There are 12 ways to identify a suicide bomber, intoned the Israeli captain to the class. Woods recalled looking up at the dot points and the commentary that came along with them.
Point 1: If the suspect is male, check for a fresh shave.
Most of these men will be sporting a slight colour difference on their lower jaw. This is because they want to look less suspect. Keep an eye on whether the skin is lighter around the mouth and the jaw. They want to blend.
Point 2: IED-borne insurgents will be wearing suspect clothing.
Vests are awkward and so are belts. Large coats, outdoor jackets, those padded vests, all of them are suspect and are commonly employed to break up the form of the vest underneath.
Point 3: The suspect will have a robotic walk or shuffle awkwardly along.
There are 2 reasons for this. One, they are about to blow themselves up. Psyching yourself up to do something that rationally means not doing it, isn’t easy. But the real reason is because the vest is heavy. All that semtex, is fucking heavy. Not to mention all the other shit they have on there, like ball bearings, glass or even fucking cow-shit. Point is, if they’re walking slowly, or robotically, they’re loaded down and don’t want to detonate the damn thing early.
Point 4: Irritability
Point 5: Profuse sweating
Point 6: Tics
Point 7: Nervous behaviour
All of these are variations on stress. I don’t need to tell you boys about stress. You know what it does and how it affects people. But combat stress is different to suicide stress. There is a lot to suicidal stress. Most of the time, it will take a normal person lots of convincing and willpower to commit suicide. I mean, the damn act goes against human survival instinct. But in this case, it’s about making sure you don’t get detected, it’s about slipping through the security net and not being held up by some well-meaning asshole that will cause you to detonate early.
Point 8: Most suicide bombers have been reported to have irregular breathing
Beyond the obvious weight of the vest, this is also a psychological reaction to their task. Remember, everyone is new to suicide bombing. It’s their first time after all.
Point 9: Almost all suicide bombers have a blank stare before detonation
Opioids. This isn’t some 1000 yard stare because they are afraid of death. It’s the drugs in their system. We’ve only know this, because usually the head is separated from the body easily in an explosion, especially with the way how they shape the charges. After all, the head is held mostly in place by gravity and limited neck muscles. All heads discovered about 100 yards from the site of detonation usually have an opium strip in their mouths. This is to calm them down and gives them extra motivation to go through with the deed.
Point 10: Most survivors report hearing mumbled prayers from the bombers
Prayers are normal. It is normal to hear repeated surahs and phrases from the Bible or the Qu’ran before detonation. It will often be in a monotone, and serves as an enhanced psychological method to rile yourself into a religious fanaticism.
Point 11: Almost all bombers carry a large bag
Beyond the vest, there is usually a secondary amount of explosives in a bag. After all, you only get one chance of blowing yourself up. Might as well go big. You can pack a lot more in a bag, with all the extra shit they love loading in. Shrapnel kills just as much as the explosive does. If you don’t die from the explosive, then it’s the infection that gets you later.
Point 12: Their hands are almost always either in the bag or holding a switch in their pocket.
We used to be able to stop guys from blowing themselves up. Pin them in a bear hug and they can’t reach the detonator. But now they play it safe. They got it on a dead man’s switch or their hand is already ready to go without reaching for anything.
Woods remembered a student asking the Shin Bet expert on how the IDF dealt with such issues.
Easy said the Israelite with a fatalistic shrug Gun them down in the head before they blow yours off. If you don’t …. it won’t matter either way then.
Woods felt this advice keenly impressed upon his mind, as he moved through the Alexanderplatz Station, one of the busiest terminals in Berlin. Looking at his clock, he knew this was prime time.
Rush hour. 1745 HRS. A familiar time to hear IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices) go off in Afghanistan.
Not quite so common in the heart of Europe.
The end of your shift. Everyone rushing home, eager to get some R&R, their attention on getting there, causing them to lose crucial awareness. Traffic was flowing hard and fast in both directions. People eager to make the train home and people eager to get out of the station towards home.
With 3 regional trains, 4 inner Berlin S-Bahn and 3 outer Berlin U-Bahn lines, there could be upwards of 2000 people alone in the station at any given time.
Taking out his recently acquired phone and slipping on the new glasses he had received, he activated both, going to a auspiciously named app “Handle Me!” and depressing the frame of the glasses to begin broadcasting the live tracking of the suicide bomber.
Checking that the glasses and the phone were connected, he immediately heard a slight crackle, as he placed the new headphones in one ear, the other one left alone to maintain situational clarity.
G. Woods, Whiskey Oscar Oscar Delta Sierra. Situation: Imminent ITA (International Terrorist Activity). Need TACINTEL on suspect stat. Get German BND (Bundesnachrichtendienst – Federal intelligence Service) up now.
A calm female voice immediately came through.
Wait one, Whiskey. London Station Chief coming online. Patching through your feed now.
