Back to shadow.
Whenever the evening shadows shrouded him he slowed just enough to survey the street behind him, glancing quickly at the openings between the buildings to either side, and then to study the way ahead, trying to discern the odd shadow-form, or detect a furtive movement. He silently cursed the intermittent streetlights that temporarily exposed him to curious eyes. The possibility that tonight’s meeting might be thwarted by a concerned citizen’s phone call to the police that got him picked up was unthinkable.
For nearly five years now Tariq Abdul Akbar had subjected himself to a virtual non-existence in anticipation of one day having this particular meeting with the Mullah, who was of high rank within the mujaheddin fighters—the freedom fighters—leadership.
“Do you understand the essence of Islam?” The Imam’s sharp, intelligent eyes swept this gathering of the faithful, pointedly meeting each pair of eyes. It was a rhetorical question, yes, but asked to be answered in the minds, hearts, and spirits of all who heard it.
“Is your nature in harmony with the nature of Islam? Is your nature Muslim?” Now he selected a face here and there among those seated before him with raised eyebrows and a genial smile.
This Islamic mosque, or masjid, was one of oldest in Washington, D.C. Many of those who came to worship and pray here are the first fruit of what is commonly termed around the Muslim community in the United States as First Resurrection Islam, started by Fard Muhammed, and developed into a major religious movement by Elijah Poole, who became Elijah Muhammed.
As was the case with virtually every known Islamic place of worship, this masjid had come under the scrutiny of the FBI, and later the Department of Homeland Security, since the dark doings of 9/11. Actually, because of its location in the nation’s capital, and because Islam has long been regarded by many the U.S. as a radical, somewhat cult-ish religious discipline, this temple had for years been subjected to surveillance by law enforcement of one form or another.
“Are you in submission, brothers and sisters?” The imam, Abdullah el-Amin Ismail, stood very still. There was about his manner and countenance an introspective quality. His lowered gaze seemed to contemplate that very question, as thought written on an internal page of his mind.
“What have you…? Or, what have we surrendered to the will of Allah?”
“Our minds…our hearts… our bodies,” Tariq Abdul had said in a voice, though not loud, bespoke quiet conviction. The imam had smiled at him.
“And what is the will of Allah?”
“Total submission, brother minister,” Tariq answered without hesitation.
Imam el-Amin Ismail nodded an acknowledgement, then looked the question with his eyes to the others there. Another voice spoke up:
“That we stand on the five pillars of Islam, brother minister.”
“That all Muslims come to haqiqah—the way of ultimate truth—through diligent study of the Koran, brother minister.”
“The will of Allah, brother minister, is that we acknowledge that there is no God but Allah and that Muhammed is Allah’s faithful servant and messenger.”
The imam held up a silencing hand. The smile had fallen from his face, and his narrowed, gleaming gaze pierced to the hearts and spirits of those who met those eyes.
Words are spirits of power when God is the speaker.
“You!…Muslims!…You are the will of Allah!”
All was spongy shadow now as Tariq made his stealthy way along a pocked and rutted lane. There were few working streetlights to relieve the evening’s gloom. The area had mostly been given over to small, privately owned contractual services and warehouses. Tariq darted suddenly between two dumpsters. Squatting, he peeked out to study his back-trail. If anyone had been following there would have been nowhere for them to hide.
Nothing was there.
He did not feel like he was being overly cautious. There was a lot at stake. He took his impending ‘death’ very seriously.
“You are Rasidun—the rightly guided ones,” the man said. His name was not known, but a name was not important. However, he did seem surprisingly young to be of high station within the mujaheddin.
The man was clean-cut, well dressed, and had the mien of a western businessman…a “suit”. He served the mujaheddin by carrying instructions and important communications to the bilad al-kufr—the lands of infidelity and unbelief—where faithful jihadi, the soon to be martyrs, waited to obey the hadith which proclaimed” “I have been ordered to fight against people until they testify that there is no God but Allah.” Hadiths are traditional sayings attributed to the Prophet Muhammed, not included in the Koran. Those who would embrace the extreme of this hadith were ready to die for Islam.
Tariq had not known until his time had come that his imam, Abdullah el-Amin Ismail, had been a mujaheddin recruiter, whose specialty was seeking out the faithful possessing the qualities of martyrdom. Such qualities were not so easily discerned.
