... With Our Shields or On Them

The Serb and the Syrian

Batumi Free-State Housing Complex

Batumi, Autonomous Republic of Ajara

0915 Local

Present Day 2009

(Mission: Black Light + 14 days)

It was just another day in Batumi; the sky was clear and baby blue while the cool breeze rolled off of the Black Sea coast rustling the palm-tree branches to life. The citizens of this coastal paradise carried on with their daily activities, bringing life to the busy streets and a charming sense of chaos to the local markets and bazaars. Independence Square was one the largest of these open-air markets where anything could be found as the Square was divided into various sections; food, textiles and construction equipment- to name a few. Some of the items were legit and regulated by through the local Customs office but most of the merchandise found here was in some way or another illegal. Because beneath this realm of everyday life laid the grim and ethically unobstructed reality that the port-city of Batumi was notoriously known for being the largest hub for the black market in the Black Sea zone. The Ajaran black market was a protected entity which fell under the country's protection and it was one of the primary reasons the local economy did not collapse following Ajara's independence from the Republic of Georgia.

The sounds and noise from Independence Square traveled into Najahs apartment on the 11th floor of the Batumi Free-State Housing Complex. The Syrian stirred to life cursing his employer for providing him accommodations in such a noisy neighborhood. He could have opted for an apartment on the opposite side of the building, but the coastal view from this side was one of the few things that made him smile and cause him to thank Allah for the privilege of life. With Allah and the prophet in mind he checked his watch and twisted his face realizing he'd missed his morning prayer but he shrugged it off as Thursdays was one of the few days he could sleep-in a little before going to work. They would understand, he was a good Muslim after all; maybe not the best but he did his part. He satisfied most the 6 obligations required of him; he believed in one God (Allah) and that Muhammad was his prophet, he prayed 2 or 3 times a day instead of the 5 required (working was understood), he provided alms to the less fortunate (working allowed him to), he fasted during Ramadan, and made several trips to Mecca, finally the sixth pillar was the unspoken (almost taboo) obligation of committing oneself to jihad (which he had done many times and was one of the few Pillars of Islam he enjoyed the most).

However, for the last 5 or 7 years he had sort of taking a sabbatical from being directly involved in acts against the Zionist regimens of the West. Sabbatical may not have been the proper description, perhaps it could be described as more of a religious or social awakening. It was the second time he had been betrayed by his religion and Muslim brothers; these were actions he found over-whelming repulsive and morally unethical, and were clear indications of how vague the Quran was and how easily it could be manipulated. The first such event was during his involvement in Chechnya; here he had been sold-out and captured along with 15 other rebel fighters by his Muslim brothers who justified their action as an act of self-preservation. Those who had saved themselves were like Najah, mujahadin (foreign fighters to the western world) who had traveled from different parts of the world to take part in the fight against Muslim oppression. When Najah first met the leader of this mujahadin group in Turkey, he knew he would have a hard time trusting the Jordanian. He was fortunate enough to be released by his Russian interrogators and thought that the months of torture would only end with his demise. Yet, it would be one of several times in which he would cross paths with his current employer.

Najahs second religious deceit occurred during the natal stages of his employment to Nikolic Vukic. During this time he took a leave of absence in order to participate in the current fight against Zionist expansion- Iraq. The Syrian had been out of the loop for quite some time, that he had a hard time understanding the social complexities of this conflict. There was no shortage of work in Iraq as the number of different mujahadin groups provided some difficulty in choosing one. However his prior activities and more so his tenure operating with Syrian Intelligence got him recruited into one of the most prolific mujahadin organizations in the country; Al-Qaeda in Iraq. To Najahs horror and disappointment the same Jordanian who had betrayed him in Chechnya was in control of this powerful terrorist group. Fresh in his mind as though it were yesterday he remembered the first thing the Jordanian told him upon recognizing the newest prospect, "My brother Najah, you see, it was not all in vain. Your sacrifice provided me with the gift of life so that I could carry-on the fight against the West and now you see we are bringing the Americans to their knees. And may your survival at the hands of those Russian animals be a testament to the power of Allah and the will of the Prophet which resides in you," prophesied the Jordanian as the other members around them began to pray. He continued, "Al-Qaeda in Iraq will be the unifying factor in the return of the Islamic Caliphate. And as the Prophets young general Khalid ibn-al-Wahlid, I too shall be the sword of Islam bringing all those who oppose the will of Allah to their death."

