24 Season Zero: Day of Reckoning

Chapter 15

SALAH-AL-DIN HIGHWAY, GAZA, LEAVING KHAN YUNIS – 100 MINUTES TO TARGET

The Salah-Al-Din Highway, named after the legendary Muslim warrior who fought the Christians in the Crusades, was the main road through the Gaza Strip, running the entire length of the territory from Egypt to Israel via Khan Yunis and Gaza City. The landscape leaving Khan Yunis was a mix of barren wasteland dotted with bombed out structures interspersed with some forlorn looking farmland until they reached a stretch that was mostly flat, treeless desert. Unlike the colorful sagebrush and cactus dotted desert landscape of the American Southwest, this was truly a "sandbox" seemingly devoid of any plant life at all.

Merina turned to Rachel. "So you're a Zionist," she said more as a statement of fact than a question. It was more in a monotone mixed with just a hint of surprise than with any kind of hostility, though.

Rachel noticed her tone of voice. "Yeah," she replied, staring out the window at the ruins of an old warehouse of some sort. "Believe me, I know how awkward you must be feeling right now." Inside, she certainly wondered about this Arab woman and her friends who had just saved her and Jack back there. What motivated her? What did Merina think of her? Rachel was not just an Israeli but an IDF soldier, and the military was certainly despised in Gaza. Did these three Arabs actually understand that if it wasn't for Hamas, there would be no need for checkpoints, airstrikes, the blockade, or international sanctions?

What Merina did next shocked both her and Jack. The Palestinian woman reached inside her burka and pulled out a Christian cross necklace. "Maybe now it's not so strange." Rafi nodded as he held her hand tightly. "The veil hides so much, but now that I am among friends I can be open about what I truly believe. The Bible tells us that through God, all things are possible."

Rachel breathed out slowly and nodded. "I guess you're right. And I really, really do need to believe that right now." She wasn't particularly sure what to think at the moment as she watched the war-torn desolation of Gaza pass by outside the window. The van wasn't driving fast due to the poor condition of the so-called highway. Before Merina interrupted her thoughts, Rachel had been taken aback by the shock that all this was only within a few hours drive of where she'd lived her entire life. Of course she had always heard the news stories out of Gaza, especially when the military had to go in and flush out Hamas's suicide bombers and rocketeers, but she couldn't believe that she was actually here.

Jack also relaxed considerably though he had hidden his slight uneasiness pretty well. Yes, these guys had been activated on short notice by Langley and had certainly gotten them out of a bind back in Khan Yunis but he was at a point where it was hard for him to trust anyone besides Rachel right now. These were genuinely good people who believed in what they did, not like some assets who did it out of financial self-interest or were blackmailed into providing intel to the Agency.

"I am so sorry about all this. As an Arab, I am embarrassed for my people," Rafi said softly. "So many of them have never been exposed to the truth. You believe a lie when it's the only thing you've ever been told."

"You don't have anything to apologize for," Jack replied adamantly, "You're only responsible for what you do personally, and we can't begin to tell you how much we appreciate your help both in getting us out of there and continuing the next part of this operation."

Rachel spoke up too. "There are a lot of Christian Arabs who live in Israel, including a good friend of mine from high school. Most of us are glad to have them as our fellow citizens. Many of them serve in the military and are among the bravest soldiers in the army. There are also Lebanese Christians who support Israel against Hezbollah."

"That is because they understand the evil of jihad," Rafi commented. "There was a time when I believed it myself. Obviously I do not anymore, after I was shown the truth."

"So what changed everything for you, Rafi?" Jack asked curiously. "How did you get to working for the United States?"

"I am not proud of my past," Rafi admitted, "I was raised in the struggle, like so many of us here are. I was an armed member of the PLO in my youth. Being in charge of transport services for the Al-Najar Hospital, that is not my cover, that is my real job. I have done it for the past fifteen years. I grew up here in Gaza, listening to all of the messages from Hamas and the PLO. I used to hate Israel and the West but we were just so tired of the fighting. More and more we realized Hamas was not interested in delivering on their promises of a better life for us. We…..we had a daughter. Her name was Yasmin. She was killed six years ago when my brother's house was destroyed just as she was visiting. To this day we don't know if it was an Israeli tank shell or if it was a Hamas rocket that fell short upon launch. It doesn't matter anymore," he said sadly.

