Stand Against Evil

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Other Books in the Series

The Helios Conspiracy
I Am The Sheepdog

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Chapter One

 

Jackson, MS

 

Siddiqui Ghalib finished his morning prayer and rolled up his prayer rug for the last time. He knew that he would never again pray from such a holy place. His journey to martyrdom was nearing its end. He felt strangely at peace with that realization.

As the other believers moved out of the prayer room and into the kitchen for breakfast, Siddiqui headed straight for his room. He pulled a bag from beneath his modest single bed and began packing. 

“Won’t you stay for the morning meal?” Imam Farah asked from behind him.

Siddiqui continued packing as the Imam stood in the doorway. After he was sure he had everything – a Quran, Glock 17 handgun, fake driver’s license, passport, and a small bag full of clothes – he turned to face the short, fat Imam.

Although the Imam had been a gracious host, Siddiqui knew that Farah was anything but pure, having succumbed to the gluttony of living in America. He was known for his expensive cars, prostitutes, and even alcohol. It was shameful, but Siddiqui never spoke of it, knowing that the Imam was an important piece in their operation, regardless of whether or not Siddiqui actually respected him.

“Will you be taking me to the rental car center?” Siddiqui asked tersely.

“Why are you in such a hurry, friend?” Farah asked. “You seem very troubled.”

“Imam, we have less than a week until the operation,” Siddiqui replied. “The men will begin to arrive this afternoon. I must be there to welcome them.”

“Yes, you are right,” the Imam replied thoughtfully. “I will take you to the rental car center myself, of course. Please let me know when you are ready.”

Siddiqui nodded as Imam Farah closed the door behind him. He sat on the bed and closed his eyes, thinking of his family that had been killed by American airstrikes in Raqqa, Syria, five years earlier.

His wife had been visiting his parents when an American bomber dropped a five hundred pound bomb on a nearby building. The explosion had caused the structure to collapse onto his parents’ apartment, killing everyone he loved instantly.

He had worked late that night, working on a Humvee the Islamic State had captured from the Iraqi Army. He had seen the explosions firsthand as the air raid sirens sounded. He would never get that image out of his head.

 A mechanic by trade, Siddiqui’s shop had stayed open as the Free Syrian Army, and eventually the Islamic State, had taken over Raqqa. The constant bombardment by the Americans, the military blockades, and the dying agriculture, however, had taken its toll on the city.

He watched as the city went from a prosperous cultural center with trade and agriculture to a bombed out prison.  As others had fled, Siddiqui and his family had stayed. The Islamic State had never bothered him. He was young and a good mechanic. They liked him. They had even offered him a position in their police force on several occasions, but Siddiqui had always felt that he was best suited to serve through his shop.

But that all changed when the Americans killed his family. He found a rage that he had never before felt. They had taken everything from him. The infidels had killed his family from thousands of feet in the air like the cowards they were. Siddiqui joined the Islamic State the next day.

They had trained him to be a warrior. The more he heard of their teachings, the more convinced he was that theirs was a righteous path. He had found his new calling – to cripple the Americans and drive out the non-believers, while establishing the caliphate. It was Allah’s will.

Siddiqui opened his eyes and stood, throwing his bag over his shoulder as he left the small room. He walked to the kitchen where Imam Farah was eating with the others.

“The rental car center will be open soon,” Siddiqui said. “I am ready.”

“Sit,” Imam Farah ordered, while motioning to the empty seat next to him. “Eat. You will need strength for your journey.”

Siddiqui started to protest, but thought better of it as some of the others watched him. Questioning an Imam in a place of worship was highly frowned upon. Siddiqui reluctantly sat as one of the others placed a plate of food in front of him.

As he had grown used to doing on the battlefield, Siddiqui quickly cleaned his plate. Eating was necessary for energy, nothing more. He had no time to sit and enjoy the carefully prepared meal.

“Do you feel better?” the Imam asked, still casually chewing on a piece of bread as Siddiqui finished.

“Imam, we must go,” Siddiqui pleaded.

“Yes, of course,” Imam Farah said with a smile as he pushed his plate aside.

