The man with the wire-rim glasses and bushy beard, speaking calmly in American-accented English, is familiar from dozens of Web videos urging violent jihad against the United States.
But in one astonishing clip, recorded more than a year before the man, Anwar al-Awlaki, was killed by a C.I.A. drone strike in Yemen, the American-born cleric had a very different mission: to propose marriage to a third wife.
“This message is specifically for Sister Aminah,” Mr. Awlaki says in the video to his future bride, a comely 32-year-old blonde from Croatia who he hoped would join him in his fugitive existence. The woman had expressed fervent admiration for Mr. Awlaki on his Facebook page and later made clear in her own video reply that she shared his radical views, saying, “I am ready for dangerous things.”
Neither Mr. Awlaki nor his prospective wife knew it, but their match was being managed by a Danish double agent as part of an attempt to help the Danish intelligence service and the C.I.A. find the cleric’s hiding place in Yemen. The attempt failed, but the undercover agent, Morten Storm, 36, a former motorcycle gang member who had converted to Islam, continued to communicate with Mr. Awlaki. When Mr. Awlaki was killed in a drone strike on Sept. 30, 2011, Mr. Storm was certain his efforts had been instrumental in it.
But eventually Mr. Storm’s resentment at not getting what he regarded as sufficient credit boiled over. He phoned Jyllands-Posten, the second-largest newspaper in Denmark, and told the bewildered receptionist that he had helped track down one of the world’s most wanted terrorist leaders. The Danish newspaper spent 120 hours interviewing Mr. Storm and verifying his account.
Among the evidence that the burly, red-haired Mr. Storm produced to confirm his wild tale, in addition to the video of Mr. Awlaki and e-mail exchanges with him, were postcards from intelligence agents, an audiotape of a C.I.A agent he knew as Michael and a photograph of $250,000 in $100 bills — money he says the C.I.A. paid him for his role as marriage broker.
As part of that plan, the suitcase carried to Yemen by the bride, identified only as Aminah in her video messages to Mr. Awlaki, was secretly fitted with a tracking device that the C.I.A. hoped would reveal the cleric’s location, Mr. Storm told the Danish reporters. But a wary associate of Mr. Awlaki’s had her discard the suitcase when she arrived in Sana, Yemen’s capital. She traveled on to meet and marry Mr. Awlaki, but the C.I.A. plan was thwarted.
Mr. Storm’s tale shows the lengths to which American intelligence officials went to hunt down Mr. Awlaki, a leader of Al Qaeda’s affiliate in Yemen who some counterterrorism officials believed posed a greater threat to the United States than Osama bin Laden did. Their method was a variation on the traditional so-called honey trap, in which spy services use the lure of sex to ensnare male targets. Mr. Awlaki had been arrested during his years as an imam in the United States for hiring prostitutes; his two Arab wives lived apart from him in 2010, and he had asked Mr. Storm to find him a European woman willing to stay with him in hiding.