His voice then rose in anger. "As bad as the PLO was, Hamas was worse. They cared nothing for us. I was at the hospital three years ago when Hamas brought their rockets in there and placed them on the roof. They refused to let us evacuate the hospital when the airstrikes came. Thankfully the hospital was not hit. But that was when I realized everything they say in the West about Hamas was true. One day, we met a man who changed our lives, a United Nations volunteer from Oklahoma who was also a Baptist preacher. He showed us another way when he taught us about Jesus Christ. I was born again into a new person. When we were still able to travel to Egypt, I went to the U.S. Embassy in Cairo, told them about myself and the Hamas control over our hospitals, and how I was able to give them information about the situation on the ground regarding these terrorist groups and which weapons they had available. I was eventually recruited into the CIA and given specialized training in Egypt along with my wife. Minaj here," he said, motioning to the Arab man driving the car, "Comes from one of Gaza's few native Christian families."

"I cannot begin to describe life under Hamas especially now that they are promoting Islamic sharia law," Minaj told them. "My church was set on fire with my pastor and one of the deacons inside. My brother was stoned to death publicly by Hamas because he sold alcohol in his store. If this is 'my' side, maybe its better if the Zionists destroyed Hamas. At least there are some in Israel who talk about giving us our own state if Hamas and Hezbollah stop their attacks. I don't know if I can trust the Israelis or Americans, but I know I cannot trust Hamas. If there is a Palestinian state, and it is ruled by Islamic law, our lives as Christians will only get even worse. What I'm doing is also about getting back at the people who murdered my brother."

"Most of my life I had been taught to hate your people, but you remind me so much of Yasmin," Merina told Rachel, looking into her eyes. "How old are you, Rachel?"

"I'm twenty," she told their new colleague. "My birthday's in March."

"Yasmin was three years younger than you when we lost her. All she wanted was to get out of here, away from all this madness. I can tell Jack here is naturally made for this kind of work. What about you? You're not what I expect when I think of special forces." Of course Merina had assumed they were part of the rescue team inserted into the high school and had managed to be cut off from their colleagues and thus captured by the hostage takers.

"That's cause I'm not special forces, far from it!" Rachel told her, "I'm not even in a combat unit. I'm stationed at Ben Gurion Airport. I do passenger and luggage screenings, passport control, aircraft inspections, that kinda thing. I'm just your ordinary girl from Tel Aviv finishing up my military service. I was at Sharon High School giving a presentation about my specialty when they took over the school. Jack's my boyfriend, he was just accompanying me there. Now here we are, my first time ever in Gaza. Just the unluckiest day of my life."

Merina took her hand and squeezed it. Several years ago she would have been bitter at Rachel for living such a fortunate, comfortable life while the bombs and missiles rained down on Gaza, but in her new perspective, she saw the tragedy of a young woman who had lost her innocence today in the worst way possible. Merina looked straight into Rachel's eyes and gave her a reassuring nod. "We are going to do everything we can to keep the two of you safe. That's a promise."

GAZA CITY – SOUTH END, 90 MINUTES TO TARGET

The morning sun was now high overhead in the cloudless winter sky, basking the stark, nearly treeless, gray and white cityscape of the Palestinian territories' largest urban area in a post-apocalyptic air. Massive piles of rubble and disintegrating barbed wire fences greeted Jack, Rachel, and their CIA allies as the medical transport van entered the southern outskirts of Gaza City. The burned out hulks of vehicles also littered the side of the roadway as well as in the few open areas beyond it. There were few signs of modernity amid the destruction, and instead of billboards with the logos of multinational companies, the signs and murals here, like in Khan Yunis, were mostly devoted to Islamist propaganda. Foreign investment had long since pulled out of this hellish place. Everything about Gaza City, like in the rest of the territories, had an air of hopelessness. This place had obviously known nothing but war for generations. During the 1980s, it resembled the Northern Ireland kind of low level conflict. Now it resembled large parts of Baghdad and Kabul. Jack felt a strong sense of anger and disgust at Hamas, condemning the people here to this reality so they can continue their blind war for a hopeless cause, and now Nakkash's dream spread even beyond Israel and Palestine. Except now with the nuclear weapons in his possession, Nakkash's dark dreams truly had a chance of coming true, and the five people in this vehicle were the only thing that could stop this from happening.

"So what can you tell us about this Imam Ravid?" Jack asked.

