more
human--though no less terrifying--picture of [those] committed to defeating the
United States and Western civilization

Boston Globe
"[A]n unusual atlas of extremism — a riveting, behind-the-scenes look at the
events that turned six young Muslims into terrorists
...heart-wrenching [and] haunting."

Washington Post
"One of the most in-depth looks at individual terrorists' lives currently available . . . helps reverse some major misconceptions about the motives of these attackers. E]ngages the emotions, challenging readers…. , Ballen is bringing us closer to the real motives of terrorists, and thus closer to the truth.”
The Huffington Post
"The author's dynamic with terrorists is fascinating… and he culls fascinating observations from what motivates terrorists and how they can be overcome…. An unprecedented and unusual look at Islamic radicalism."


"Ballen, a former federal prosecutor and the founder and president of the non-profit research institute Terror Free Tomorrow, profiles six former jihadis in this provocative study. With the assistance of Saudi Arabian authorities and well-placed Pakistani journalists, Ballen interviewed more than 100 former jihadis during five years of research, focusing on six very different, very complex individuals whose lives were so different from Western conceptions of the terrorist that he felt compelled to tell their stories. The six include a mama's boy, a homosexual, a sexually abused dreamer, one-half of a "jihadi Romeo and Juliet," a homesick and gullible suicide bomber, and "Pakistan's most notorious terrorist you never heard of." The author's dynamic with terrorists is fascinating ("I was everything he hated: an American, a Jew, and once a prosecutor of terrorists like him"), and he culls fascinating observations from what motivates terrorists ("the story of Islamic radicals and terrorists... is as much about love as hate") and how they can be overcome ("they are, in fact, a small group that can be isolated and defeated"). An unprecedented and unusual look at Islamic radicalism."

Publisher's Weekly

"In a ground-breaking book, author Ken Ballen seeks to dispel our mislaid conceptions of terrorism in order to show the personal struggles and inner demons that inspire an individual to dedicate their life to the jihad… The depth of emotion that Ballen captures is at times enlightening and at other times disturbing. Traveling the gradient between true love, fear, and absolute hatred Ballen shows the motivations that drive one to become a terrorist. "
Urban Times
"An extraordinarily gifted listener and storyteller, Ballen takes us where no one has dared to go—deep into the secret heart of Islamic fundamentalism. [Terrorists in Love is also] a great and fast read. Go check it out if you want some insight at what makes this Islamic extremist movement tick, as well as the religious, political and social environments that make up the radicals of tomorrow."
The Special Operations Forces Report
"A former US prosecutor has found that young militants are often motivated by dysfunctional family, sexual repression or forbidden love."
The Sunday Times
"The psychology of extremism"
"How terrorists see the word"
The Daily Beast
"A disturbing, intimate look inside another world."
The San Jose Mercury News
"A must-read that heightens our understanding."
St Louis Post Dispatch
"[The author]'s behind-the-scenes digging and socializing
make for wild, weird entertainment….Gripping."

South China Morning Post
"Revealing, often touching interviews with six young Islamic men. . . .[Their] stories cast a revealing light on an exotic, unfamiliar culture. … [Few] readers will deny that the [stories] illuminate the frustrations of young Islamic men living in repressive societies, alternatively fascinated and horrified by America."


"Those who still believe terrorists are mindless fanatics will find little evidence in these revealing, often touching interviews with six young Islamic men.

In despair when his lover was forced to marry another man, a young Arab enlisted in the Iraqi insurgency, found it tedious and returned home only to learn that she had run off to become a suicide bomber. She never returned. Another Saudi, an aimless dropout, galvanized by TV images of American guards humiliating Abu Ghraib prisoners (a priceless recruiting bonanza for terrorists), joined and became the first suicide bomber to survive his attack. Two subjects, one gay, both deeply religious, flirted with terrorism without signing up, but their stories cast a revealing light on an exotic, unfamiliar culture. Wildly cynical and boastful, a midlevel Pakistani terrorist drips contempt for America—by aiding Pakistan, we are financing and fighting terrorism simultaneously—but gives equal time to denouncing former comrades, Pakistani officers and even Taliban fighters and high officials for heartlessness, greed, corruption and an un-Islamic lack of humility. These stories clearly represent the cream of more than 100 interviews.

