The Unusuals


The man walked slowly around the room, his hands clasped firmly behind his back. He observed the seven men seated at the rough-hewn plank table with growing concern. It had been six months since theyd left Pakistan, and still, they weren ready. They were close, but that was not good enough. The slightest misstep could bring disaster, as it had brought to others who had gone before them.

Murih Shaba thought back on their journey and all of the painstaking work he had put into forming his elite unit. They had traveled to Peshawar as a group, handed in their weapons, cut their hair, shaved their beards, and had photos taken for their new passports. A week later each man took possession of an expertly forged set of documents, two credit cards, and plane tickets. Some traveled through Africa, others the Orient and the Pacific Rim. Not one of them, however, traveled through Europe, Australia, or the United States. They were off-limits. Two weeks later they converged on one of the worlds most wicked and depraved cities.

Murih had never been to Ciudad del Este, and it would not have been his first choice, but as soon as Ayman al-Gumihad suggested it, Murih knew that was where he was going. The number two man in al-Qaeda was rarely open to suggestions and never open to debate. Those who had been bold or foolish enough to argue with him were all gone. So when Gumisuggested the remote South American city, Murih simply nodded and reasoned he would make it work. He arrived in the city first, and after spending one day roaming its filthy streets, he decided he would have to risk Zawahiris wrath and move his men.

Ciudad del Este was run by drug dealers, flesh merchants, gunrunners, and mobsters. Counterfeiting of currency as well as products was rampant. There were more gambling houses than houses of worship. Tax cheats, rapists, pedophiles, and murderers all ran to Ciudad del Este to evade the long arm of the law. Perfectly located in the Triple Frontier where Paraguay, Brazil, and Argentina came together, the city was a free-for-all. The competing authorities, the dense jungle, and the murky water of the Parana River combined to create a toxic stew of all things illicit.

Gumi had even gone so far as to tell him that he would like Ciudad del Este. He said the city would remind him of Peshawar, the Pakistani city that was the main supply center in their struggle to expel the infidels from their lands. But the only things the two cities had in common were drugs, guns, and poor people. Other than that, they couldn have been more different. Peshawar was a city on a war footing. It was a city with many opinions and clans, but a unified purpose. It was a city on a religious mission.

Ciudad del Este was a godless place. Chinese, Mexicans, Colombians, Syrians, Lebanese, Palestinians, Eurotrash, Russian thugs, and every other sort of reprobate roamed its streets, each person caring only about himself. There was no larger purpose, no restraint whatsoever. The very lawlessness of the place was bound to attract the attention of the Americans.

Murih reasoned the CIA would have little trouble penetrating the various factions. He imagined their intelligence assets crawling all over the city of nearly two hundred thousand. With their endless sums of cash and their technological advantage, it would be easy for them to discover what was going on. He and his men would be photographed within the week, and within the month they would begin to disappear. Just like the other teams that had been dispatched. If the Americans, British, and French weren afraid to grab their fellow warriors off the streets of major European cities, what would stop them from doing it in this lawless place?

Murih spent two days searching for a solution and then stumbled across something that he thought might work. He met a Lebanese arms dealer who had been implicated in the assassination of Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri. After two years of living on the run, his name had finally been cleared, no doubt because large amounts of cash were given to the right people. Now, he was returning to his native Lebanon. The man had a remote parcel of land he was looking to unload. With a hushed tone and conspiratorial glance, he explained to Murih that it was the perfect place to get away from the city.

The man was right. The 250-acre site had been cut out of the rainforest and was accessible only by helicopter or on foot. The closest road was almost ten miles away, but the trek through the rainforest made it feel more like a hundred miles. The sites buildings consisted of nothing more than concrete slabs, corrugated metal roofs, and screens running along the perimeter. There was a diesel generator to run the lights. Considering his lack of options, Murih thought the place was perfect. He bought it all for $50,000 and had the money wired to the mans account. His men, who had arrived by then, were transported to the camp and the training began in earnest.

That had been nearly six months ago, and they had come a long way in a relatively short time. Murih looked down with satisfaction as the first man finished assembling his bomb. It was Farid, of course. He was always first. Three more men completed the task in quick order. Murih hecked his watch. Not so long ago it took them almost an hour to assemble the bombs. The goal was ten minutes or less. They were at nine and counting. Two more men finished with seconds to spare, leaving Zachariah as the only one to fail.

The lone Egyptian in the group set down his tools and looked up with a sheepish smile, ”My uncle would be very disappointed. ”

A couple of the men chuckled. Murih did not. He found none of this amusing. They were scheduled to depart in a few days, and thanks to this idiot sitting before him, they were not ready. Murih had driven them without rest for nearly six months in an effort to hone them into elite warriors. He had succeeded with at least four of them. Two more were adequate, but he would have to keep a close eye on them. One was a total failure, and he was holding them back.

Murih turned away from the group and looked through the rusty screen at the steady rain. He felt isolated. Everything was foreign about this place. It was too lush, too humid, and there were far too many bugs. The desert was a much better place to commune with Allah, and the high altitude of Afghanistan was a much, much better place to discuss tactics with the other leaders. He missed the counsel and advice of his equals. He was alone in the jungle, faced with an extremely difficult decision. He had to decide what to do about Zachariah, and he had to do it quickly.

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