Rafi pulled up Ravid's dossier on his Dell laptop, which showed the imam's picture from a Pakistani passport as well as a picture of him teaching at an Islamic madrasa. "Amjad Ravid is a radical Taliban-influenced cleric originally operating out of Peshawar, Pakistan. Owned several madrasas and terrorist training camps financed by Persian Gulf oil money. He came here to Palestine after fighting jihad in Pakistan, Somalia, Afghanistan, and Iraq. Suicide attacks, car bombs, ambushes of soldiers, he organized everything. Hamas welcomed him with open arms as they would welcome any foreign supporters. We believe Ravid was the one who persuaded Nakkash to share in his vision of a pan-Islamic caliphate stretching all the way from Morocco to Pakistan."

Jack took note of these facts. So this man, Amjad Ravid, was the inspiration and funding behind the unspeakable evil he had experienced today, the one who made Nakkash's operations possible. Jack knew it would took all the self-control he had to not put a bullet through Ravid's brain the moment he laid eyes on the cleric.

"What kind of opposition are we expecting at the mosque?" asked Rachel.

"Typically no more than a few dozen men," answered Merina, manipulating the PDA and showing satellite street view maps of the mosque and the surrounding area, which had been dominated by mid-rise buildings about 7 to 10 stories high but these were now mixed in with piles of rubble and the shells of bombed out structures after Hamas positions in the neighborhood came under attack by Israeli airstrikes and artillery shells during the last round of violence in Gaza. The mosque itself covered more than two city blocks, with four towering minarets which most likely had terrorist lookouts. There was a large plaza separating the mosque from the neighboring buildings on both sides though the side approaches were closer to the neighborhood streets. Imam Ravid was guarded by patrols of Palestinian police on the perimeter while the inside of the mosque was defended by Ravid's own force of foreign jihadists. These followers were fanatically loyal and considered it their religious duty to lay down their lives in defense of their imam.

"A few dozen? There's only five of us!" Rachel exclaimed. She was afraid of the odds catching up to them. There could only be so much luck in one day, she thought to herself. Dammit, girl, you need to snap out of it. You can't think like this. This kind of thinking's what going to get you killed.

Rafi impressed Jack with his ability to come up with a plan on the spot though Jack was sure he had scouted out the Ibrahimi Mosque before. Rafi pointed to two abandoned, damaged structures set diagonally across from the mosque. "It's all about the element of surprise. Rachel, I know you're a good shot," he said, opening a case and revealing a sniper rifle.

"It's one of our best weapons," Rafi said, "Merina is also excellent with these. You and her will provide sniper coverage while Jack, Minaj, and myself move in on the mosque. You two will rotate between different concealed positions in these structures facing the mosque. Any terrorists in the minarets will have to be taken out first. The top level of this abandoned tenement also gives you a view into the inner sanctuary of the mosque including the Imam's study. Jack, Langley's sending me the schematics to the mosque."

"What's the source?" Jack asked with some level of alarm, "Can we trust it?"

"The CIA hacked into the records for the Saudi architectural firm that designed the building for Ravid. It's the best we can do. These are their internal records, and they do differ from the ones released even to the Palestinian Authority before Hamas took control of Gaza. That's the best we have, Jack."

"It will have to do," Jack said.

Rafi shook his head. "With this being such short notice and us just having to wing it, there's another problem, about how we're going to convince the good Imam to give up what he knows about Nakkash's location."

"Trust me, I'll find a way to make him talk," Jack said with determination in a dark tone of voice. "I didn't get this far today by being polite. I'll do whatever it takes to break this son of a bitch." Yesterday, Rachel would have been uneasy with this type of talk, but now there was simply a look of steely resolve on her face as well. She hated what this day was doing to her, but simply hoped that once it was over, she could eventually return to normal. She saw Jack's dark determination and hid her concern for him. The question was, would he be able to recover from all that he'd seen and done today.

"Jack," Rafi said, "Ravid's been captured by the Pakistani ISI military intelligence before and interrogated for more than five months until Al-Qaeda terrorists attacked the government building housing the detention center and breaking him out. The Pakistani military interrogators cut off three of Ravid's toes, electrocuted his genitals and waterboarded him for weeks, and he never broke. With all due respect, Jack, if they can't break him in five months, I doubt you will in five minutes, which is probably the timespan we're looking at since Nakkash could be anywhere in Gaza and the missiles are less than two hours from Riyadh, assuming that's the closest target."

"I'm going to get the information we need, Rafi," Jack told him, "Trust me."

THE PENTAGON / US FORCES DETACHMENT, GIVITAYIM IDF BASE

Christopher Henderson snatched the phone off the desk of the conference room he had spent way too much time on in the past 20 hours even before the first ring was finished. It was Secretary of Defense Adler calling from the Pentagon, surrounded by the Joint Chiefs while President Jack Ryan had been ushered into the White House bunker for security reasons. Nobody knew if there was an even larger attack planned against the American homeland, as if the current threat wasn't enough.