“Do you study the Al-Tawba and the Anfal, brother Tariq Abdul?” the imam had asked when they had been sitting alone after talib, or service, one evening. It had been nearly a year since the imam had first invited Tariq to remain after service to talk. Their after-talib get-togethers were now common practice.
“The war suras,” Tariq had told him: “I will instill terror into the hearts of the unbelievers. Smite ye above the necks and smite all their fingertips off them.”
Imam el-Amin Ismail had been smiling. “Sura 8, verse 12. Well said, brother Tariq. Do you know: ‘Fight and slay the pagans wherever you find them, and lie in wait for them in every stratagem of war.’?”
“Yes, brother minister. It is sura 9, verse 5.”
And so had been the recruitment and progressive indoctrination of Tariq Abdul into the ranks of the jihad.
He had been one of eight. Two were women. They had come from different cities, though which city was kept secret, one from another. In fact, they knew nothing of each others background, and they knew each other only by a first name. Their bond was their shared purpose and the death they would share. They were rashidun, true, but most important, they were jihadi.
“There was a time during my early training as a mujaheddin that I’d allowed myself to feel what I believed was righteous anger at the way the ignorant and misguided infidels referred to the chosen, such as yourselves, as terrorist cells. What I did not understand then is that even fools can see truth, speak truth, but still not know it as truth.” The man without a name was a gifted and passionate orator. The mujaheddin leadership had selected wisely.
“The infinite grace and wisdom of Allah be forever upon the mullahs and taliban who patiently guided me to understanding. Listen, then:
“A cell is but a small component of the body, is it not? The body collective of Islam is the ummah—the united Muslim community. Recall the hadith of the Prophet after his last pilgrimage to Mecca in 632: ‘Know ye that every Muslim is a brother to every other Muslim, and that ye are one brotherhood.’
“That being said. Might we then consider that we are all bound together as a body—the ummah—through the will of Allah?” The mujaheddin emissary had startled Tariq and the others by quickly coming forward to where they knelt, to gently touch the crown of each head. With each touch had come a whispered: “Inshallah—God willing.”
The strange ritual took only moments, then, he was back before the silent group.
“The mullahs and taliban brought me to the understanding that the tiny atom, being the basic component of a cell, also has perhaps the greatest destructive potential known to man.”
Neither Tariq, nor any of his jihadi brothers and sisters, could have fathomed where this was all going. Every Muslim is an atom, and atoms make up cells, and cells make up the body, and the body is ummah. What then is the destructive potential of the ummah?…So many cells. Truly, Islam is a dominant force and is not to be dominated.
The nameless one then told the group how they would became martyrs. Tariq Abdul would be the leader of these jihadi from this point forward to their glorious end. Instructions for the others would come through him. They would not see the nameless emissary after today until Paradise. And it was Tariq who would have the final meeting with the mujaheddin Mullah who had to be spirited secretly into the country. Tariq would be given the targets of their holy mission, backpacks loaded with explosives and shrapnel, and a vehicle for him to deliver the backpacks to his fellow jihadi. He would also receive a final blessing meant for all. Ultimately, Tariq would be responsible for insuring that none of the others in the group lost heart or nerve, that they remained committed to the mission, and welcomed martyrdom.
Cloaked completely by the night and the deeper umbra created by the overhand of the recessed doorway he stood within, Tariq studied the visible front and side of the dollar store wholesale warehouse. It was a flat-roofed, rectangular, innocuous structure with little distinguishing detail. Two relatively small barred windows were to either side of the single front door, which was fronted by burglar bars.
Nothing moved over there and no light shown in either of the windows. But Tariq knew that the windows would be covered with heavy cloth and that the Mullah and others were in the warehouse, waiting. He knew also that an unseen sentry or sentries had very likely spotted him. Tonight it would be impossible to get near this warehouse undetected. Too much was at stake.
“I love to be killed in the way of Allah, then to be revived to life again, then to be killed, then to be revived to life, and then to be killed.”
Tariq heard these words in his mind as he began the sprint to the front of the warehouse. He saw with satisfaction that the door was opening. A disembodied hand pushed the burglar bars outward. He could also see a vague illumination coming from within. He hardly slowed as e flitted through the doorway.
