Target One

 

 

 

In any other place or time Hassan Muhammed Fazawi would have been a happy man, after all he held the prestigious position of captain in a former Soviet Airline. But he believed his race and religion denied him his place in the West. Like most young Shia men Hassan had rejoiced in the twin towers falling and then became increasingly dismayed as the West turned on his world. He too listened at Friday prayers and over the years in his heart became more convinced something must be done. Slowly and steadily an idea grew in his mind.

 

Photographic interpretation is a tedious undertaking but it was what Ardell Singleton did for a living. In the seeming never ending reel of images the dry high plains of Kazakhstan rolled under his gaze. A pale stripe where there hadn’t been one before. The dust was stripped from the concrete runway on an abandoned airbase. It was an oddball that Ardell felt obliged to pass upstairs. But would upstairs believe Ardell when his two and two made five?  The disappearance of MH370 confuses the issue and when the weight of opinion puts it in the Southern Ocean it is forgotten. Until four years later a rogue 777 reappears in American skies, headed for Washington DC….

In the wake of 9-11 the United States has with her allies conducted a comprehensive war on terror. Beginning with the occupation of Afghanistan, splintering and marginalising terror groups through to the identification and arrest of operatives, elimination of cells and organisers to culminate in the raid to capture Osama Bin Laden. In all this time the Islamic jihad has suffered reverse after reverse. They may be down but they are not done. Al Qaeda has unfinished business.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

17:57pm 11th September 2001. Near Khost, Afghanistan

 

The room was hot, not as hot as the surrounding country but still hot. The heat sat dry and oppressive with dust motes hanging in the air. It was sparsely furnished as fitting for a remote house on the edge of a rural town. The dry mudpack floor carpeted with a threadbare rug and half a dozen scattered cushions, the walls cracked with ancient whitewash paint. The only source of light an opening in the outer wall that in other parts of the world would contain a window but here in daylight was open to the air and at the fall of night was closed with a canvas screen. The glassless opening looked out onto an enclosed compound in which mangy chickens pecked vainly for crumbs. The compound was completed by a surrounding high mud brick wall, the only means of entry being a steel hinged gate closed and barred as an insurance that any conversation that occurred in the room would not be overheard.

 

The three men sat cross legged and silent on the only rug. All three were in traditional Pashtun dress with dun Bisht robes pulled around shoulders despite the heat. Mint tea was sipped sparingly through long straggly beards as they waited patiently for news. Unusually the house had a telephone that rang, a jangly metal on metal noise. It was a decrepit thing, an ancient hand me down from a time when Empires existed and the only concession to modernity in the dwelling. Khalid rose at the sound, shuffled over to the device and picked up the handset.

The clicks were loud in his ear as the code message was relayed and he responded in kind.

“The pillars have been struck.” The voice said, the words barely discernible over the crackling on the line.

“God be praised.” Khalid uttered as the words coalesced in his mind. “Both?” He questioned, the excitement in him held in check. 

“Both.” The answer came, the pause on the decrepit line exaggerating the distance between speakers as if they were on different worlds.

“Struck?” Khalid queried.

“On fire.”

“But not fallen?”

The voice came back crestfallen. “Not fallen.”

“And the others?”

“No word. Yet.”

Khalid hung up.

 

The air became more tense, dryer and even hotter, the silent anticipation growing as they waited for more news.

The ancient device clanged again, a raucous metallic drumming. Khalid shuffled over and picked the handset up once more. Listening intently, a smile broke out underneath his beard and he spoke into the mouthpiece. “This is good. Very good. This was a glorious day, the great Satan has been smitten down.”
At last the great one spoke, the weariness of the day’s waiting and prospect of a long overnight journey ahead clear in his voice. “It has been done.” The words an affirmation.

“It is not clear.” Khalid said, the telephone detached temporarily from his ear. “It is on the television but our contacts speak only of two martyrs.”

“What two?” The great one asked.

“What two?” Khalid repeated the question into the telephone.

‘The towers.” The voice on the telephone said. “They are gone.”

“Just the towers?”

“There is also word that the second target was hit.”

“Word?”

“It is not confirmed.”

“And the first target?”

“There is nothing.”

“Nothing?” Khalid asked.

“No word, and we would know. But the towers, the symbol of the Great Satan’s worship have been struck. God is great. He has shown the infidel our power. This is a blow that cannot be ignored.”

“Allah be praised.” Khalid said. “I will hear more only when you have substantiation.” He put the receiver back onto its cradle and turned to face the great one. “The pillars of Satan are struck down.” He said. “They have fallen to the ground with a great many infidel dead.”