"Yes, sir, Mr. Secretary?" Henderson asked.

"You picking up the rocket launches out of Gaza?" Adler asked.

"Yes, the entire area's going haywire right now. The Israelis are reporting at least two dozen rockets across the border already. Southern Israel is in a full panic mode. Air raid sirens have already gone off in parts of Tel Aviv. I only hope this base isn't targeted again. It's the largest barrage to ever come out of Gaza."

"We believe that's the mask for the nuclear launch, Captain," the SecDef replied, "Did anyone on the ground get a visual of trails heading to the east?"

"Negative, sir," Henderson told him, "But I agree with your assessment. We must assume the missiles are already inbound to their targets."

"The rocket assault also has another effect, Captain. With the Israeli Air Force overhead and Hamas now armed with anti-aircraft batteries giving additional support will be difficult. We have stealth bombers based at the NATO base in Aviano, Italy but they won't get there in time. You'll be running this operation with minimal air support."

"What about the flight squadron from Incirlik? Or our carrier based aircraft in the Med?"

"Nearest carriers are in the Persian Gulf and on the coast of Spain, also out of range. The Incirlik squadron is preparing to take off from Turkey as we speak. They'll be following the Mediterranean coast on a straight shot to Gaza. The Israeli Air Force is cooperating but again we don't know how long they can maintain air superiority given Hamas's defensive capabilities. But in any case you must convey to your team the time sensitiveness of the situation."

"What ETA are we talking about? How much time do we have, sir?"

"Based on the average speed of the missiles, the closest target, King Khalid Military City in Saudi Arabia will be struck in just under 90 minutes. An additional ten minutes or so we're predicting an impact at the next target, which we believe will either be the Kuwait Navy Base, or Prince Sultan Air Base in eastern Saudi Arabia."

SHUJA'IYYA DISTRICT, GAZA CITY

"The TAC-338 is one of the most accurate sniper rifles in the U.S. arsenal," Jack told Rachel as he removed the weapon from its case. "One of the weapons of choice for our elite marksman. Chris Kyle used this exact model during his time in Iraq. I'm glad the CIA was prepared for all contingencies. I take it you probably haven't handled anything like this before?"

"I've fired a few long range rifles before but not anything like this," Rachel admitted as Jack checked the scope on the TAC-338A and handed it to her. Rachel was aware of the American Sniper story, and 24 hours ago she would have been shocked to be handling the gun that made Bradley Cooper look so invincible in the movie, but she was now at the point where nothing was unexpected anymore. Rachel assumed Jack's mentioning Chris Kyle's association with this weapon was to comfort her and it certainly worked a little.

Both of them hidden behind a still standing rebar beam in one of the ruined buildings across a wide plaza from the Ibrahimi Mosque which appeared like a behemoth in the neighborhood, especially with several of the surrounding structures reduced to rubble and others simply skeletal remains. The abandoned, damaged tenement they were in was actually one that suffered less damage despite the entire façade having been torn off by heavy artillery fire.

Jack handed her the rifle and helping her place her arms on the correct positions. "I want you to point it away from the mosque for one moment, here," Jack told her. He gently swung her arm around and pointed the weapon down the street to an abandoned tea shop in a damaged building with few passerby. "Aim at that window pane right there, yeah, the one's that's already half broken," Jack told her.

Rachel nervously zoomed in with the Leupold Mark 4 scope that the rifle was equipped with. "Steady, fire," Jack said, "And count the seconds it takes for the bullet to reach your target." She did as he instructed and a silent bullet flew from the sniper rifle, launched through the air above the debris-strewn street like a rocket. Suddenly the windowpane broke off and fell to the ground. A Palestinian civilian glanced at the abandoned shop and continued walking, assuming it was just the natural elements finally taking a toll on that disused structure.

"That was five seconds, I think," she said hesitantly.

Jack squeezed and massaged her shoulders gently. "My count too, that was perfect. Now that window's the same distance as the front side of the mosque, add another ten to thirty feet going into the central courtyard and the imam's sanctuary. Now that was a stationary target. Keep in mind that once Rafi, Minaj and I are inside that mosque that's going to change very quickly. In that case you'll no longer be aiming at the targets, you'll have to predict where the target's going to be five seconds later."

"I….." Jack could tell Rachel was very unsure of herself right now despite hitting that target perfectly.

