A Spy in Exile: Chapter 47

LONDON, BETHNAL GREEN, JANUARY 2015

 

Their large eyes gleamed through the slits in the veils. Ann and Helena removed the fabric that was covering their heads and faces but remained dressed in loose-fitting black dresses that concealed their bodies from neck to ankle. Helena flopped into the shabby armchair with a sigh. The four of them were staying in an apartment rented by Sayid, who gave a Maghreb name, paid in cash, and told the landlord that his papers were still at the Home Office branch in Croydon, South London, awaiting final approval.

The apartment was located in the attic of a yellowish brick building from the early twentieth century. Living in the same block were six Bengali families, three families from Somalia, and one family of Egyptian origin. Small satellite dishes adorned the apartments’ meager balconies. The attic apartment was small and run-down. A furnished flat, the Jamaican estate agent proudly declared as he gestured toward the shabby items on display, and Sayid, the refugee from Algeria, thanked his lucky stars. The realtor was unaware of the apartment’s major and true advantage—an open line of sight to the exit door of the mosque at which preacher Anjam Badawi delivered his sermons. The range: 450 meters.

Sayid had already attended Friday prayers at the mosque on two occasions. He was taken aback by the warmth with which he was received. The regular worshippers embraced him but didn’t trouble him with questions. He found a spot for himself in one of the last rows of worshippers, trying to occupy as little space as possible. Rather than be a burden on the others, he only wanted to find some peace of mind. But even from his position at the far edge of the mosque, he could see the enthusiasm that gripped his fellow worshippers when Badawi delivered his sermon.

Accompanying Badawi were three well-built young men who served as his bodyguards. Sayid found it hard to believe that they were armed. Carrying a firearm without a permit is a serious criminal offense in England, but their self-assured and threatening demeanor, their alertness and obvious devotion to their duty, were certainly a deterrent. Who knows, they may have had knives and clubs concealed on their person. With them around him, it would be difficult to get close to Badawi. And it would undoubtedly be even more difficult to make an escape from the place if someone were to strike at him from close range.

After the first sermon, the worshippers left the mosque and took to the street. Sayid followed suit. Badawi and his henchmen also left the mosque, talking among themselves. A battered Rover was waiting at the curb to pick them up. Several fired-up youths walked alongside Badawi, asking him questions, trying to impress him. He wasn’t in any hurry to get into the car, and spoke congenially with the group surrounding him, patiently answering their questions. Sayid witnessed the same ritual on his second visit, too. Badawi’s powerful rhetoric continued to reverberate even after he had finished delivering his sermon, and his words, like a giant magnet, seemed to pull the young men out onto the street in his wake, looking to draw encouragement and meaning from his presence.

Ann and Helena sewed their dresses and veils themselves. They realized it would be much easier for them to walk around Bethnal Green protected by their black clothing. No one dared to approach any of the veiled women in the street, and they certainly didn’t attract the kind of attention they would have had they spent hours wandering through the neighborhood as attractive white women in jeans and jackets from Uniqlo or the Gap.

In fact, thought Ann, who had known London since birth, Bethnal Green was a deceptive neighborhood. Some of its streets looked no different from the well-kept thoroughfares of Islington or Fulham. But take just take one step beyond some imaginary borderline, and you step into another country. The neighborhood changed face in an instant, becoming hard and rough, and the people walking its streets suddenly didn’t look the same, were no longer members of the English middle class, but immigrants and the children of immigrants, from those same countries ruled in the past by the empire on which the sun never set.

In keeping with Sayid’s findings, an assassination from close quarters was ruled out as a possible course of action. As a result, Aslan decided to opt for a sniper operation from a distance. So they scoured the area to find a rooftop or apartment on a high floor that offered a clear line of sight to the mosque. And that’s how they found the place in which the team was currently staying. They had already decided that Aslan would be the one to take out the preacher. He was the only member of the team with sniping skills and experience. The only thing they still needed was a weapon for the operation. That was a constant point of weakness when it came to covert operations abroad, and Aslan’s stomach always churned ahead of an incriminating encounter with people he didn’t know and who couldn’t be trusted in the least. But he believed in Goran, and he was relying on him not to drop them in the shit knowingly. The connection between him and Ya’ara ensured that, insofar as one could be sure of anything at all in the world of mercenaries and arms dealers. He trusted Goran’s contacts far less, however. And even if the connection with them amounted to nothing more than a money transfer to an anonymous bank account or stashing a sum of cash in a hidden location, they’d still know where the weapon could be found, and they could share that information with counterterrorism forces or the London police or MI5. And they would certainly do so if they were exposed or were cooperating with them. Ultimately, the weapon had to change hands. There was no getting around that.

Aslan and his team began planning their escape route from the apartment after the shooting. They discussed several courses of action. Escape in a rental car, on a motorcycle, via the Underground. Aslan wasn’t happy with any of the options. Stealing a vehicle was an option, of course, but the theft itself could lead to complications, and his cadets had very limited experience with stealing cars. Zero would probably be a better word. The Underground, for its part, is a great place in which to blend in with the masses, but it is also one of the most photographed locations in the world.

“Why don’t you dress up as a woman, cover yourself up in a black dress and veil, and make your getaway from the apartment on foot?” Ann suggested.

“Like Ehud Barak?” Sayid asked.

“And if you’re going to be a woman,” Helena interjected, “you should be pushing a baby carriage. We can prepare a doll wrapped in blankets for you. Who’s going to suspect a mother with a baby carriage of being a dangerous sniper?”

“Not bad, but remember, with all those disguises and masquerades, I’m also going to need to get away from this place as quickly as possible.”

“Bicycle?”

“Speak in complete sentences, please, Sayid.”

“What about escaping the neighborhood on a bicycle?” Sayid suggested. “There’s something innocent-looking about a bicycle. Unlike a getaway car or motorcycle that speeds off with a terrible noise. A simple bicycle. A woman on a bicycle. Covered in a veil. In a neighborhood in which half the women never show their faces in public.”

“I want an orderly analysis of the various options,” Aslan said. “You’re cadets. You’re here to learn. Let’s do this properly.”

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