“The others?” The great one queried.

“The nest of vipers has been struck but there is nothing more yet.”

“There will be. It was a good plan, we must be patient. As to the house of evil?”

“Nothing.”

“So as planned, now we must go to Kandahar.” The great one said. “It is a long journey and there is much to do.”

 

 

14th September. Kandahar

 

The room was like before, save the floor was concrete and the walls were blue. The concessions to modernism being the overhead fan that whirred incessantly and the television that played quietly against one wall. The three men were as before sat cross legged on cushions but this time almost in a line as opposed to a circle.

“It is true, he has been smitten but he is not struck down.” The great one observed as just like the rest of the world they watched totally captivated at the images as the top news story on Al Jazeera television played repeatedly.

“That the nest of vipers was not destroyed as were the pillars of Satan is unfortunate.” The great one spoke again as the news report switched back to the studio. “But three out of four is good. To have struck the house of evil would have been better.”

“It was a good plan.” Khalid said, his head dropped to disguise the embarrassment at a perceived failure. “I do not know why only three of the planes hit their targets. Perhaps the plan was not so good after all. The house of evil should have been struck first.”

“It is no matter.” The great one said at length. “God has told us the task is not complete, we must make our plans again.”

“This method will not work again.” Khalid observed. “The Great Satan will be ready and watching.”

“Yours was a good plan.” The great one conceded. 

None dare speak while he pondered on the significance. At last he spoke once more. “Now a new plan must be made. A new way to smite the infidel.”

“This one took Atef two years to put in place.” Khalid offered. “It may take time to formulate and put any new plan into place.”

“We can wait. God can wait. His patience is infinite.”

“There must be another way.”

“You will find it Sheik Khalid Al Kuwaiti. God will guide you.”

Khalid hesitated then spoke his mind. “There is but one way.”

“There is never just one way.” The great one told him. “There will be a new way.”

“A nuclear bomb.” Khalid offered. “It is the only way to be sure.”

“We do not have one, we cannot make one and we cannot obtain one.” The great one returned.

“We can try. There used to be a way.” Khalid offered.

“Used to be.” The great one echoed. “Those who would have given up such a device in the past are as much the enemies of god as is the great Satan. There will be no succour there. A different way must be found.”

“This is not Kabul” Khalid thought out loud. “We cannot drive a car to the door and blow it up.”

“That is true. It is also true that a mere car will not be enough.”

“That is true also.” 

“This is backward thinking. Ideas for here, not there.”

“Car bombs work. They are not discovered until it is too late.”

“Perhaps.” The great one accepted. 

 “A van was not enough for the tower. Maybe a truck?”

“A truck.” The great one considered the prospect. “It will need to get close enough.” He proposed.

“A truck with twenty tons of explosive would.” Khalid postulated, his mood brightening.

“Twenty tons?” The great one queried.

“A truck with twenty tons of high explosive driven through the gates.” Khalid proposed.

“That is a lot of explosive to get into the heart of the infidel.”

“It might need more.”

“What is the blast radius of twenty tons?”

“Half a kilometer. I understand.”

“I do not believe it would get close enough, but it would be worth the attempt.”

“It will be done.” 

“Make the plan, cover the ground and then come back to me.” The great one offered in concession. “But I will want to hear of other plans.”

“There are many.” Khalid offered as once again he picked up the tea cup.

“Plans that will work.” The great one chastised as he too sipped on over-sweet mint tea.

 

 

Late 2002 An Al Queda safe house in Peshawar.

 

The house was comfortable. A two story villa with plenty of bedrooms, running water and a large compound. Once again the weather was hot but a slight wind brought fresh air from the mountains. In the herb garden and separated from the livestock roaming the grounds the great one was once again attended by his wives and Sheik Khalid. Tea was poured and the wives waved away.

Only when they were sure of no listening ears Khalid reported.

“It is possible.” He said.

“Explain.”

“There is a way. The roads converge. A heavy truck driven at eighty kilometres an hour will get close enough.”

“There are gates.”

“Yes, but not substantial enough to stop thirty tons of truck and cargo.”

“Could a truck that big get up to eighty kilometres an hour in a city?”
“With no traffic, yes. On one street there is space and time.”

“No traffic. In the heart of a city there is always traffic.”

“At three in the morning there is very little on the one street.”

“And the truck? It must be big to carry so much.”

“Yes. We cannot rent one, but it is possible to obtain an old one.”

“Why old?”

“Not traceable.”

“You will steal it?”

