One day, a fumbled attempt to lift a wallet from the pocket of the mullah from the local mosque stopped Muhammad’s downward spiral into oblivion. The religious preacher recognised him as the young man who had lost his family in the tragic fire and took him back to his home. The mullah gave him shelter and meals, practising one of the Five Pillars of Islam, which was to provide for the poor. He took him under his wing, cleaned him up, weaned him from his craving for drugs, and later found Muhammad a small job in an Afghan grocery store run by one of the mullah’s friends. The Imam, the prayer leader of the mosque, welcomed him back and one day after prayers invited him for tea in the garden outside. The young boy, unaccompanied by any male member of his family, was an unusual addition to the group of worshippers. Those present knew that he needed help and guidance at this, his most impressionable age, and were determined to do all they could to help. However, their wise words were ignored. Muhammad would forever harbour the deep hatred he felt for the thugs who had murdered his family, and because nothing had happened to apprehend the murderers by the authorities. The only true justice in the world, realised the young Muhammad, would be ‘Al Thar’, the total revenge for the deaths of his family, as written in the Qur’an:
“A life for a life, an eye for an eye, a nose for a nose, an ear for an ear, and a tooth for a tooth.”
The day that changed Muhammad Aziz’s life forever and started him on the path to exact revenge came when he was leaving the local mosque under a darkening sky. A young man, who had also been inside the mosque for prayers caught up with him outside and introduced himself.
‘Hello. Aren’t you Muhammad?’
‘What if I am? What business is it of yours?’
‘I’m Kazim Khan. Don’t you work in the grocery shop run by my uncle?’
Muhammad stopped and turned towards Kazim.
‘What if I do?’
‘I’m only trying to be friendly. My uncle told me he likes you but that you are a loner and have no friends.’
‘So, he sent you to make friends with me? I need no more charity. I’ve got a gutful to last me a lifetime.’ retaliated Muhammad in a bitter voice.
‘Steady, my friend.’ soothed Kazim, whose Arabic name meant a well-tempered and patient person, raising a hand in a gesture of peace,
‘I can understand the way you feel about your family. I lost my mother too. Some football hooligans stabbed her in a mugging. All they got away with was just five miserly pounds in her purse.’
‘So, you know how I feel.’ hissed Muhammad through his deformed lips because of the burns received in the fire. He turned and began walking away.
’Muhammad, you hiss like a snake! You remind me of a viper I saw in my village in Afghanistan when I was a small child before I moved here with my parents. It was rubbing its scales together, making a hissing sound to scare off potential predators. It’s called the saw-scaled viper, a . . .
‘Are you taking the piss?’ accused Muhammad, stopping and turning round, a scowl creasing his face.
‘No, hear me out, my friend. The viper grows to just over a foot in length. Which makes it one of the most dangerous snakes in the world, as it can strike up to two-and-a-half times its own body length and its bite has no known antidote. It kills more people than any other snake. Do not languishing in self-pity, instead you can strike back like that viper. I know where you can start on the divine path to become a true warrior of Islam, to wage war on the infidels and avenge the deaths of your family.’ declared Kazim.
‘How?’ he shouted back.
‘That is easy, Viper.’ Kazim replied and beckoned with his hand said, ‘Come with me.’
Muhammad Aziz’s meeting with Kazim Khan outside the mosque proved fortunate, for it started him on the road that his life would now take. Kazim soon introduced him to other likeminded young men with similar goals. He attended clandestine meetings with them in different parts of London, and learned that a true believer would gladly give his life for Islam. The nickname Viper stuck and to his delight, Al Qaida sponsored his travel to Pakistan for military training in one of their camps. There would be no problem in Muhammad applying for a British passport, for it was the country of his birth and would be very useful. With their new passports Muhammad and his friend Kazim travelled by ferry across the English Channel to France. On arrival, they caught coaches to Paris and Charles de Gaul airport for a direct flight to Islamabad, the capital of Pakistan, which hid the footprint of their journey from prying eyes.
At the training camp in the Jammu Kashmir region of Pakistan, Muhammad became a devout and popular recruit. He surpassed the others on the weapons training and explosives courses, with a degree of accuracy that equalled that of his tough instructors in the camp. No one could match his swift reflexes and deadly sharp shooting that impressed the all in the camp, and everyone agreed that the Viper had all the requisite and resilient qualities of his small namesake.
With their training completed, the Viper travelled with Kazim and two other jihadis over the border and through Afghanistan. Muhammad realised that he was making the reverse journey to the one his parents had made some years ago, when they had fled the country. Along the way, the Viper prayed hard to Allah that he would fulfil this, his dream, of wreaking revenge on the infidels.