Woods scowled to himself at the delay and mentally ran through the list in head one more time, just to be sure he wasn’t targeting a random person. The timing fit all too well but he had to be sure.
Walking past a couple who were admiring the architecture of the attractive station, he angled his head and aimed his glasses at the profile of the man, before walking quickly further up, stopping down to pretend to tie his shoe and getting a front on view of the man’s face.
Everything screamed suicide bomber. Points 1 down to 12.
Woods felt his fingers brush the Glock 19 in his waistband instinctively.
In London, the CIA’s CTC (Counterterrorism Centre), the Station Chief, a Machiavellian type political operator and former U.S. Army Ranger Captain, Richard Washington stared aghast at the huge Screen One that dominated the room, displaying Woods’ livestream of the events unfolding in Germany.
With over 50 people in the room, monitoring almost the entirety of Western Europe, the London CTC was home to some of the CIA’s best, brightest and ruthless intelligence analysts and hackers. More coverage, analytics and surveillance footage filtered on and off the 7 huge screens along the wall in a day, than a Wall Street firm, and Washington’s team was as adept as they came at processing raw information.
Give me CCTV’s eyes. I want to see if there are any more at Alexanderplatz. Screen Two.
Copy sir said one of the female technicians as her computer flickered through a dozen surveillance cameras.
I want a direct line to German BND stat and immediate coverage of all other major Berlin transport hubs. Screen Three. Patch BND to 2IC.
On it sir! yelled a male technician as his fingers immediately began hacking into a myriad of German transport hubs and bypassing firewalls.
Find out who that asshole Woods is following. I want everything. Name, phone, emails, give me all of it, and put it on Screen Four. Any contact he’s made in the recent weeks, anyone he’s fucking travelled with. How he got there. Give me all of it.
Washington’s aide came besides him, a fellow Ranger who had served under his command, a reliable 2IC (2nd in Command) as they came, John Watts.
Watts. I want you talking to BND. See if they got anything.
On it sir. Watts ran over to the technician who handed him a headset as he continued to ping the German intelligence service.
Give me a direct line to Woods. I want to talk to him.
I want you to be eyes on this guy, follow him. If he tries anything … take him down. We’re gathering immediate actionable intel on him now. BND will be on record in 1 mike. Do you copy?
Copy Sir. repeated Woods robotically. He was too busy navigating the crowds to say any more. His eyes were glued to the bomber.
With his freshly shaven face, the bomber looked young, in his mid-20s. He could have been considered handsome, if it weren’t for the pockmarked acne scarring across his cheeks and mouth.
His brown eyes were glazed over, his jaw heavy as he sucked on an opioid strip and tried to murmur prayers at the same time. Beads of sweat ran down from his temple and onto his collarbone and into his clothes. The jacket looked heavy, and far too warm.
The backpack arced his back slightly, causing him to stoop slightly forward to compensate for the weight. His hands was tucked deep into the pockets of his jackets and there was even a visible wire bulging through the jacket sleeves as it led up into his body.
Woods’ every instinct screamed at him to pull the trigger.
Washington’s voice came over the earpiece.
Woods, BND has confirmed that they have been tracking this terror cell for the past 2 weeks, but did not receive any actionable intel on these guys. GSG-9 and SEK are on-route now. ETA 10 mikes.
We don’t have 10 mikes to spare. Where are the station cops?
Woods kept the bomber on his peripheral vision as he tried in vain to look less inconspicuous. However, the bomber seemed to focus on putting one step forward to notice the CIA operative standing less than 10 metres away from.
Gun them down in the head before they blow yours off. thought Woods, recalling the Shin Bet operator’s advice.
Don’t stop at double-taps. Shoot them repeatedly in the head. Even the smallest amount of brain functioning can depress a button. The only way to stop that, is to keep shooting.
Woods? interrupted Washington in his voice. Two undercover SEK operatives are making their way to you now. They should be coming up to your position in 2 mikes. South-entrance.
Copy. Tell them to get their weapons ready. The attack is coming soon. I can feel it.
Signing off, Woods kept following the bomber as he walked up a flight of stairs to the upper level.
To his horror, as the bomber neared the centre of the station, he noted 4 more similarly dressed men start to converge into the middle.
Washington’s face immediately paled as he noted Woods’ livestream focus in on the 4 other terrorists.
The entire CTC room grew quiet, as they realised the magnitude of the situation. The silence was a moment of sheer dismay, shock and the dawning of failure.
Then Washington heard Woods’ voice come clear through the comms and immediately everyone sprung back into action, their hands moving in a blur across keyboards as they did whatever they could to prevent the incoming catastrophe.
I need execute authority. I can take out 4. But not the last guy. I need it now. Someone give me a sitrep on those SEK boys.