Siddiqui grabbed his bag and followed the Imam through the kitchen and out of the front door of the mosque. The alarm on the Imam’s BMW chirped as Farah unlocked it and popped open the trunk. Siddiqui gently placed his bag in, removing the Glock 17 and tucking it into the waistband of his khaki pants.

He covered the handgun with his untucked polo shirt as he closed the trunk and took his place in the passenger seat next to the Imam.

“You remind me of Tariq,” the Imam said as he backed out of his parking spot at the front of the mosque and started down the long, isolated gravel driveway.

“Tariq failed,” Siddiqui snapped. “I will not.”

“Is that what you think?” the Imam asked, as he turned from the driveway onto a paved road leading to a nearby subdivision.

“It is because of Tariq that we had to delay our plan for over a year,” Siddiqui replied.

His plan,” Imam Farah replied. “Do not forget what he has done.”

“Al-Baghdadi devised this plan, Imam,” Siddiqui argued. “Tariq Qafir caused its delay.”

“And yet you were willing to fight for him,” Farah replied.

“I am a warrior for Allah and the Islamic State,” Siddiqui said proudly. “Tariq Qafir was sent by al-Baghdadi to strike a blow against the Americans, but instead he obsessed over trivial victories that did nothing to further our cause.”

Farah’s brow furrowed. “Trivial victories? Do you believe that shooting down the symbol of American excess and military might is trivial?”

“It bought nothing,” Siddiqui said, ignoring the building anger in the Imam’s voice. “The Americans denied it and the world believed them. They claimed that the F-35 fighter jet crashed because of the pilot. It only led to the death of Tariq and many good men. It compromised our plans. It is because of him that our women and children still die by their cowardly bombers.”

“And you think that, if you are successful, the Americans will just give up?” Farah asked. “Do you believe it is that easy?”

When we are successful, the Americans will know that the Islamic State cannot be defeated. They will know that they are not safe, even in their quiet suburbs. They will cower and bow to the will of Allah. Allahu Akbar!” Siddiqui yelled while clenching his fist.

“Allahu Akbar,” Imam Farah repeated, not willing to push the point any further.

They made the rest of the trip to the rental car lot in silence. When Farah pulled into the lot, Siddiqui thanked him and retrieved his bag out of the trunk. There was nothing more to say. They both knew they would never see each other again.

Siddiqui walked into the empty lobby and presented his fake ID and credit card to the young woman working the desk.

“Mike Ritz?” she asked as she searched her system for a reservation.

“Yes, that is correct,” Siddiqui said, nervously eyeing her as she typed.

“Yes, it appears we have a one-way rental for you to New Orleans,” she said. “Is that correct?”

“Yes,” Siddiqui replied.

“For one week?” the woman asked. Her eyebrows were raised as she looked up at him.

“Is there a problem?” Siddiqui asked. He moved his right hand toward the butt of his handgun, ready to dispatch the woman if necessary.

“No problem, sir,” the woman replied. “I was just making sure that was right. Most people with one-way rentals don’t keep them for that long.”

“I am going to do some sightseeing on my way,” Siddiqui said.

The printer whirred to life behind the woman as she nodded, seemingly satisfied with the answer. “Do you wish to buy insurance coverage for your rental?” she asked as she retrieved the paper from the printer.

“That won’t be necessary,” Siddiqui said.

“Ok, sign here,” the woman said. She pointed to several places on the contract to sign and then handed Siddiqui’s ID and credit card back to him. After taking her copy of the contract, she walked into a back office and returned with a set of keys.

“Toyota Camry out front,” she said as she handed him the keys. “I hope you enjoy your trip.”

“I will,” Siddiqui said ominously. He retrieved the keys and walked back out into the hot, humid air.

Siddiqui found the car and loaded his bag. He breathed a sigh of relief as he left the parking lot and headed for the highway. He had been worried that his fake ID and credit cards would arouse suspicion, but the desk attendant seemed only to care about the length of his rental.

Although he had cleared the first hurdle, he knew he wouldn’t be able to relax again. The Americans had proven that they were capable of striking at any time. The fact that he was using the same training facility where Tariq Qafir had been assassinated didn’t sit well with Siddiqui, but there were no other options. It was a critical part of the plan, and part of the reason they had waited so long to strike.