For the most part, the cavernous interior of the warehouse was pervasive gloom. Some twenty-five feet to the right of the entrance a single table had been set up. The meager light he had seen coming over the threshold came from a solitary lamp atop the table.
Three men were at the table. A fourth man, the door guard, closed the door behind Tariq. This man remained beside the door, hands hanging loosely at his sides. He would most certainly be armed.
One man at the table was seated. His bearded face was without expression and Tariq recognized the face immediately. The eyes that watched Tariq were serene. This was “the Mullah”. He, like the other three present, was of definite Middle Eastern persuasion. How truly porous the United States’ borders must be if this man and his escorts could apparently come and go as they pleased. The Mullah was one the most wanted men in the world. While the U.S. military and its allies scoured the Arab nations for this particular man, here he sat in a warehouse in the capital of the most powerful western nation, plotting new mayhem and terror.
Tariq came a few feet towards the table, then went to a kneeling position, eyes respectfully downcast.
“As-salamu alaykum wa rahmatul lah. Peace be upon you and the mercy of God.”
The Mullah got to his feet.
“Allahu Akbar! As-salamu alayna wa ibadil-lah. Peace be upon us and all righteous slaves of Allah.”
Flanked by the men who had stood to either side of him at the table, the Mullah came over to where Tariq knelt.
“Please, stand up. It is I who should be kneeling to you.”
Obeying, Tariq got to his feet. He was taller than all three men before him, the Mullah being shortest of all and slight of build; a physically unimposing figure. But, there was about him a presence barely contained by the room. It was difficult to determine the Mullah’s age. He could’ve been fifty or seventy years old.
“I have little time, and so do you, jihadi. Come.” The Mullah turned, and with Tariq trailing, the foursome went back to the table.
Behind the table, where the lamp’s light began to lose the murky darkness of the warehouse, Tariq saw eight backpacks of varying color and slightly different styles. All, though, were of a common type. With his back to Tariq and shielded on both sides by his attendants, the Mullah opened a black briefcase that lay on he tabletop. He reached in, withdrew something and closing the briefcase, turned back to Tariq. The Mullah’s expression was grim, though his eyes, in contradictory fashion, seemed somehow, still calm. Odd. He held in his hands a powder blue, legal-size envelope. It was sealed with red wax, imprinted with an Arabic-looking character Tariq did not recognize.
“Fitnah. Disbelief and worshipping other gods along with Allah is at the heart of America’s corruption.” The Mullah’s tranquil gaze searched Tariq’s face. “Yes, you do know that those who forget God, God will cause to forget themselves.” He raised a hand and signaled the man at the door who immediately went out.
“Here are the instructions and the targets that have been chosen. They are for your eyes.” The Mullah passed the envelope, unopened, to Tariq. “I have other packets that must be delivered, all within seventy-two hours. A succession of strikes will be delivered against the enemy of Islam and Allah, and those who feed at the table of the Great Satan. They will tremble and know that God is greatest.”
Outside, a vehicle pulled up and stopped at the warehouse entrance. The man who had gone out came through the door. He walked over quickly and gave the Mullah a set of keys. Then he and the other two men went around the table, and with noticeable care, picked up the backpacks. There was no wasted motion as the backpacks were carried out through the front door. A moment or so later a door outside was heard to open, then quickly, but gently, close.
The Mullah was smiling at Tariq. “You need not worry about an inadvertent detonation. The Semtex is not armed, yet. I realize that the jihadi are trained to arm plastique, however, instructions and additional information are included in the packs.”
The Mullah’s three attendants returned, coming to stand at attention just behind the mujaheddin leader.
“Here are the keys,” the Mullah said, extending the keys to Tariq. “The auto is full of petrol and well-serviced.” Those calm eyes seemed to look to Tariq’s core being. “Allahu Akbar! God is greatest.”
