Jackknife
Author:William Johnstone

    PROLOGUE

    A village on the Afghanistan/Pakistan border

    Hamed al-Bashar felt his chest swell with pride as the bent, robed, and hooded figure of Sheikh Abu ibn Khahir shuffled along the line of freedom fighters, pausing to speak quiet words of encouragement to each of them. The sheikh had come to this remote hill village all the way from the south of France, where he lived. That alone was enough to tell Hamed how important the mission was that he and his companions were about to undertake.

    The sheikh was the leader of Hizb ut-Tahrir, a shad-owy but growing sect within the Islamic fundamentalist movement. The group had ties with other Islamic organizations throughout the world, but most people considered it a minor player in the ongoing war to cleanse the infidels from the face of the earth and restore Islam to its rightful place of dominance over all creation.

    No one would see it that way after Hamed and his comrades concluded their mission, whatever it might be. Then everyone would know the power of Hizb ut-Tahrir and its devotion to the glories of Allah.

    4

    Sheikh ibn Khahir paused in front of Hamed and murmured, “You are willing to die for your faith?”

    “Sheikh, I am eager to die for my faith,” Hamed answered.

    “And what gifts will you bring to the infidels?”

    “A sword, and fire, and death.” A faint smile touched the sheikh’s seamed, leathery face as he nodded in approval at the answer.

    Hamed was speaking somewhat metaphorically, of course, and he knew it. A sword would do little good against the hated Americans. There were too many of them. The promise of a sword was only symbolic.

    But f ire and death . . . ah, those were real, as the Americans would someday know all too well. Someday soon, Hamed hoped.

    “Where are you from?”

    The sheikh’s question caught Hamed by surprise.

    “Paris,” he said. His parents had immigrated to France from Algeria before Hamed was born, and although he had been raised there, he had never felt French. His true nation was Islam, no other.

    “I thought I recognized the accent,” the sheikh said.

    “I live in France.”

    Hamed didn’t know what to say. The sheikh’s expression was hard to read. Hamed felt the old feelings of in-feriority welling up inside him. It had always bothered him that he was not from Saudi Arabia, or Syria, or even Egypt. He was an Arab, not a filthy Frenchman! Even though the Muslim population of France was exploding, as it was throughout all of Europe, Hamed wished that he could have actually grown up somewhere in the Middle East.

    But soon that would no longer matter. The twenty men who had been training with him here in this village for the JACKKNIFE

    5

    past two months were from several different countries: England, France, Morocco, Egypt, Saudi Arabia . . . there was even an American among them, one who had been born and raised surrounded by filthy infidels.

    None of that was important. When their mission was complete, they would all be the same—martyrs to the sacred cause of Islam. And they would be together in heaven, surrounded by beautiful virgins, enjoying all the rewards they would earn by dying. Nothing else mattered.

    “What is your name?” the sheikh asked.

    “Hamed al-Bashar.”

    The sheikh half-turned and pointed a bony finger at one of the villagers, a stocky, middle-aged man who was a minor official, one of the party that had greeted Sheikh ibn Khahir and escorted him here to this mud-walled compound on the edge of the settlement where the training had taken place.

    “Do you see that man?”

    “I see him,” Hamed said.

    “He is a traitor. The American CIA pays him to betray us.”

    The villager’s eyes widened in surprise and horror.

    He began to shake his head, whether in denial of the accusation or shock at being found out, Hamed could not have said.

    And it didn’t matter, because the sheikh had said it and it must be so. One of the sheikh’s bony hands came out from under the robes holding a jambiya knife.

    “Deal with the traitor, Hamed al-Bashar.” As the sheikh spoke, he held out the knife.

    Hamed didn’t hesitate. He took the knife and walked toward the accused villager, who began to back away in terror. The man’s nerve broke and he turned to run.

    He had no chance against the younger, faster, stronger 6

    Hamed, who caught him from behind after only a few steps and looped an arm around his neck. Hamed jerked back on the man’s head, exposing his throat. The knife flashed in the sunlight as it bit into the tight-drawn flesh.

    Hamed drew the blade across the man’s throat in one deep, strong slash. A crimson fountain of blood spurted into the air and splashed across the sand. The man’s body spasmed in Hamed’s tight grip.

    The sheikh barked a further command, and the knife grated on bone as the blade struck again, going deeper this time. The man’s arms and legs flailed, but no one stepped forward to assist Hamed in the task he had been given by the sheikh. Hamed knew how to do this—in theory—but he had never had to put that knowledge into practice before.

    Severing the spine posed some difficulties, but the rest of it was easy. Within a few moments the headless body toppled onto the sand and continued to pump blood from the grisly hole where the traitor’s head had been attached. Hamed held that head up by the hair as the sheikh nodded approvingly. The men of the village cried out and fired their rifles into the air. Hamed’s heart pounded in fierce joy at knowing that he had carried out Allah’s will and eliminated a tool of the infidels.

    How much more joyful would it be when he performed his holy mission and entered paradise knowing that he had helped to kill not just a single traitor, but rather thousands, perhaps tens of thousands, of those minions of Satan, those hated Americans, delivering unto them their richly deserved punishment for supporting the Israelis, those filthy Jewish interlopers.

    O happy day that would be, Hamed thought as he looked at the contorted face of the blood-dripping head he dangled from his hand.

    Middle Eastern

    Crisis Worsens

    WASHINGTON, D.C., NOV. 15, 02:51 PM US/EASTERN, ASSOCIATED PRESS. After months of intense, behind-the-scenes negotiations, the agreement-in-principle between Israel and Iran regarding the development of nuclear weapons by Iran has collapsed. This agreement, which was brokered by representatives of the United States, would have opened Iranian nuclear facilities to United Nations inspectors in an effort to bolster Iranian claims that they are not manufacturing weapons of mass destruction. The recent rise to power by more fundamentalist politicians in Iran evidently fueled the collapse of the talks, although a spokesman for the Iranian government insists that there was never any such agreement to start with.

    In Washington, the President issued a statement saying that this is only a temporary setback in the ongoing diplomatic process, and that she remains confident a peaceful solution to this crisis that threatens the stability of the Middle East will be found.

    BOOK ONE

    CHAPTER 1

    The President said, “Those goddamn camel-jockeys never had any intention of holding up their part of the bargain.”

    “Don’t let the press hear you using an ethnic slur like that,” her husband said with a grin. “After all, you represent the party of tolerance and diversity.” She fixed him with the familiar steely-eyed glare he had seen so many times during their thirty-plus years of marriage. At first, he’d been scared shitless whenever she looked at him like that, because it was in those moments that he had been able to look into her and see her for what she really was.

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