Ballen admits that they cannot reveal the motivation of all Islamic radicals, but few readers will deny that they illuminate the frustrations of young Islamic men living in repressive societies, alternatively fascinated and horrified by America."

—Kirkus Reviews
review divider
“Ballen blasts past the clichés about what animates terrorists and takes readers to places that no one has gone before."


Terrorists in Love shatters the dominant dispassionate treatment of modern day Islamic purveyors of death and destruction and instead offers a profoundly intimate portal into the fragile, emotional, even sexual factors that drive their behavior. Ballen blasts past the clichés about what animates terrorists and takes readers to places that no one has gone before. The profiles and revelations in this book are at times as uncomfortable as they are vital to appreciate what lies in the mind of some terrorists. I couldn’t put the book down.”

—Steve Clemons, Washington Editor-at-Large, The Atlantic and Senior Fellow & Founder, American Strategy Program
review divider“The 9/11 Commission grappled with the question of what drove the 19 hijackers to their terrorist acts in 2001, but we did not have time to investigate and fully understand their motives. Ken Ballen's exhaustive research, scores of interviews, and gripping writing make Terrorists in Love a uniquely valuable – and sometimes chilling – behind-the-scenes account of the extreme beliefs that often fuel the actions of jihadist militants."
—Lee H. Hamilton, former Congressman and Co-Chair of the 9/11 Commissionreview divider
Ballen not only gets beneath the skin of terrorists, but all the way into their hearts, revealing unimaginable emotional and personal secrets. He has shed surprising light on the never-ending question about militant jihadis – what are they thinking? Anyone who wants to know ought to read this unusual book.”

—Jane Mayer, bestselling author of The Dark Side
review divider
“Ken Ballen has managed the impossible for an American. He has worked his way into the intimate thoughts and frustrations and family conflicts that drove six young Muslims toward the jihadist movement, and he presents his findings in a series of compelling narratives.”
—David K. Shipler, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Arab and Jew and The Rights of the People: How Our Search for Safety Invades Our Liberties
review divider
“It’s simply astonishing how much Ken Ballen, an outsider, penetrated the closed world of Islamic radicals."


In a fast moving, absorbing and at times shocking narrative, Ballen destroys stereotypes and defies conventional wisdom by allowing the ‘enemies’ to speak for themselves. America, meet the terrorists, really for the first time. And if you find yourself in the strange position of empathizing with them, don’t recoil in horror, for you might just have stumbled upon that unexpected insight that could help design a more effective response.”

—Ammar Abdulhamid, former Islamic radical and leading pro-democracy activist in the Arab world
review divider
“Deploying techniques developed during his two decades as a prosecutor and investigator, Ken Ballen interviewed more than a hundred Islamist terrorists in depth, evincing from them their inner stories. Here he profiles six of these men, and the results are eye-opening and full of startling implications.
—Daniel Pipes, founder and president of the Middle East Forum, and author of Militant Islam Reaches America
review divider
“Many authors write about terrorism. Ken Ballen took the rare step of talking directly to terrorists. If you want to understand them, read their stories, in their own words. By giving them voice, this book offers a rarely-seen glimpse into another world, the world of terrorists, not just terrorism.”
—Philip Mudd, Former Deputy Director of the Counterterrorism Center at the CIA and Senior Intelligence Advisor for the FBI.
review divider
“A valuable, even-handed and insightful window into the mindsets and emotions of jihadi terrorists. Ballen draws a telling portrait of the human side of terrorists, from childhood traumas to moments of transformation to radicalism and, in some cases, to renunciation of terrorists cause. A compelling, if at times frightening study, one that should be read by anyone interested in the roots – and possible deterrents – of terrorism.”
—Karen Greenberg, author of The Least Worst Place: Guantanamo’s First 100 Days
review divider

Content © Ken Ballen 2012   |   Site design by Ilsa Brink