“Allahu Akbar!” Tariq took a step back and started to turn. It was a much practiced motion that brought his hand behind his back to draw the Walther PPK.380mm semi-automatic pistol, fitted with a specially constructed, shortened silencer. His heart was thundering as he quickly and efficiently took out the three men behind the Mullah. With them eliminated, he took aim at a point between the Mullah’s eyes. Only his training and a deep and abiding sense of purpose and duty kept panic and revulsion from overwhelming his sense of reality. Mortal fear can activate ego defense mechanisms that can catapult a person into a kind of separate reality. Tariq, however, stayed focused. He saw that the Mullah’s eyes were closed and his lips moved silently. Praying? Tariq squeezed off a single round and watched the small hole suddenly appear between the mujaheddin’s eyes. The lifeless body crumpled to the floor. Stepping over the Mullah, Tariq placed a bullet into the temple of each of the other men. No one could be left alive here.
From his point, Tariq would have to trust blind luck—or, the will of Allah—to see him safely through. He had no way of knowing what lay in wait outside. Was there some sort of “all clear” signal that others stationed around the warehouse needed to receive before allowing Tariq to leave? He would not…could not…know until he walked out.
Tariq retrieved the briefcase from the table and crossed to the door. He paused to take a deep, calming breath. The door was not locked, and willing himself not to dwell on the danger that might be waiting, he walked out, taking care to close both the main door and the burglar bars. He could not seem hurried.
The vehicle, a cargo van, was only a few steps beyond the warehouse entrance; the driver’s side door was to him and unlocked. He climbed in behind the wheel. Hardly daring to breathe, he put the key into the ignition and started the engine. It came instantly to life. He found the light switch on the dash and turned on the headlights. The twin beams lit up the area before him. There was nothing and no one. The gas needle registered a full tank, as the Mullah had told him. Tariq put the car into gear and drove away from the warehouse.
The streets just on the outskirts of the Georgetown section of Washington, DC held almost no traffic. It was a little after midnight when Tariq pulled up to a phone booth at a closed and darkened gas station. He waited until a couple of cars passed him going in the opposite direction before getting out of the van.
At the phone, he keyed in a special number. There was no ring, but the other end was picked up.
“Paul Lawrence Dunbar for my editor, please,” Tariq said.
“Thank you, Mr. Dunbar. Please hold for your editor.”
There followed a brief silence, then a buzz.
“Access, please?” came a dispassionate voice.
“Beware the jabberwocky.”
The line went silent. Tariq looked surreptitiously around him. He saw no cars and no pedestrian traffic. Good!
“Donovan, where are you?”
Donovan Richards aka Tariq Abdul Akbar, recognized the voice of Alec Coleson, Deputy Director of Operations of the Central Intelligence Agency.
Donovan Richards was a ‘black hole’ agent. His existence as a C.I.A. operative, and knowledge of the operation itself, was the purview of only two individuals within the agency, the Director of C.I.A. and Alec Coleson, senior Deputy Director of Operations, U.S. With the creation of the Department of Homeland Security, where supposedly all intelligence agencies’ data was essentially disseminated, the super-covert shadow ops of Donovan Richards came under the partial control of no less than the Director of Homeland Security and his immediate deputy.
Donovan Richards mission was so deeply classified that no hard copy file was maintained, no electronic data was ever logged into any database. He communicated only when he needed to by dedicated, ultra-secure land line, monitored by a man and a woman, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. The men and women (culled from various government intelligence agencies) who did the shift work monitoring the line know only to listen for specific phrases and to prompt for specific responses. They would then connect an extension, which would automatically kill the monitor’s connection, until the communication they would never hear was complete.
Donovan Richards had gone undercover in the early years of “radical Islamic terrorism” as a national security concern. He had, to all intents, dropped off the face of the earth, having given up his entire former life, submerging himself shadowy world of the Islamic revolutionary. So much so, that Tariq Abdul Akbar became his true self.
Finally, it was all going to pay off.
“I’m only minutes away from the gingerbread house.”
“Everyone is here.”
“Good, because I’m coming in top-heavy.” This particular expression meant that he was in possession of hard information of potentially maximum importance to national security.
The DDO-US made some indistinct comments to those with him. Donovan was fairly certain that safe-house known to a select few in the intelligence community as the gingerbread house contained the major players in Homeland Security, the C.I.A., the N.S.A., the D.O.D., and the F.B.I., and perhaps some characters from the nameless ops outfits. These were the people responsible for waging—and winning—the war on terror in the United States, as well as wherever the threat might be found on the planet.
“Okay, then, we’re ready for you. When you get here just pull into the garage.