Washington paused. Every instinct screamed at him. He looked over at Screen Four and began scanning the information gathered on the first suicide bomber.
He had to be sure.
Iranian born. An orphan. Adopted early by a state sponsored religious school, suspected of strong anti-western indoctrination practices. A ready supply for terrorists cells.
Washington skipped ahead to Harut’s last recorded movements, facial recognition placing him entering Germany via Czech Republic, last seen with the 4 other men that were now converging upon each other in Alexanderplatz Station. They had split up upon crossing the border and made zero contact with one another until now.
Coincidences in the world of spies didn’t exist. Connections could always be traced back. Deja vu acts as confirmation not coincidence.
5 men, following basic operational security, to prevent detection. A busy train station at the peak of rush hour and nearly a month since the last attack. Enough to relax security services and slip past the net.
All the hallmarks of a Sphinx’s train station attack.
Washington gritted his teeth and said the fatal words.
Whiskey. You have execute authority.
Woods kept his eyes focused on all 5 of the suicide bombers. They were not identically dressed. But all had the 12 boxes ticked. One of them even had the decency to look nervous and afraid.
Looking behind him, Woods noted the undercover SEK policemen (German SWAT Unit) and how well armed they were with MP5 submachine guns. With their civilian clothing boosted by ballistic armour and balaclavas, they looked more paramilitary than regular armed forces, but that was the idea. The crowd parted for them like Moses in the Red Sea.
Woods moved towards them and waved them forwards. The officers, having been briefed by BND, immediately closed in behinds Woods as he pointed out the 5 men.
Both pairs of the SEK officers’ eyes widened and stiffened into shock. Both men had never dealt with suicide bombers before. One of them, the younger Officer asked Woods shakily on how to deal with such a threat.
Woods replied coldly back with an echo from his past lesson: Gun them down in the head before they blow yours off.
Motioning that one of the officers had to stay back and warn civilians away, Woods took the other officer and told him to stay at the right flank, whilst he moved left of the group of 5 men. He also stole an extra magazine for his Glock as he moved past the crouching officer.
Anyone I miss … you kill. said Woods firmly to the SEK Officer who nodded firmly and tried to hide his shaking hands.
To his relief, Woods noted that the 5 men were still standing near each other, their chanting and prayers beginning to pick up in volume slightly.
People were beginning to catch on and whilst panic had not quite set in yet, it was a hair-trigger away from full blown pandemonium.
Woods knew this was his only chance.
In his appendix holster, he had 1 spare magazine. 17 rounds + 15+1 in his actual Glock 19.
Another 15 rounds in his back pocket, from the SEK Officer who didn’t realise he was missing a magazine.
This was going to be close.
Woods moved directly towards them, as they began to split up. There was no point in detonating all at once. You didn’t kill as many people if you all went up together. Structural damage and psychological terror could only be achieved through multiple blasts that threw people in every single direction.
This would buy Woods time.
The closest terrorist began moving closer to Woods, his eyes focused on the floor, his hands coming out of his pocket, as the station’s clock began the final countdown to 6pm exactly. A mental countdown started in Wood’s mind. He had a total of 10 seconds.
Woods felt his Prince persona shine through and without hesitation, he lifted up his henley shirt with his left hand, and gripped the Glock 19 with his right.
The palm of his hand smacked into the butt of the dark pistol, and his fingers curled around and snatched the weapon up and outwards, his left hand meeting both the pistol and right hand halfway through, before they continued in unison into a firing position, elbows slightly crooked, the back sight and front sight lining up level to his green eyes.
4 sharp cracks in rapid succession, resounded resolutely and the atmosphere of the entire station changed.
The muted pop music that once dominated the station’s rhythm, aiding in people getting home in a hurry and to believe that they were safe, was suddenly drowned out by screams, mass hysteria and the sounds of thousands of feet moving in unison.
The sounds of thousands of people running in every direction, activated in everyone a primal urge to flee. It didn’t matter what the threat was, the average brain was locked in a rictus of fear and panic, and that was all Washington could see on the screen, as what was once orderly was now chaotic.
Hundreds of people were screaming, running, jogging, sprinting and many more were standing equally still, frozen before the mass of movement, unable to comprehend the situation before them.
Confusion reigned supreme, as the CTC staff looked on in horror. Then one of the technicians noted Woods advancing through the crowd, the lone SEK officer doing his best to follow with his clunkier MP5 submachine gun and placed the CCTV grainy footage on Screen 1.
Washington noted the bleeding corpse that the Prince casually stepped over, as he moved through the crowd with ease, the blood rapidly spooling out from the four headshots that the Prince had inflicted within a blink of an eye.
Squinting hard, Washington watched with concentrated horror and encouragement as the Prince moved to within 5 metres of the next terrorist and Washington watched as another 5 rounds expelled from the Glock 19 in the Prince’s hands and somehow magically miss everyone that ran in between and beyond, and slam directly into the target’s head.
