The Riddle of the Sphinx …. (Espionage 7)

The blue light from the laptop highlighted Hassan Malik’s sharp cheekbones as he stared at the screen intently. Reaching upwards with his left hand, he scratched his freshly shaved cheek thoughtfully, missing the feel of his beard.

Muscular, tall and intelligent, Hassan Malik was the gentleman archetype, a jack of all trades, master of none, his smarts only matched by his prize-fighter like body. Sofia Sumarwata once described her beloved, as a man blessed in all facets of his life, an angel ordained by Allah himself to do His bidding.

With his intelligent brown eyes, olive skin, dark hair and square jaw, Malik was as charismatic as he was handsome. Adept at both charming his way through life and wielding a Glock 17, Malik was an fervent study of history and military leaders. He almost always led the way in battle, his iconic royal green cloak, a rallying cry for lesser men across the chaos of a battlefield.

As magnificent as a fighter he was, it was spy-craft that really spoke to Malik’s talents. His assassinations and deviously brilliant guerrilla attacks on NATO forces across the bloody fields of Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria earned him the moniker of The Sphinx, simply because there was no one better at disguising his intentions and self.

His work set back NATO forces several months alone in their work across the Middle East, and with the backing of his Iranian paymasters, he was soon called to Europe, to strike at the heart of the beast.

A master linguist, he mastered French, German, Spanish and English during his conquest of Europe, and took great pleasure in outwitting the Continent’s finest, disappearing as rapidly as he appeared. His terror cells were so small and well incorporated into society, that it was nearly impossible to predict when or who would strike at any given time.

It was a compliment to his fearsome reputation, when Malik discovered that within 4 months of his arrival in Europe, he shot to #4 on Interpol’s Most Wanted list. After 2 more attacks within a fortnight of each other, he claimed the number #1 spot.

It was Malik who devised the food delivery system of communication. For local attacks, Malik would use the country’s most popular food delivery service, but when it came to coordinating cells scattered across Europe, Malik had a much simpler solution.

The phenomenon known as football gripped the entire world with a manic energy that was unmatched in any other sport. But it was Europe where football obsession hit its’ peak. Leagues in each country could count on scores of talent, passion, money and fans.

To disguise his movements and communicate safely with his cells, without any need for electronic means, Hassan Malik used multiple football games to provide lengthy 90 minute briefings in the safety of the crowd, with a particular short-hand language that was unique only to football. Travelling to and fro Germany, to support his favourite English Premier League team, was a move that thousands of others did with impunity on weekends.

Conversely, his cells could send a man over, sporting a La Liga uniform into England, to discuss any further attacks, with much of their conversation disguised into the vernacular of the game. Dates, times, locations and casualties estimations were disguised with scores, and statistics of the team.

A typical exchange between Malik and his terror cell leader could be:

We shall win in our game on the 12 of August against Madrid. There is no way, it won’t be a huge bloodbath, if we got the numbers on our side. (Strike at the heart of Madrid on the 12th of August)

What sort of numbers are those, mate?

You know, team player 90 and the two rookies, 15 and 7. (90 dead, if you strike at 15 past 7pm)

The meetings would continue onward, with Malik providing precise instructions months in advance at a single game, and the terror cell leader making notes on a piece of paper, that would soon be burnt at the comfort of the safehouse.

By using the 90 minutes of a football match efficiently and disguised amongst thousands of fans that looked exactly like them, Malik could easily slip in and out of countries with ease. In the case of an emergency, the game known as Fantasy Premier League provided an direct means of communication that was completely disguised behind the language of football.

For months now, Hassan Malik had waged war across the Continent, costing hundreds of lives and racking up billions in damages and political capital using food and football as his secret pigeon. His entire campaign however had led up to this moment. His final decisive strike against the British, with the world bearing witness to the price the United Kingdom would pay for its’ hypocrisy.

All the soft attacks he had conducted across Spain, Italy, Belgium, Germany and France and once a venture into Austria and Portugal had left the British complacent. They felt reassured that the attacks were not happening on their home soil. That the war was a Continent concern only. Hassan knew all too well the unique cultural psychology behind the British, and was keen to play their ideals of sportsmanship against them.

With each attack, he generated more and more concern amongst the likes of James Ashford and Richard Washington, but soon after months of stress and reassurances, Downing Street began to believe their own lies and dismiss Ashford’s concerns as paranoia.

As a result, security measures across the United Kingdom were relaxed somewhat, and to Hassan’s great pleasure all 7 terror cells that had caused so much destruction across Europe, were able to take a first class train ride into the heart of London, without a single security check.

For 3 weeks, the 14 hand-picked men for the greatest terrorist attack on a Western country since 9/11 stayed in pure isolation across London in their safe-houses, communicating only through bursts of Fantasy Football and one man from every pair occasionally meeting Malik at a football match.