"I'm sorry, I know how insane this is, winging it, but I trust you. I know you can do this. You've got a natural gift that you might not have known before. I need you to cover us, and above all, don't forget to also be alert for hostiles approaching your position. Merina will be doing the same, and you'll also be covering her."

She nodded, mustering all the confidence she could. "Yeah, Jack." He didn't want to tell her that he was placing his life in her hands since that would only increase the stress she was already under. Jack had to admit he was impressed by how well she was holding up given her completely different military experiences compared to his own. As Jack and the two male CIA agents left their position, posing as devout Muslims in their traditional Arab garb, Rachel got in position, waiting for the go-ahead to start picking off her targets.

IBRAHIMI MOSQUE – EXTERIOR PLAZA, 45 MINUTES TO TARGET

The sound of flying rockets filled the air, followed by that of antiaircraft fire and explosions as the Israeli retaliation struck several locations across Gaza City. The worshippers and other passerby on the plaza and streets around the mosque seemed unfazed, still going about their daily business like the sounds of war were just sounds of passing traffic.

Jack suddenly wished he had disguised himself in a burka instead, as the mosque guards would not dare search a Muslim woman. Fortunately, though the mosque was nearly empty at this time with only a few worshippers since it was not one of the five daily prayer times observed by the Muslims. Jack walked behind Rafi and Minaj so that the terrorist guards at the mosque wouldn't see his fair features. Yes, there were Western converts fighting for the terrorists but the mosque guards and Palestinian police would already know them.

"Okay, engage," Jack radioed to Rachel and Merina as they approached the guard station, where there was also a Palestinian police vehicle with three men there.

"Salaam aleikum," the lead mosque guard at the station said to Rafi

Rafi nodded. They were within three feet of the guards, and Rafi suddenly took out a knife and slashed the man's throat, while Jack also took out a knife and jammed it through the other terrorist's heart. They silently dragged the bodies behind the guard station.

At the same time, Merina took out the cop sitting in the driver's seat of the Palestinian police car. His partner was dosing off and didn't even wake up before Merina fired a shot into his brain. Rachel saw a door open along the front of the mosque and she pulled the trigger, sending a sniper bullet flying into a terrorist's skull.

"That was unexpected," Merina radioed Rachel. "We need to take out the minaret guards simultaneously before they can alert one another."

"Got it," Rachel said, "I have a visual on the southwest tower."

"Northeast tower," Merina said. "From here we need to quickly adjust the scopes and take out the other two towers. Okay, on my count….one…two….three…."

Rachel and Merina fired two more suppressed shots that killed the two watchtower guards. Within seconds, the terrorists in the other two minarets were also dead.

"Shit!" Rachel cursed as she moved the sniper rifle back toward the front of the mosque. At the same time, Merina rushed down some cracked stairs in the ruined building she was in so she can get a vantage point toward the back of the mosque where more terrorists might be present. They had to think the enemy ranks as much as possible to make life easier for their men who were now already inside the building.

MOSQUE OUTER COURTYARD

Jack and Rafi went ahead while Minaj went off to the right, all of them trying to secure the quickest route into the imam's sanctuary that housed his office and living quarters. Two more foreign jihadists came toward them in a colonnaded walkway overlooking the traditional Islamic outer courtyard. Obviously they still had the element of surprise, Jack thought gratefully. As the jihadi patrol came closer, both Jack and Rafi quickly grabbed their silenced pistols and shot both hostiles in the head.

The sight of the falling bodies attracted the attention of two terrorists patrolling the upper walkway of the outer courtyard. Jack cursed as a burst of automatic weapons fire struck a column right next to him, sending debris flying on him. "There's someone here! I need backup! Yallah! Yallah!" the terrorist shouted. Two more men appeared and Jack and Rafi both opened fire across the courtyard, sending the few worshippers fleeing. Rafi managed to kill one of the hostiles. The terrorists returned fire, missing Jack and Rafi but killing one of the mosque congregants instead.

Suddenly, one of the jihadi terrorists stopped firing and his body tumbled over the railing and fell to the courtyard below, a single bullethole in his temple. A second later, Jack saw another terrorist drop down dead, slumping forward against the railing of the upper walkway.

Rachel saw yet one more terrorist running along the first floor, preparing to take up position against Jack. She remembered the crash course Jack gave her and aimed at a spot right in front of the target. She saw the terrorist double over with a bright red smear on his white robe. She sent another bullet into his brain to make sure he was dead.