The morning traffic was surprisingly light as Siddiqui cleared Jackson heading to Utica. He set the cruise control slightly below the speed limit and settled in for the one hour drive. He didn’t want to risk getting pulled over.

Siddiqui thought of the seven other men of his group. They were mostly battle-hardened warriors from Iraq, Syria, and Libya. As far as he knew, they had done well over the last year by blending in with the general public and staying off the radar. He hoped they would exercise that same caution in their journey to the training center.

He was still angry that Tariq Qafir had ruined it for them. He had gone through so much to get to America – sneaking in through Mexico with the drug cartels six months before Tariq had arrived. He had been ready to die for their cause.

But Tariq had been arrogant, and his foolish ways had compromised the mission. An American special operations team had killed Tariq while Siddiqui and Muhammed al-Iraqi had been out doing surveillance on their target. When they returned, they had found Tariq’s lifeless body impaled on the perimeter fence. With the second-in-command dead alongside Tariq, Siddiqui had been forced to take charge and abort the mission.

But the wheels of the operation were already turning. Kamal Hamid Salman and his twin brother Ali had managed to sneak into America among Syrian refugees arriving in New Orleans. Siddiqui had to come out of hiding to retrieve them, only to tell them that their plans had been foiled and that they had to remain dormant until the danger of discovery was over.

As Siddiqui droned along the two-lane highway lost in thought, flashing red and blue lights on the side of the road ahead of him suddenly caught his attention. His heart raced as he approached, seeing multiple police cars lined up on the side of the road with their lights flashing.

Siddiqui slowed, frantically searching for a way to turn around on the shoulderless road. Have they discovered me? Siddiqui’s adrenaline surged.

 Realizing there was no way to turn around, Siddiqui slowly approached the roadblock. He removed the Glock from his waistband. He vowed to go down shooting rather than risk capture and interrogation by the Americans. He had heard about their ruthless tactics and wouldn’t risk compromising the operation. The rest of the team could function without him if it came down to it. Another delay was unacceptable.

A police officer with a yellow vest stood in the middle of the road, waving for him to approach. Siddiqui slid the Glock down between the seat and center console next to his right hip, resting his hand loosely on it as he neared the officer.

The officer didn’t seem to recognize Siddiqui as he motioned for Siddiqui to lower his window. Siddiqui slowly lowered the window, loosely keeping his right hand on his lap in case he needed to kill the policeman and attempt to escape.

“Good morning, sir.  We’re just doing an insurance checkpoint.  Do you have your proof of insurance on you today?” the officer asked with a thick southern drawl.

“It is a rental car,” Siddiqui replied softly.

“Ok, sir, do you have that contract on you by any chance?” the officer asked.

Siddiqui nervously pulled the paper the woman had given him from the visor above him and handed it to the officer. He stared straight ahead as the officer review the paperwork.

“Mike Ritz?” the officer asked.

Siddiqui continued staring straight ahead, counting the number of officers he would need to take out.

“Hello? Mr. Ritz?” the officer asked again.

“Huh?” Siddiqui said. He had been caught off guard, having forgotten that the contract was under the name of his alias. “Yes.”

“That’s your name?” the officer asked.

“Yes, I am Mike Ritz,” Siddiqui replied nervously.

“Do you have your driver’s license on you, sir?”

Siddiqui hesitated for a moment. The officer now seemed to be very suspicious.

“Is something wrong?” the officer asked.

“I am sorry, I am just very nervous,” Siddiqui replied. “Where I am from, the police are very brutal.”

“And where’s that?” the officer asked.

Siddiqui pulled his driver’s license from his front pocket and handed it to the officer. “Texas,” he said nervously.

“Texas?” the officer asked with a chuckle as he studied the ID. “Really?”

“I am a refugee from Syria,” Siddiqui said. “I changed my name as part of my immigration into America.”

The officer stared at the ID for a moment and then handed it back to Siddiqui.

“Well, welcome to America,” the officer said with a warm smile. “You’ll find that we’re nothing like that here.”

“Thank you,” Siddiqui said as he stuffed his ID back into his pocket.

“Have a nice day and drive safely,” the officer said before waving Siddiqui through.