“Perhaps, but that will start a hunt.”

“It cannot be disguised, hidden?”

“Perhaps, but it must in some way be genuine. It will need permits to be in the city.”

“Who will check at that time of night?”

“There is a chance. Trucks are rare at night.”

“It is becoming complicated.”

“Not more so than the planes.”

“This is true.”

 

Just weeks later Khalid visited the compound once again with news.

“The truck is selected.” He told the great one. “It is being used by a construction firm across the river.”

“And we have access?”

“We will have access.”

“When?”

“As soon as you approve the plan and can arrange the explosive.”

“Twenty tons.” The great one questioned.

“That is the plan.”

“That is a lot. Cannot it be made or obtained locally?”

“No. A martyr’s vest is one thing. This is too much to make and too much not to be noticed when it goes missing. Even the Great Satan’s pawns are vigilant.”

“Half a ton here, half a ton there. It will soon add up.” The great one offered.

“We will not want dynamite.” Khalid postulated. “Good quality blasting gelatine is harder to come by.” 

“We can find military grade through our contacts.”

“Teheran will want to know the target.”

“Did I speak of Teheran?”

“You did not, oh great one.”

“Then plan on a shipment. Tell me where and when. I will arrange the explosive.”

It was a tacit approval for the plan to proceed.

 

The weeks and months went by with a back and forth exchange between contacts in Pakistan and the United States. Then Ashad Khan, the self styled Sheik Al Kuweiti made the journey, this time up to the Khyber foothills and another safe house in verdant countryside.

Once again his perfectly sound but dilapidated looking little Suzuki van ran over dirt tracks up to a secluded villa. Once more he got out of the car under the watchful eye of an armed guard. Kuweiti let the guard look inside the van while he opened the large gate. Once back in the car he drove into the compound while the guard shut the gate behind him. It was not a large compound but the walls were tall and thick. In this countryside there was no need for vegetable gardens or livestock inside the walls. That was all husbanded outside in fields, the livestock brought into sheds at night where wolves could not get at them.

The weather was warm, but not oppressively so, the air sweet and clean with the scent of nearby forest.

“Welcome, Sheik Al Kuweiti.” The great one greeted. “You have had a long journey, will you take tea with me?”

 

With tea taken, the pair settled in rattan chairs on a balcony overlooking the fertile valley and in its base the Swat River as it broke over a boulder strewn bed. The gurgling foam just audible in the distance, a gentle background lull accompanied by birdsong from the surrounding fields and woods. Assured that there were no unsolicited eavesdroppers the conversation turned to business. 

“Khalid has been taken.” Kuweiti opened.

“It is why you come.” The great one observed.

“I come to do your bidding.” Kuweiti returned

“There is a package for you.” The great one said.

“A package?” Kuweiti queried.

“A twenty foot container sized package.” The great one continued. “It is on a dock in Bahrain. All it needs is a destination.”

“Ah.” Kuweiti exhaled. “Since learning of the plan I have pondered on this. I think Mexico.”

“Mexico.” An acceptance that carried a demand for elucidation.

“Maybe Honduras but eventually Mexico.”

“Which?”

“Honduras. Panama would be better but they are stringent and it’s a long road up to Mexico, so La Ceiba in Honduras. Then truck up through Guatemala and Mexico.”

“Why Mexico?”

“It would not be wise to ship into a port of the Satan, nor of the acolytes to the north, although crossing that border might be easier than the one to the south. But there is a constant traffic across the southern border. So,” Kuweiti offered. “We transport it over the border in small quantities. There is less risk and if some is found it will not be an end to the plan.”

“But small quantities?” The great one queried.

“Simple, we just bring it all together and finally load the truck at the last moment close to its target.”

“This is good. Do you have a means to get it close?

“One hundred metres.”

“Not enough.”

“With twenty tons? The blast radius is over a kilometer.”

“Do you have a martyr?”

“Yes.”

“And the explosive?”

“Yes.”

“Do it.”

 

It was an inconvenience, but a necessary one. Until a long term really secure residence could be found the great one was impelled to move from safe house to safe house more regularly than he or his family would like. Too many times tongues had wagged, simple things but should they reach the ears of the Satan either directly from a spy, an informant or indirectly from an innocent word overheard, then his presence would be known and the Satan would send killers. It was easier and safer to uproot his household on a regular basis. The great one was not afraid of being martyred, he merely wanted to finish gods’ work on earth before he met him face to face.

They had already moved from Peshawar to the Swat, now there was a house in Haripur.

 

 

 

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© Alexander Travell