"Courtyard is clear from this vantage point," Rachel said. Another hostile came from the opposite direction, but Merina took care of that one.

"Clear on this end too. You're safe to proceed," Merina radioed as she reloaded the TAC 388 rifle from her new position, the third floor of an office building damaged beyond repair.

"Good work. Continue picking out possible targets."

MOSQUE PLAZA

"We have more hostiles inbound, two Hamas police vehicles," Merina said on the open radio so the entire team can hear them. "They must have been expecting a check-in from the guys we took care of earlier. I just hope they haven't alerted the imam yet."

"Those bastards need to be taken out ASAP," Jack said as he dashed across the outer courtyard. "Rafi, we should avoid the other courtyard, any kind of commotion there will spook Ravid. We need the element of surprise or else we risk losing him."

Rafi nodded as they took a side corridor to bypass the courtyard. From her perch, Rachel saw the two Palestinian police cars pull up across the plaza right to the entrance of the mosque.

"I count five more hostiles," Rachel said. "They're leaving their cars now, I'm going to take out as many as I can, Merina, but any of them that get into the gate are yours. You'll need to eliminate them before they're a threat to our team."

Rachel waited until the first two uniformed Palestinian cops approached the door. She fired one bullet that struck the first man though the back, passing through his heart, then striking the Palestinian in front of them, both hostiles collapsing in a heap. "We have snipers!" one of them shouted, motioning wildly.

"Go in, protect the imam! I will find this dog and put him down!" the senior Palestinian ordered his subordinates.

Rachel hid herself as the armed Palestinian looked at the ruined buildings across from the mosque, his AK-47 prepared to fire. Then she suddenly went back to the rifle and blew the man's head off. The other two Palestinian security force members were now dashing across the first courtyard where they saw the bodies of several of the foreign terrorists they were tasked with protecting. There was a soft splattering sound as the first Palestinian's head was blown apart by Merina's perfect aim. His partner panicked and made a run for it but Merina felled him with a shot through the back.

IMAM'S SANCTUARY, IBRAHIMI MOSQUE

The sanctuary was the section of the mosque that housed the Imam's office. Jack double checked the schematics and saw that Ravid's office was located on the third floor of the building overlooking the inner courtyard, which was what he got from the visual from the sniper position earlier. So far the map the CIA hackers had obtained from the Saudi Arabian firm had proven to be accurate. Jack simply had to hope that was the case for the entire mosque. He saw that the sanctuary building was symmetrical with two approaches from the Imam's office. Jack and Rafi quickly made their way through the labyrinth of the mosque, shooting down several hostiles while Minaj secured a separate portion of the structure.

"Remy? What is this? Do we have a situation?" Jack heard a panicked voice shout from the top of the stairs. The voice was muffled by the distance and by the walls of the sanctuary, but it spoke Arabic in a distinct Pakistani accent. Of course there might be other Pakistanis among the terrorist force guarding the mosque, but this voice had an authoritative nature even in its panic so he had to assume it was Imam Ravid.

"We have intruders!" replied Remy in French-accented Arabic. Remy, Ravid's head of security, was born in France to Algerian parents and led a violent gang in Paris before being radicalized in prison. Remy spoke into his radio and cursed in French. "Imam, the guards in the minarets are not responding, neither is the Hamas police protection force!"

Remy loaded another full clip into his AK-47 and shouted up to the imam. "We have this covered! It must not be a large force, we will take down whoever these bastards are!"

In the other approach to the office, Rafi entered a hallway and exchanged fire with two of Ravid's men, quickly taking them down. Rafi rounded a corner into an area where worshippers normally bathed their feet before prayers, seeing another pair of terrorists patrolling the area. Wasting no time, Rafi mowed them down with a long M-16 burst, sending both of them falling into the bathing pool with their guns flying in the air. The entire area clear, Rafi raced up the stairs, waiting for Jack's go-ahead to approach the target.

Remy screamed something in a mix of French and Arabic and sprayed the stairwell with gunfire, forcing Jack to duck around a corner. Jack fired his M-16 around the corner and blasted apart several pieces of the tiled wall, sending the tiles tumbling down the stairs but Remy had also temporarily retreated. Jack pulled out a grenade and crouched on the ground at the base of the stairwell as it detonated. Out of nowhere another terrorist charged through the smoke screaming and pointing his gun at Jack.

Jack fired a long burst into the terrorist's chest, taking him down, then tossed another grenade. Jack then realized he was out of ammo on the M-16 with Remy still a threat, and no time to reload. The Glock would have to do.