The rounds, snapped the terrorists head to the side, flinging him down to the floor, his finger unable to depress the button that would activate the detonator.
By now, the crowd was slowly beginning to thin out, people aware that the action was all occurring in the middle of the station and learning to avoid it.
The SEK officer was still desperate to try and aim at the target Woods had told him to, but his fear of hitting a civilian was too great and he couldn’t press the trigger. He froze, his finger desperate to press inwards, but his mind unable to commit to such a dangerous action. None of his training had prepared him for this moment.
But he kept moving closer towards the threat. His duty overrode his fear.
He looked across at the Prince, as he ruthlessly tripped a sprinting woman to the ground, causing her to fall heavily, but open his line of sight to the third terrorist who was slowly catching on to what was happening and beginning to turn around to face the Prince.
The Prince’s seven rounds crossed the 10 metres and impacted heavily across the man’s face, ripping through eyes, brain, jaw and cheek, the final round neatly severing the medulla oblongata, causing the terrorist’s outstretched hand to never function.
With his immediate twelve, two and eleven o’clock target dealt with, there were now only two terrorists left, his original suspect, Fara Harut and the final bomber behind him.
The execution of the three men had elapsed the Prince’s precious inner timer down to 4 seconds remaining.
An example had to be made. The Prince’s right thumb depressed the magazine catch, as his left hand swept down, and took out the spare magazine in a smooth and robotic motion, a rehearsed manoeuvre that took only a precious second, as the hand swept upwards and into the base of the pistol, before wrapping around the right hand again. His right thumb released the slide catch, and the Glock’s slide slammed forward, chambering the first round.
The green eyes never wavered behind the sight and the Prince kept moving forwards, his right index finger a blur, as Fara Harut, in a sacrificial gesture, stepped between the Prince’s Glock and his fellow terrorist behind him.
The entirety of all 17 rounds of the Prince’s Glock slammed into Harut’s head, somehow the terrorist’s body staying upright under the onslaught of 9mm rounds. His face completely disappeared under the weight of the fire, chunks of flesh, brain, blood and bone spraying outwards as round after round slammed in a move so fast, that it actually stunned the final terrorist, whose fear was now palatable as he beheld the Prince.
However the Prince’s final reload would take too long. He had reach into his back pocket for the final 15 round magazine he had taken from the SEK Officer.
The SEK Officer in question, who had only just received an emergency call from BND and was looking forwards to a hot dessert after his shift. A man who told his younger partner to take the safer job of warning away civilians.
It was he who noted that it was now too late for the Prince to do anything about the final bomber and was himself only a mere 3 metres away from the vest, having fought his way through the crowd to get a shot in with his MP5.
He knew the Prince’s plan, prayed that it was going to work, but could see it would fail and was resigned for this very eventuality.
With a final look at the Prince, whose hands were blurred in a reload, the SEK Officer gritted his teeth, sprinted forward and tackled the bomber. The momentum slid them towards a support pole, that would take most of the blast.
He closed his eyes, as the terrorist did the same.
The finger pressed the button.
The Prince’s persona left Woods as his survival instinct took over the moment he saw the SEK Officer make his move.
Dropping his pistol, he spun on his heels, and dove for the floor, and rolled behind a sturdy food stall selling snacks and drinks.
Clamping his hands over his ears and burying his head as low as it could get into his knees, Woods shut his eyes.
He felt it first in his chest, then he heard a cavernous roar and then nothing.
The Prince sunk into an eternal darkness where nothing could hurt him again nor would anything comfort him for an eternity.
Those who are fans of Paul Greengrass’ adaptation of book to film, Bourne’s Ultimatum (2007) will no doubt notice the similarities I’ve adopted for the Alexanderplatz Station with the famous and tense Waterloo sequence in that film.
Alexanderplatz is also a rather obvious reference to the previous entry in that series, Bourne Supremacy (2004) where the temporary abduction of one Nicky Parsons by Bourne also took place.
I wanted to capture the urgency, tension and paranoia of that scene and am grateful for John Powell’s incredible score to help me tap into that.
I also based the final sequence where Woods kills the terrorist on my favourite espionage series’ Gabriel Allon in Prince of Fire where he is faced with a similar scenario and is forced to take similar drastic actions to stop a series of terrorist bombings from going off in Paris’ Gare de Lyon station.
For fans of Jack Reacher, the 12 ways to ID a suicide bomber are stolen directly from Lee Child’s Gone Tomorrow for which I gratefully pay props to. I have no idea if it is accurate, and based on truth, but his writing always had an air of believability about it, so I thought it would be fun to incorporate into this story.
I originally planned this to be a quick stop and make Woods go straight to London, but chose to make this extended action sequence for further motivation and establish the threat of the Sphinx.
Until the next one!