Rapp lowered his eyes and felt like a bit of a moron. “Sorry.” He’d been through this with Kennedy on many occasions. He didn’t spend a lot of time worrying about his fate, but apparently she did.
“No need to apologize. It is the business we are in. This man spends a fair amount of time in Algeria and Morocco, and he has very good contacts. He picked up a rumor that some of the men involved in the attack were Moroccan. After some diligent work he found a man who was bragging that his brother had participated in the attacks on America.”
Rapp frowned. “There are probably a million young Muslim men who are claiming that they had a relative involved in the attacks.” Rapp knew he sounded slightly ungrateful, but it was the truth.
“Trust me when I say my man verified the information.”
Rapp looked at Butler for confirmation.
The Brit nodded and said, “I think you will want to hear the rest of the story.”
It was Rapp’s nature to be skeptical. The craft of espionage was filled with half truths and guesswork, lies and deception, so much so that it was often impossible to unravel all the layers of misdirection, but this was not Cheval’s or Butler’s first dance. They were every bit as suspicious as Rapp, and maybe more. And both had a look that said they had solved a very important piece of a complex puzzle. Rapp had seen this same look on their faces a few weeks earlier sitting at this very table on this same little island in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. It was when they had informed Rapp that a third terrorist cell was at large and headed to America. Rapp reached for his cup of coffee and settled into the plush leathe
r seat. He braced himself for what was to come and said, “Let’s hear it.”
THE original plan had called for three cells to hit America. In typical al Qaeda fashion they had picked New York, Los Angeles, and Washington, D.C. Ninety percent of the intel they collected pointed toward attacks on those three cities. Occasionally Chicago or another major city popped up, but al Qaeda was especially obsessed with New York and Washington, D.C., for obvious reasons. Al Qaeda was acutely aware of the role media could play in amplifying their message. Infidels were infidels, but killing a couple of hundred people in Toledo, Ohio, simply wasn’t as good a story in the media’s eyes as hitting a big, glitzy city.
The Brits had nabbed one terrorist cell while it was transiting through Hong Kong and the French had picked up the second cell in West Africa. Much better at keeping secrets from their elected officials, MI-6 and the DGSE took the men to black sites and proceeded to peel back the onion on what was to be a very lethal operation of three coordinated attacks. The one thing they couldn’t do, however, was glean the whereabouts and identity of the third cell. The various groups had never met. The only thing they knew about each other was that they existed, and that they each had been assigned one of the three major cities. No specific targets were known to anyone other than the individual cell leaders.
Rapp wondered if they had managed to squeeze a little more information out of the men in their possession and asked Cheval, “Have you had more success with the cell you intercepted?”
“My man,” Cheval said without pretext, “was heavily involved in those interrogations. Like you, he is not afraid to get his hands dirty. So I have absolute confidence in what I am about to tell you. We originally told you that these three groups didn’t know each other. No crossover whatsoever. While that is still true, the men all belong to the same organization in the broad sense.”
“And the majority of them earned their stripes fighting in Afghanistan,” Butler added.
“Terrorists talk the same as everyone else,” Cheval continued. “They were tight-lipped about operational details but there is gossip about the more trivial aspects of their lives. They looked at their best men to create these three teams. There were quite a few rivalries. The Saudis, with their usual arrogance, demanded to be in charge of all three units and fill the ranks with their own people. That, however, presented a problem.”
“Let me guess,” Rapp said, “they found out it was a one-way trip and the courageous sons of Arabia decided they’d pass.”
“That was part of it. The other problem lay in the fact that the Saudi ranks are bloated with wealthy men who rarely see combat. They are there to provide funds and then go home and thump their chests. For this operation they needed real shooters . . . real veterans of combat. The best without question are the Afghan and Pakistani tribesmen, but these men didn’t like the idea of dying in a strange country thousands of miles from their homes.”
Rapp said, “So they looked to the Moroccans, Algerians, Syrians, Jordanians . . .”
“Precisely,” Cheval said, “and these men talk. There is a rivalry that is not different from that in our own military services. They like to brag and inflate their successes, and of course taunt the other groups.”
“And they all hate the Saudis,” Butler said, “but tolerate them because they have the money.”
“Yes. At any rate, my man picked up in one of his interrogations that the Moroccan contingent was very proud that three of their men had been chosen to serve on one of the teams. I checked with George,” Cheval said, glancing at Butler, “and he confirmed that none of the men in his possession were Moroccan.”
“So you guessed that the three men were in the third and unknown group.”
“Yes. So my man went to Rabat and then Casablanca and began to beat the bushes. It took him a week, and then he found what he was looking for.”
“Yes.” Cheval gave Rapp an uneasy look and added, “It was slow work at first.”
“You mean the brother was not cooperative,” Rapp said.
“That is correct. It took a little longer than my man would have liked, but you know how such things work. Eventually, even the toughest decide to cooperate.”
Rapp thought of asking if the sibling was still alive, but thought better of it.
“We now know the identities of all three Moroccans who participated in the attack.”
“Let me guess . . . they were all part of the suicide crew?”