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Authors: James Barrington

Overkill

BOOK: Overkill
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JAMES BARRINGTON
OVERKILL

PAN BOOKS

 
Contents

Prologue

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Eighteen

Chapter Nineteen

Chapter Twenty

Chapter Twenty-One

Chapter Twenty-Two

Chapter Twenty-Three

Chapter Twenty-Four

Chapter Twenty-Five

Chapter Twenty-Six

Chapter Twenty-Seven

Chapter Twenty-Eight

Chapter Twenty-Nine

Chapter Thirty

 
Prologue

12 February, 1999
Vicinity of As Salamiyah, south-east of Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

Most of the time they didn’t fuck about with the executions. A bullet in the back of the head or a blade drawn across the throat and the body left pretty much where
it fell. But when Rashid was there it was different. Rashid liked to play.

Bizarrely, Rashid looked more like a caricature of an accountant than anything else – small and slight, hunched, with thick pebble-lensed glasses – but nobody smiled when he was
around. He had learnt his trade in the back streets of Baghdad and Basra, and refined his skills working on Russian prisoners seized by the Afghans. The smell of death was on him.

As Sadoun Khamil’s enforcer, he would do his master’s bidding without question and without compassion. To him it was just work, and he was very good at it. His speciality was the
lingering death, what he called ‘
shwai shwai noum
’ or ‘sleep slowly’, slicing through the victim’s spinal cord with a thin and extremely sharp knife. He always
knew when he had cut enough, because the body would slump as the nerves were severed. Then they would prop the limp body against a wall or tree and leave it. The man could take days to die, usually
of thirst, but occasionally Rashid would enliven the process by making shallow cuts on his arms and legs. The fresh blood and total immobility of the body would attract the birds and the rats and
the stray dogs and the insects, and the victim would be literally and slowly eaten alive.

Hassan Abbas hated to watch, but Khamil usually insisted. Knowing what would happen to them if they betrayed or otherwise offended him, Khamil believed, would keep all the members of the cell
firmly in line.

Today was different. Khamil had instructed Rashid to make it quick, but painful. The man wasn’t part of the cell, wasn’t even a full member of al-Qaeda. He was just a courier, a
low-level mule, one of the hundreds of thousands of Arabs who shared a hatred of America and an admiration of Osama bin Laden and everything he stood for.

But the courier had committed the unthinkable – he had disclosed the location of Khamil’s cell to a friend, a friend who the courier hadn’t known was actually a cell member.
The friend had immediately informed Khamil, which was why the group was now skulking around a deserted building a couple of miles outside As Salamiyah, instead of their previous and more
comfortable quarters in Riyadh itself. Though many Saudis privately – and some even publicly – supported al-Qaeda, the vast majority did not, and Sadoun Khamil had had no option but to
move his base as soon as its location had been compromised. For that inconvenience, the courier was about to pay.

The man was lying flat on his back behind the building in the full glare of the early afternoon sun, spread-eagled, wrists and ankles lashed to the corners of a hastily assembled square frame of
stout poles. He was naked, and his chest, stomach and thighs bore the bloody stripes of the whipping one of Rashid’s ‘assistants’ had already administered as a taster.

Khamil emerged from the building and strode forward, his white
djellaba
flapping as he walked. He stopped a few feet from the courier and stared down at him. The fresh blood had attracted
the flies, and the open wounds bubbled and glistened with their bloated bodies, blackening the man’s torso and legs.

The courier appeared to be unconscious, but at a command from Khamil one of the guards strode forward. A sharp crack of the red-stained whip across his chest momentarily scattered the flies
which rose in a black circling cloud, buzzing in irritation, before settling back on the body to resume their feast. He forced his eyes open and wailed with the pain, then looked up at Khamil, and
fell silent. He had already pleaded his case, and knew that nothing he could say or do would alter his fate.

Khamil stepped back, looked around and nodded to Rashid. The short figure walked forward, stopping in full sight of the man on the ground. In his right hand he held a clasp knife, big and bulky,
with a scalpel-sharp six-inch blade. He opened the blade slowly, taking his time, watching the courier’s eyes. Then he stepped close to the man, knelt down beside him and began his work.

Eighteen minutes later Rashid stood up, carefully wiped the blood off the blade of his knife, smiled at Khamil and walked away. Khamil glanced once more at the bloody red mess in front of him,
nodded in satisfaction, turned and walked back into the shade of the building, Abbas following behind.

In the largest room of the derelict house were a couple of chairs and a battered table. Khamil led the way into the room, sat down and looked up at Abbas, who remained standing respectfully in
front of him. After a few moments, Khamil spoke: ‘I do not like it. Even now, before we start, before we have any contact with them, I feel uncomfortable about it.’ Khamil fell silent,
his almost black eyes beneath his red and white checked
keffiyeh
– a potent and visible symbol of his unswerving allegiance to Osama bin Laden – troubled and concerned.

Abbas dropped his eyes, but stood his ground. ‘I, too, am unhappy at the implications, at the prospect of working so closely with them,
sayidi
, but we must face facts. We cannot
develop this technology for ourselves, at least not within the foreseeable future, and if we buy what we need we will still have the very difficult problem of delivery. My analysis suggests that
co-operation is the only option which offers us even a chance of success.’

Hassan Abbas stopped and waited. He had, he knew, staked not only his career but also his life on this single moment. Despite his Western appearance – the light grey suits and glistening
black Oxfords he frequently wore, and his fluency in English and French – Sadoun Khamil was still at heart a sand Arab. That meant, amongst other things, that he was accustomed to meting out
summary justice to anyone who displeased him.