The plan was 3-fold. Each pair were in possession of a rental van that would be fitted with explosives. Targeting specific popular tourists locales and high-end restaurants suburbs, they would trigger the explosives on the van, before taking advantage of the chaos to employ their AK-47 assault rifles, indiscriminately firing into the crowd. With 8 magazines each, and then a final suicide vest, the death toll would be in the thousands.

London would be left burning.

The perfect tribute to a woman he had lost in another life, fighting for a lie, a false country and an apocryphal Queen.

With less than 48 hours until the scheduled attack on Valentine Day, Hassan found sleep elusive and wracked with dreams of failures. For months, he had been plagued by a spectral figure in his dreams, whose very presence unnerved him to the core and would leave him jerking awake, gasping for breath.

Malik knew better than to worry anyone about these strange dreams, however, he could not help shake off the ill feelings he had. There was a strange sense of inevitability about the spectre, that this figure would be the death of his work.

Sighing, knowing that he would not find any more sleep, until the attack came, Malik shut the laptop down, closing the Fantasy Football app. Reaching out for his phone, Malik paused before calling Sofia, a strange sense of disquiet rustling his consciousness.

However, emotional and physical needs overwhelmed the niggling sense of discomfort.

The ringtone sounded harsh in the sterile safehouse. It also went on for far too long.

Malik frowned when he got Sofia’s voicemail. She was always so quick to respond, no matter the hour of the day or night.

Texting her through the Just Eat app, he ordered a simple Lebanese dish that he knew she loved, kibbeh, and sent it through to her apartment. Now his paranoia was spiking furiously.

Could she be compromised? wondered Malik. Impossible. Malik concluded, but he knew deep down what he had to do. This operation was far too important to risk for a woman, no matter how much she meant to him.

Without hesitation, Malik shattered the phone and broke the SIM card, before slipping on a long coat. Looking at his reflection in the mirror, he propped the collar up to shield his face and his grief and walked outside with the remains of the phone, to throw into the Thames.

~

Gabriel Woods had his seat all the way down in his silver Audi A6, lying as flat as possible, watching the movements of Hassan Malik through the feed of a tiny Black Hornet Nano drone.

At only 10×2.5cm in size, the nano UAV was as surreptitious as they come, and could be controlled via a specialised app on a phone. Woods kept the drone as high as he could, aware of the noise it could create, despite the busy noisescape of London.

Woods frowned as he watched Malik make a circuitous route to throw the remains of his phone into the Thames. He was a consummate professional, always scanning his surrounding and pausing frequently to ensure no tails were following him. As Woods watched the splash from the phone recede, he knew that Sofia’s non-communication had alerted Malik.

Will he call it off? wondered Woods, as he kept watching Malik hustle past smiling couples through the tiny feed on his phone.

No. This is too important for him. The attack is too soon. He’s committed now. As is everyone else.

An effusive Ashford had already congratulated Woods on his work. Thanks to Woods’ interrogation on Sofia, the exact location and timing of the attacks had been worked out. However, they were still in the dark where the safe houses that contained these men were.

This meant that they would have to stop the attack at the target. High risk.

It was time to call in Woods’ old unit, the infamous 22nd SAS to come in, and mop up the mess.

If SOP (Standard Operation Procedure) were to be followed, the next 24 hours would have the kill-teams furiously training in mock-ups of the area that they were assigned. 7 targets, 7 different locations, 7,000,000 ways for things to go wrong. The SAS teams would know each area like the back of their hand, aware of the millions of alleyways, sewers, bus routes, traffic patterns and a thousand other variables.

To stop a suicide attack, the men would be sharpening their marksmanship skills. Headshots only.

They would seek to limit the number of civilians around, and ideally take out the terrorists before they detonated the vans. To shoot them in the car, was too risky. Glass had a strange way of disrupting bullets and there was always a chance that there was a switch in the van that could be triggered by a dying body spasm.

This meant that the team had to ID the correct van, wait for the terrorist to jump out, then nail them all in one go, amidst a busy civilian population.

As one of the captains of the kill teams said bluntly in his concluding statement after a briefing.

7 million ways for this to go tits-up boys. So let’s get evil lads.

Woods though, had faith in his old Squadron. They were the best in the world. No other fighting man came close to the warrior that was a Blade. If anyone could prevent a Valentine Day massacre, it would be the 22nd SAS.

It was Malik that concerned him though. Whilst the attacks were going on, what was Malik going to do?

What are you thinking, you bastard? pondered Woods as he watched Malik thread his way effortlessly through London.

Author’s Note

And I’m back again with another chapter in this short story!

It took even longer this time to write but I finally found a way forwards!

Let’s hope the next chapter isn’t too far around the corner.

If you forgot the past chapters, simply use the search bar on my page and type in espionage and they’ll turn up!

~ Damocles.

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