The fools, he thought to himself. But even fools had their uses. He sat in his chair with his tea in a clear glass—the only way to drink tea—watching CNN. He couldn’t believe how eager they were to help him in his cause. Often they fought tooth-and-nail to report the most trivial of things. But it was particularly amusing to see them when something substantive occurred. They fell over themselves—and their egos—covering every conceivable angle of the event. He didn’t mind it one bit though, because amusing as it was for him to watch, the advent of twenty-four hour network news allowed for even the smallest act of terrorism—for it was exactly his intent to terrorize, not to participate some stupid fool’s dream of rebellion against “the Great Satan”—to be spread around the globe in an instant. And just as quickly to strike fear in the hearts of innumerable people all at once. Good.
His motive wasn’t in idealism or religion. In fact, he wasn’t a religious man at all, but you needed something to rally your troops and historically, nothing worked better than a decree from God. And if there were those who were willing to kill themselves for something they believed in, then he was just fine with that. Especially if it helped him in his cause. So he talked the talk, and even walked the walk because it was good for business. So long as the tide brought in fresh recruits willing to give their lives up, he was willing to pretend allegiance to God.
The Learjet landed at Baghdad International Airport a minute ahead of schedule. Special Agent Steven Lowery had flown to all manner of places in his life, but the approach on this particular trip could definitely be described as being unique. Even though the official end of hostilities was confidently declared over three years ago, the US military knew better and wasn’t taking any chances. There was no telling, for example, if a building on the airplane’s approach path contained an insurgent fighter with a portable rocket launcher. It wasn’t unheard of and in the likely event that someone pulled it off, well, it would definitely ruin your day. So caution was the order of the day and more often than not it bordered on paranoia. Which is why the trip in resembled more like a drunken ballet—as the plane did its best to hug the terrain—than a straight, smooth approach as one would normally expect. In the end, Lowery was just happy to be on the ground. He’d spent the entire flight reviewing material and coordinating both the Iraqi and US sides of the investigation—by phone no less! You could almost hear a collective sigh of relief once the plane was done performing its after-landing rollout maneuver. The seat-belt light went off and everyone stood to gather their things. Steven was first off the plane. They were on a remote part of the tarmac and he noticed several Humvees waiting for them as he debarked. A man approached with several others in his wake. He extended his hand and Steven took it.
“Welcome to Baghdad mister Lowery. I’m General Banion, please come with me.” Once the entire team was off the plane and on the waiting Humvees they started moving. The motorcade formed up as they picked up speed heading out of the airport into the city. They were moving fast now. Much faster than one would normally drive in a city. Then Lowery noticed that the intersections they crossed were all blocked by military vehicles. Someone had made sure that the trip was as quick and as safe—because a moving target is harder to hit—as possible. Within minutes they were in the safety of the International Zone, although in light of recent events safety was a relative commodity. Once through they just kept speeding ahead heading straight for the scene of the crime. So this is how the President feels, he thought of the VIP treatment.
Pulling up to what he could only assume was their destination—because they were finally slowing down—he noticed several open air tents set up a few hundred feet from the now destroyed residence of the US ambassador. There were several uniformed men and women busily moving about.
“Any survivors?”Steven asked the General as their car came to a stop.
The General just kept looking out the window and simply replied, “no.” It was obvious that he and his men had hoped otherwise and had made every effort to try and locate survivors.
Lowery was the last to disembark and was satisfied to see that his team was already on the move. Some were carrying their equipment over to the tents while others were even now starting to set things up. The good thing about working with the Army was that they were self contained. Wherever they went in the world, they brought with them their own power and communications which meant that Lowery didn’t have to rely on the local infrastructure. He watched his people working and thought there’s just no substitute for professionals, with pride. There was a reason why the FBI was one of the premier—if not the premier (depending on who you asked)—investigative organisations in the world. It was comprised of professionals who not only knew what they were doing, but took pride in doing it better than anyone else. The question he’d asked the General in the Humvee served two purposes. One was out of a genuine hope that there would be survivors and the other was to ascertain whether or not he could completely seal off the area without risking any potential survivors’ lives.
The scene of the crime was literally a stone’s throw from where he stood. Already the street was blocked off to regular traffic. He’d arranged for a full forensics unit to be flown over. The FBI had mobile labs for this sort of thing and the Air Force was kind enough to lend them a C-17 Globemaster III in order to fly one over. He looked at his watch and estimated that it should be here in about five to six hours.
“General, I’d like to please meet with those troops from the checkpoint,” Lowery said. They were the biggest lead he had and hopefully the interviews would produce further leads.
“They’re in isolation in barracks fifteen and twenty-seven.” Barracks fifteen was small and held one of the soldiers while twenty-seven was much larger and ensured the separated isolation of the two others. “I don’t personally think they had anything to do with it, but you can never be too sure. You want to go see them now?” Banion asked Lowery.
“Yes. As soon as possible.” To Lowery, everyone was a suspect in a case like this. He’d been around too long to discount anyone as a suspect. “Let me just get my guys together. Shrier, Michaelson!” He called out. Janet Shrier and Robert Michaelson stopped what they were doing and walked over to where Lowery and Banion were standing. “Alright guys, we’re going to go talk to the soldiers who think they let the bombers past their checkpoint.” They all loaded into a Humvee and Banion told the driver where to go. As they pulled away it occurred to Lowery that he still hadn’t showered, well at least he’d changed on the plane.
The Air Canada 747 touched down two minutes behind schedule at Pierre Elliot Trudeau—Dorval—International Airport. Except for being two minutes late, the flight had gone completely without incident. It wasn’t full, which made it all the more comfortable for the passengers in coach—economy class. One by one the passengers walked off the airplane and made their way into the terminal where, once they’d retrieved their luggage, they duly stood in line at customs. The last obstacle, if you will, before entering the country.
He was in his mid-thirties, dressed in business casual clothing and had just arrived in Canada on a flight in from Paris. He’d been on the move for nearly a day having flown to Paris from Istanbul and to Istanbul from Damascus. The trek into Syria however was a lot more arduous as it had been by truck. Air travel out of Iraq wasn’t a very smart or safe idea for a person in his line of work. He was paid for his experience and his knowledge in unconventional things, and though he was very good at what he did, he also knew that he should never underestimate ones enemies. A lesson he’d learned second hand. Too many of his colleagues were dead because of such mistakes, and he didn’t feel a burning need to visit them any time soon. That’s why he was using an entirely new set of papers on this trip. The west had gotten quite good at piecing information together so the less information he gave them, the harder it would be for them to put the puzzle of his identity together. On this trip he was Mahmood Hassan, a middle eastern contractor specializing in industrial buildings. The fact that he was a contractor—just not in construction—was amusing parallel to him.
“Welcome to Canada Mister Hassan, how long will you be staying?” The customs officer asked.
“Just one week sir,” Hassan replied. Deferrance was always a good tactic to stay in the good graces of officials. The customs officer looked to be Middle-Eastern in origin. He knew better than to pry however, since succinct contact was always easier to forget than a protracted conversation.
“And the nature of your business here?”
“I’ll be negotiating contracts with several parts suppliers for my construction business,” he replied.
The officer took a quick glance at the picture to make sure that the person behind the glass was actually who he claimed to be. Satisfied, he stamped the passport and let the visitor through.
For his part, “Hassan” could hardly believe how the lax security was. He would have had to pass through at least three such checkpoints going into Israel, and even then he might be asked into a separate room where he’d be searched, only to be turned back on the mere suspicion that he might be a threat. These westerners had so much to learn.
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