“On my way, sir.”
Donovan got back into the van thinking that the expression “coming in from the cold” could never have been more meaningful or him, and apropos, than right then.
He had killed four human beings tonight, and regardless of purpose and in spite of the psych-prepping for such an eventuality he had received at ‘the farm’ during his training, his mind and spirit were chilled by what he had done.
For Donovan Richards it was over. His cover operation identity, so carefully maintained over the years, had served its purpose. Now it was blown. Tariq Abdul Akbar would die a hero’s death. A martyr in the war on terror? Why not? If the contents of the briefcase contained vital information on active terrorists cells in the United States, cells primed for suicide attacks, then the accolades, the honors, the praise and thanks of a grateful government should go…not to Donovan Richards, but instead, to Tariq Abdul Akbar.
The gingerbread house’s outward façade had not changed over the years that he had been in the black hole and forbidden to come anywhere near this facility, though his farewell briefing had taken place here. The little twig that had been punched into the front yard was now a full-fledged ash tree. The mushy and lumpy sod had only been recently laid when he had last seen the yard, had settled and grown into a rich, velvety green carpet. Neatly trimmed hedges lined the walk, and a colorful, well-kept flower garden laced the front of the Victorian-styled residence. The driveway went along the right side of the house to end at a detached two-car garage. No other automobiles or people were in sight as Donovan turned into the drive from the street. He knew, though, that surveillance cameras had been tracking him from various points along the street, being the subject of scrutiny by the most powerful collection of eyes of the United States intelligence community. They would all want to be a part of the greatest intelligence coup on U.S. soil.
The garage door was just beginning to open by remote from within the house, just as Donovan came parallel to the house in the cargo van.
The explosion was devastating. For approximately a block and a half in all directions from ground zero, there was destruction, death, and terror. The gingerbread house was completely annihilated, and everyone inside had been literally blown to bits.
Decimation and death claimed homes and occupants in the area in proximity of the detonation site. The Department of Homeland Security quickly sealed-off the entire Georgetown district of Washington, DC using DC police. But that was the extent of DC police involvement. The might and resources of the federal government were brought to bear. The country’s threat alert went to ‘Red’. The investigation escalated to international proportions within the first half-hour. Agents abroad were alerted to look out and listen for anything that might relate, even remotely, to the DC incident. Not since the catastrophic events of 9/11 had the United States been caught so totally off-guard with such destruction and loss of life.
”So the van itself had been packed front to back with Semtex, along with the eight backpacks.” It was a statement.
“Yes. It was important that the agent accept the need for the vehicle as a means of escape. There could be no paranoia about using the van.”
“When did it become known to the mujaheddin that Tariq Abdul Akbar was really Donovan Richards, a C.I.A. operative?”
“Very early in his training for the mission, actually. You see, we have faithful Muslims who are loyal to the mujaheddin in strategic positions within the American intelligence sector.”
“The infidels took great pains to conceal their plan to infiltrate what they consider the more “radical” Islamic element. They had hoped to insert…what is the expression?…ah, yes, a mole into the ranks of the mujaheddin. But to do this, the man, Richards, had to be given a strong and convincing Muslim character. True Muslims had to be used to teach him the ways of Islam.
“One of the faithful involve with the teaching thought it prudent to pas along word that a possible government agent was being seriously and secretly groomed in Islam. Our brother risked his life, surely, to get us a picture of this man, Donovan Richards, who was relatively young. It was most fortuitous that he eventually surfaced at the masjid of Imam Abdullah el-Amin Ismail.”
“The glorious sacrifices of the Imam and the Mullah Umar will be remembered forever by mujaheddin everywhere. True martyrs of Islam.”
“Truly. The parallel operations, that of the jihad and the C.I.A., both revolved around Tariq Abdul. Only one could succeed. Imam el-Amin Ismail and Mullah Umar had to be willing to die to insure that the C.I.A. would fail and the jihad would succeed.”
“A most fitting irony, my brother, where I see the hand of Allah is that the infidels would dare to try to turn Islam into a weapon against Islam, and that the false Muslim they created himself became the avenging sword of Islam, striking the unbelievers mightily. Tariq Abdul Akbar was a jihad martyr.”
“Yes. Allahu Akbar! God is greatest.