- Part One
Wednesday, October 11, 1995
The flight from Damascus touched down at Charles De Gaulle Airport at lunch time—an opportune time for long lines and lax immigration scrutiny. The Hawaiian shirt stuck to Al-Mazir’s sweaty back, but he counted on the flowery design to convey the vacationer’s image he aimed to fake. He walked down the drab hallways and joined the queue of mustachioed men in striped suits, elders in checkered kafiyas, and veiled matrons clutching droopy children. Progress was slow, paced by the thumping of stamps on passports. He breathed deeply, calming himself. He had no reason to worry. The French consul general in Damascus had personally handed him this passport, which belonged to a recently deceased Frenchman but carried Al-Mazir’s own photo.
The butterflies in his stomach fluttered urgently as he stepped up to the counter and placed the passport before a uniformed woman. His French was barely conversational, and if she made any inquiries…
“Bonjour.” She browsed the passport, hit a few keys on her computer keyboard, and found a vacant spot to land her stamp. Thud!
He let the air out of his lungs in a slow, soundless whistle.
“Bienvenue à Paris, Monsieur.”
“Merci beaucoup.” Al-Mazir took the passport, shouldered his overnight bag, and walked by the two gendarmes and through the automatic glass doors. He circled the luggage carousel and headed for the exit. The trickiest part was behind him, but he feared it would not take long before busy tongues reached the wrong ears. He must return to the safety of Damascus as soon as a three-way agreement was concluded with Abu Yusef and the Saudi prince for funding the fight against Arafat and his traitorous Oslo Accords with the Jews.
Entering the Arrivals Terminal, Al-Mazir passed through a crowd of expectant relatives and cabbies looking to hook a passenger. He scanned the terminal for Abu Yusef’s men. A group of passengers peered at a large electronic display of flights information. A couple labored to pacify an irate baby. And a punk in black leathers tinkered with his motorcycle helmet. Off to the right, three young men stood near a currency-exchange booth. They returned Al-Mazir’s glance with intense, dark eyes. One of them stepped forward. “Salaam Aleikum.”
“Salaam Aleikum,” Al-Mazir replied.
“Allah’s blessings upon you.” The young man kissed Al-Mazir on both cheeks. “I am Hassan Gaziri.”
“Abu Yusef’s nephew? By Allah, you were a toddler last time I saw you!” Al-Mazir embraced Hassan, detecting a gun in a shoulder holster. For a moment he hesitated. Was this a trap? Was Abu Yusef’s invitation nothing but a ruse to eliminate a competitor?
Outside, a green Peugeot 605 waited at the curb. Bashir, Abu Yusef’s long-time enforcer, sat behind the wheel. But Hassan steered Al-Mazir to the left and opened the rear door of a second car, a black Renault Safrane. The driver was a young man in a suit, who kept both hands on the steering wheel and gazed forward. Hassan ran around to the other side, and his two companions joined Bashir in the green Peugeot. The doors slammed and the two sedans took off.
Al-Mazir was relieved. If they wanted to kill him, they would make him sit by the driver, vulnerable to a quick knifing from behind. And the use of two cars showed Abu Yusef’s concern for his guest’s safety. Al-Mazir sat back and exhaled in relief. All was going well. Their old partnership had given birth to the Munich Olympics spectacle, which had put Palestinian resistance at the top of world news. Now, after years apart, they would join forces again to deliver an even greater catastrophe unto the Zionist enemy.
Gideon had noticed the Hawaiian shirt as soon as the middle-aged passenger emerged from the passport-control area. At first he dismissed the possibility. A terrorist travelling under a false identity would rather emulate a gray sparrow than a peacock. But a reverse strategy could be at play—deflecting suspicion by defying expectations. Gideon glanced at the photograph stuffed inside his helmet. Even though Al-Mazir had gained considerable weight since the snapshot had been taken, his facial features were yet to completely melt into his pudginess. And the reception by the Arabs confirmed his identity, especially the extended embrace he used to pat down his host for weapons.
Gideon slipped on the full-face helmet and said, “The Frogs let him in. He’s in the second car.”
The built-in speakers inside his helmet crackled with Bathsheba’s voice. “I see him.”
“Go!” He exited through the sliding doors just as her BMW K1 motorbike took off with a hushed exhaust rumble.
In the padded back seat of the Renault, Hassan pulled a silver thermos from a pouch, unscrewed the top, and poured coffee into a porcelain cup. The rich aroma filled the car.
“Ah!” Al-Mazir sniffed at the edge of the cup. “The real thing!”
“Abu Yusef brewed it especially for you,” Hassan said. “Black, twice-boiled, no sugar.”
He sipped and smacked his lips. “Perfect!”
“My uncle told me it was your only luxury back in Beirut, when the PLO fought a holy jihad for Palestine.”
“I’m still fighting.” Al-Mazir glanced at the young man. “I’ve kept alive the spirit of Beirut, continued to spill the Jews’ blood.”
“You have been wise. We all see it now, after the Oslo treachery of Arafat—”
“Don’t mention that name!” Al-Mazir took another sip and held the thick brew in his mouth before swallowing. “So how is my dear comrade?”
“Abu Yusef is eager to see you. He prays that you join us soon.”
“With my courageous followers, yes?”
Hassan blushed. He straightened the lapels of his tailored suit. “Insha’Allah.”
Al-Mazir noted the young man’s embarrassment with satisfaction. In the eleven years between 1972 and 1983, starting with the Munich Olympics attack, the string of extravagant airline-highjack operations, and the buildup of PLO forces in southern Lebanon for an invasion of Israel, Al-Mazir and Abu Yusef had worked ceaselessly under Arafat to achieve the dream of a free Palestine. But rather than leading an invasion, Arafat needled the Galilee with a constant barrage of Katyusha missiles until Israel sent troops into Lebanon. PLO forces quickly collapsed, and a 1983 ceasefire agreement sent Arafat and his men on a safe passage to Tunisia. But not Al-Mazir. He broke away from the PLO and went to Syria, where he had formed the Nablus Liberation Force, whose defiance resonated with disillusioned young Palestinians.
Abu Yusef, on the other hand, had spent ten years with Arafat in Tunisia, only to splinter from the PLO in protest of the 1993 Oslo Accord with Israel. And now, after two years and a second Oslo agreement, Abu Yusef’s underfunded group could take credit for only a single attack on a Jewish school in Marseilles, while Al-Mazir claimed eighteen attacks on Jewish and Israeli targets, including a magnificent bus explosion in Tel Aviv that had almost derailed the recent Oslo II signing ceremony in Washington. It was no wonder, therefore, that his old partner had reached out to renew their alliance and had arranged for this clandestine trip to Paris. Tonight they would dine with a Saudi donor, whom Abu Yusef had cultivated to sponsor a militant Palestinian opposition to Arafat.
Hassan poured more coffee into Al-Mazir’s cup.
“Thank you.” Al-Mazir took a sip and looked out the window. This was his first trip out of Syria since 1983. He had missed Europe’s colors, sounds, and smells. But while his mind was still occupied by the pleasing sights, he noticed Hassan’s right hand slip under his jacket toward the hidden gun.