And what Abbas had suggested was hardly likely to please him. It was, however, nothing less than the truth, and Abbas hoped he knew Khamil well enough to believe that he valued the truth more
than anything else. Abbas waited, hardly daring to breathe, staring intently at the floor in front of him. His eyes traced patterns in the dust, concentrating on the insignificant, as he waited to
hear what Khamil would say next. Waiting for the words that would either reinforce his position as Khamil’s chief of staff or perhaps lead him to the waste ground behind the building to join
the courier. Hideous images of Rashid at work span through Abbas’ mind while he waited, immobile, for whatever would come.

Khamil stirred slightly in the creaking wooden chair behind the table, then stood up and walked across the room to the small and glassless window. The view was of no interest to him, just dunes
and rubble, but Khamil put his hands on his hips and stared out for nearly two minutes. Then he turned round and walked back to the table. He sat down, looked across at Abbas, and uttered a single
word: ‘How?’

Abbas breathed again, and raised his eyes. ‘Money,
sayidi
, money. Always they have needed money, and now more than ever. We have the hard currency they crave, and they have the
devices we need. It will be a simple exchange, the one for the other.’

‘Hardly simple, Hassan,’ Khamil murmured. ‘And how long will it take?’

‘For everything to be in place, four to five years,
sayidi
.’

Khamil looked up, surprised. ‘Why so long?’ he demanded. ‘Surely the devices are available immediately?’

Abbas nodded. ‘The American weapons, yes,
sayidi
, but the devices we require will have to be specially made. But that is not the principal reason for the delay. The problem is the
delivery. It is essential that all the weapons are positioned in total secrecy, and that means we must take time, and take care. We will have to lease suitable premises, arrange the proper power
supplies and communication systems, all before even one of the devices is positioned. And the devices themselves will have to be delivered piece by piece. If knowledge of the plan leaks out before
we are ready, the scheme will fail before we can even begin to implement it.’

Khamil considered this for a few moments. ‘I will have to consult my colleague,’ he said finally. ‘He wanted action sooner than you have suggested is possible.’

Abbas nodded again. He knew, as everyone who worked for Khamil knew, exactly who his ‘colleague’ was, but nobody ever so much as breathed his name. This was in part respect, or more
accurately fear, and in part simple security.

It is no secret that the West’s two most important Communications Intelligence monitoring stations – the American National Security Agency at Fort George Meade in Maryland and
Britain’s Government Communications Headquarters at Cheltenham in Gloucestershire – monitor communications of all sorts, worldwide. The NSA has a weekly output of over two hundred tons
of classified data based on communications intercepts alone.

This prodigious ‘take’ is principally derived from the highly classified Echelon monitoring system, and comprises mobile and satellite telephone calls – probably the easiest of
all to detect – radio and signal traffic, internet data-transfer and electronic mail intercepts derived from the Carnivore programme, and even calls between landline telephones where any part
of the transmission involves a satellite or microwave link or passes through a ‘friendly’ nation. The British Foreign Office, for example, as part of the joint GCHQ/NSA agreement,
monitors every international telephone call which originates or terminates in Britain.

With this degree of intercept capability, human monitoring is clearly impossible, so computers do the job instead, listening out for any mention, in any language, of certain names and words. The
words are fairly obvious, and are specified by the agency which will be the ultimate recipient of the product, but the names change as the political situation alters. Since the early 1990s, and
following the suicide bombings in Jakarta and Lagos, one name in particular has been right at the head of every Western nation’s ‘most wanted’ list with respect to terrorism. For
that reason, neither the name Osama bin Laden nor al-Qaeda were ever spoken aloud by any of his followers.

‘I have,’ Abbas began deferentially, ‘another suggestion.’

Ten minutes later Khamil sat back in his chair. The plan Abbas had proposed was outrageous, alarming, stunning in its concept and fraught with logistical and other problems, but it had an
undeniable simplicity which he knew would appeal when he proposed it, as he had known immediately that he would, to bin Laden. ‘And how long before this could be implemented?’

‘Within two years, probably within eighteen months. Some of the assets are already in place. Ready for this, or a similar opportunity.’

Khamil nodded in satisfaction. That was more like it. ‘They are fully trained and committed?’ he asked.

‘Their commitment is not in doubt,
sayidi
, and the training they require is not extensive. In fact,’ Abbas added with a slight smile, ‘several of them are receiving
instruction even as we speak, in America.’

Khamil smiled – the irony was not lost on him. ‘What are the chances of failure?’

Abbas smiled again. ‘None,
sayidi
. It will succeed.’

Khamil nodded again, then looked sharply at Abbas. ‘How do you know? How do you know it will succeed?’

Abbas looked momentarily at a loss for words. ‘A figure of speech,
sayidi
. I meant that the plan was almost certain to succeed. The chances of failure are extremely
small.’

Khamil shook his head. ‘No. I have known you for many years, and you are always exact in what you say. You said you know this plan will succeed. So, I ask again, how?’

Abbas stood silently in front of the desk, his mind racing. He knew Khamil, knew that he wouldn’t be satisfied by a vague discussion of semantics. Khamil had an uncanny ability to sniff
out truth and falsehood, and infinite patience and persistence in the search. He would, Abbas realized, have to tell him the truth, embarrassing though it would be. ‘There is a book,
sayidi
,’ Abbas began.

BOOK: Overkill
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