Remy fired off another quick round before he took cover again in a small room at the top of the stairs. The grenade detonated closer to him this time. While Remy survived the blast he was temporarily disoriented by the concussive force of the explosion and especially by the acrid smoke. Jack, however had prepared himself for this and charged up the stairs, just as Remy stumbled out of the room in a daze. Jack used his pistol and shot Remy twice in the chest and abdomen, sending the French Muslim back against the wall then onto the ground slouched over.

Suddenly, however, Jack heard movement as he saw Remy, now upright again, staring at him with wide eyes. Remy charged him like he was possessed by a demon and Jack emptied his pistol on him. Three shots hit Remy in the chest yet he still rushed forward, quickly closing the distance between them. The terrorist thug was significantly taller and more muscular than Jack and Jack knew he could not risk a hand to hand fight. Thankfully the last two bullets went into Remy's left eye socket and temple, sending his finally limp body falling against Jack.

"Imam!" Jack shouted loudly in Arabic, "Stay in there! I killed two Americans! I will go and make sure the area is secure!"

"Do it! Keep me updated!" the imam yelled back.

IMAM'S OFFICE, IBRAHIMI MOSQUE / SNIPER POSITION

Jack utilized the heartbeat sensors and counted five red dots inside the sanctuary as he stood at one door and Rafi approached another after shooting down another terrorist. He still needed the sensors since the sniper's perch only gave a partial view into the office, but he still radioed Rachel for the details she was able to observe.

She answered immediately. "I'm here, Jack, still clear so far, what's the situation?"

"Rafi and I are about to storm the inner sanctum, where Ravid's office is. Do you still have a visual on the imam? I need to know which of these hostiles the sensors are picking up is him."

"He's smack in the middle of the room, the one closest to the tea table," Rachel confirmed visually. "He doesn't seem to be visibly armed even though it's possible he might have something under his prayer robes."

"Okay, thanks, that's all we need," Jack told her, "We're moving in on the imam now. Remember, this is going to get ugly, but we need this information."

"I understand, Jack," Rachel told him, "You just do what you gotta do so we can all get the hell out of this shithole."

"You and me both. I want you and Merina to maintain your positions, let me know the moment anything changes."

"We got it, Jack," she radioed back on the secure frequency.

IMAM'S OFFICE

Jack stepped over Remy's lifeless form and charged at the door leading into Imam Ravid's office, kicking it off its hinges. His Arabic imitation of Remy caused the terrorists inside to be completely caught surprise as he entered the room. One jihadi who had been speaking with the imam was already facing Jack as he entered the room. Jack fired two quick shots into his heart. Another jihadi was seated on a plush couch on the side of the sanctuary that Jack had entered. The terrorist immediately got out of the seat and drew his gun but Jack pulled the trigger on his Glock before his arm was level. One bullet struck the man's abdomen, sending him back into the couch A second Glock bullet whizzed through the air and entered the jihadi's forehead, splattering his brains on the wall behind him.

All this happened in a matter of seconds and Jack had already dove for coverage when the two jihadis on the other side of the room responded with a hail of automatic fire from their KG-9 submachine guns, sending tiles raining down from the Islamic mosaic wall but failing to hit Jack. At this moment, Rafi entered the room from the other end and quickly mowed down the two terrorists by shooting them through the back with his M-16. Imam Ravid grabbed a black market Chinese pistol and pointed it at Rafi but Jack shot him in the hand, forcing him to drop the weapon. Rafi kicked Ravid in the groin then punched him in the solar plexus before finally backfisting him hard enough that he flew over the sofa, knocking it over.

"How dare you, kafir? This is the house of Allah! I am a holy man!" Ravid said through the pain.

"Let me be real clear with you, Amjad Ravid," Jack said, purposely addressing him by his first and last name to make sure Ravid knew the game was up and there was no denying his own identity. "You and I both know why I'm here, and that I don't have time for bullshit."

"Is that so?" Ravid taunted Jack in his thick accent, spitting out his words with arrogance, his dark eyes blazing with defiance.

Jack grabbed Ravid by the neck and hurled him against a wall, the imam slamming against a bookcase, causing piles of holy texts to rain down on him. "I assure you it is," Jack snarled, then kicked Ravid in the stomach sending him rolling over several times. The imam reached for his gun as he gritted his teeth in pain and rage but Jack of course saw the feeble attempt.

He kicked the pistol all the way to the other side of the room and gave Ravid a death stare as the imam winched in pain from his shattered hand, cursing in Arabic.

