Known in CIA circles as "the Elizabeth Taylor of the jihad" and among her cohorts as the "mother of Mohammed," Australia native Robyn (or Rabiah) Hutchinson lived for twenty years at the frontlines of the jihadist movement, after marrying first an Indonesian leader of Jemaah Islamiyah (the group responsible for the Bali bombings) and then a member of Osama bin Laden's inner circle. Al Qaeda's second in command, Ayman al Zawahiri, personally deputized her to run a women's hospital in Kandahar when al Qaeda was still ascendant in Afghanistan. Hutchinson now lives virtually imprisoned in one of Sydney, Australia's western suburbs, having surrendered to the Australian embassy in Iran after fleeing the U.S. bombing of Afghanistan following 9/11. Her story is unique-born into a down-and-out lower-class Australian family of the outback, in and out of Christian schools and the 1960s counter-culture, she migrated to Bali and Indonesia and converted to Islam and jihad along her extraordinary personal journey.
With a reputation for tough investigative journalism, Sally Neighbour gained the confidence of Hutchinson through extensive interviews and with an absolute assurance that she would tell this woman's story honestly, fact-checking it to the fullest extent possible. She reveals how Hutchinson became a trusted insider to the Jemaah Islamiyah, Taliban, and al Qaeda leaderships and Osama bin Laden's inner sanctum. In the process, Neighbour discovers a world of converts and true believers and offers a unique account of the magnetism of the Islamist cause for women-who have received little attention in the ongoing attempt to understand this potent movement-as well as for men. Hutchinson's story is also an exemplification of the conditions under which terror networks get started, in amorphous social scenes where people freely drift in and out, making acquaintances, solidifying them around social ties joined to a cause, and going underground from there.
Sally Neighbour is a reporter with the Australian Broadcasting Company's investigative journalism program Four Corners, a writer for The Australian newspaper and winner of three Walkley Awards, Australia's most coveted prize for excellence in journalism. Her previous book was In the Shadow of Swords: On the Trail of Terrorism from Afghanistan to Australia.