"Search him," Jack told Rafi who frisked Ravid and patted him down. Rafi found a cell phone inside the imam's Islamic robe and handed it to Jack. It was a simple, cheap Iranian model. Jack removed the sim card then smashed the phone with his foot. He handed the sim card to Rafi who nodded.

"I'll see what I can do," Rafi said, "I will forward this information to Langley."

"You can trace it, but it will be useless," Ravid said with a smirk on his face, as if he had outsmarted Jack. "Even if you have the proper equipment, which I do not think you do, it will take hours."

Jack scoffed. "You don't know me, Amjad." He refused to address the man by his religious title. "Minaj, bring him in," Jack said into the radio.

Moments later, Minaj came through the door clutching a boy of around 6 years old. "Ismail, correct?" Minaj said to Ravid.

"You blaspheming Crusader!" Ravid screamed upon seeing Minaj's cross around his neck. The imam burned with rage at the insult of Minaj bringing a Christian symbol into this mosque. "You will put down my son! I swear I will kill you for this!"

"It doesn't look like you are in any position to do that, Amjad," Minaj said firmly in Arabic, "You were in a position to kill my pastor and my brother, but your days of killing have come to an end."

"I do the killing now," Jack said, staring straight into Ravid's eyes. "You're going to tell me where Nakkash and the guidance system are, or you will watch your son die right here right now!" Jack said.

"Jack, you are out of line, you can't be….." Rafi began.

Jack turned and pointed the gun at Rafi, his blue eyes a glint of pure steel. "Shut up Rafi! The reason your people and the Pakistanis have never broken this son of a bitch is because despite what you all thought, you weren't willing to go far enough. When I said whatever it takes, I mean it! Now either shoot me and let tens of thousands of American soldiers and Arab civilians die, or get the fuck out of my way!"

Ravid gave out an evil snicker that turned into a chilling chuckle. "Go ahead, kill him, throw him over the balcony. He will be a martyr and enjoy the fruits of paradise like every other shaheed you have killed today, while you, kafir, will be rid of your arrogance when you burn in hell."

"No, Amjad, your son will NOT enjoy the fruits of paradise," Jack said coldly. "You see, I have studied the Koran. I know what you believe to be the truth." Jack reached inside his Arabian robe where he still had his jeans on, and removed his belt. "You know what this is made of, don't you?"

"Some shit American plastic that was really made in China," Ravid said haughtily. "You people are so busy attacking Muslims you let the Chinese…."

"This is a custom made pigskin belt, Imam. Made in the good ol' USA, by the way." It was actually a leather belt, but Ravid didn't need to know that. At this, Ravid's eyes went wide. Jack held Ismail tightly and wrapped the belt tight around his neck, Rafi looking on uneasily but still standing guard, watching for any approaching terrorists. "You know what it means if he dies with this on him."

"STOP! Satanic infidel! Motherless bastard!" Ravid screamed despondently as Jack dragged Ismail toward the edge of the railing and picked him up, preparing to hang him by the belt. Jack looked back at Ravid and had never seen anyone's eyes so wide before, pleading in a mix of desperation and fury.

"Okay I will tell you! Put him down! I will tell you, American!" Ravid screamed. "Do not curse my son to eternal damnation!"

"I'm waiting!" Jack shouted as he continued to hold Ismail over the railing.

"Nakkash and Arya, that is the Iranian scientist he is working with, they and their team are at the Islamic University of Gaza! In the engineering building where they have the equipment they need to modify the bombs so they can be delivered!"

Jack brought Ismail back from over the railing and put him back on the floor inside the office. "You son of a bitch, once again using human shields! And now you're going to accuse us of attacking a college campus I'm sure!"

"People like you killed my daughter!" Rafi screamed, punching Ravid in the chest and knocking him out onto a glass tea table, shattering it.

Jack cocked his gun and aimed it downward at Ravid. "You're an inhuman monster, Amjad, and I'll make sure you're wearing that particular belt when they find you."

ACROSS FROM THE IBRAHIMI MOSQUE

Rachel removed the sniper rifle from the ledge and made sure it was fully reloaded, listening carefully to the conversation Jack and the two CIA men were having with Imam Ravid. Indeed Jack had managed to get Ravid to divulge the location of Nakkash and the missile guidance system. She reacquired the aim, bringing the imam's office window into the center of her scope, then she zoomed in some more. She knew what she had to do now, as difficult as it was. God help me, she thought. Rachel made sure the crosshairs were centered directly on the center of Jack's back, and pulled the trigger.


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