The impromptu sermon was much for Najah, as he hadn't experienced such religious fervor since his adolescence as a member of an Islamic youth group back in Frankfurt, Germany. His only response to such a statement was, "Praise be to Allah." As much as he devoted his life to Islam, an as much he would like to believe, there would be no such thing as a second Caliphate; it was if you will, an urban myth. A rouse used to play on a weak Muslims soul and conscious. With such words from the Jordanian he knew that nothing he Najah had seen or done would compare to what the leader of Al-Qaeda had in store for the Zionist.

Due to his age and technical experience, the Jordanian had placed the Syrian in management position where he was responsible for over-seeing the electrical applications to the car-bombs and suicide vests employed by the mujahadin. Perhaps not being directly involved in the operations was the leaders way of keeping him out of his way; maybe the Jordanian felt threatened that he would try to take stage a coup against him or possibly he was there to monitor his behavior on behalf of Al-Qaeda or maybe he was a spy for the coalition. All of these thoughts plagued and occupied his Najahs mind until several weeks later when he realized the extent of the Jordanians hate for the West.

It was one thing to kill armed combatants, soldiers of the coalition, but unarmed men unaffiliated with any western military whose sole purpose was to drive supply vehicles filled with soap, paper, and toothbrushes? But these men weren't just shot and killed; many were tortured and then beheaded; with the actions filmed and broadcasted to the world. He had never once conceived committing such a gruesome and barbaric act of insanity, as no man or even woman deserved such a death. The beheadings continued and he did nothing to oppose these actions as voicing concern over killing non-Muslims during a jihad could be considered an act of treason. However the final event which broke Najahs will to continue with the mujahadin was when he had been asked to personally over see the construction of 6 suicide car-bombs for what he thought would be one of the largest attacks against the Coalition Provisional Authority. The attack was of such importance that the Jordanian visited Najah in his workshop the morning before the bombs left the warehouse; it surprised the Syrian as this would be the second time in the 7 months that he had been in Iraq that the Jordanian came to see him about an operation. The discourse between the two was short as he was only concerned that everything would go off as planned and that the bombers had been properly trained on the detonation devices and then he left.

At 6:20 the following morning the residents of the Iraqi city of Najaf were rocked from their early morning responsibilities by a large explosion in the downtown area. 11 kilometers away Najah was awakened by the wails and excitement coming from outside the farmhouse he was living in and walked out to see what the problem was. Eagerly one of the shepherds approached him and pointed towards the city and the plume of smoke rising into the sky, "Do you see what they have done. They say they want to help us but instead they kill us." Confused Najah asked, "What? What are you talking about? You mean the Americans?" "Yes, Yes. They dropped a bomb on the hospital. Those animals!"

But it didn't make sense; the Americans and the Shiites were working together and the only group that would benefit from bombing a Shiite building were the Su... And before he could finish his thought the local news station began reporting about a second bombing this time Baghdad against another Shiite site. Najahs worst fears were coming to life- the Jordanian was trying to coerce the Shiites into opposing the Americans by making them submit to his will. His stomach began to turn as he came to grips with the fact the bombs he had assembled were now responsible for the slow-brewing civil war that would implode in several years. No ethical Muslim would commit such an atrocity as killing and maiming a fellow believer in Allah.

From 6:20 to 11:44 that bright and sunny morbid morning 6 suicide car-bombs were detonated from Baghdad to Basra. One mosque, two hospitals, a police recruitment depot, and a Western non-government organization that housed displaced children were attacked. Najah confined himself to his room and wept for hours on the straw mat he slept on curled up like an infant and he spent several hours wondering around the farm with a constant flow of tears looking up at the sky for response. For the Syrian born in Frankfurt Germany, his time with the mujahidin had come to an end and several days following the chain of attacks he disappeared over the border and into Syria just as he had arrived.

Not many things made him doubt his loyalty to Islam and who was he to judge; to a certain degree he was no different than the Jordanian. That same streak of evil and hate also ran through his blood and it was also manifested in violence against the west but never overflowed in such a way that made killing other Muslims acceptable; he had his limits and some form of restraint against his enemies. Death however was his business and now it

Batumi Free-State Housing Complex

Batumi, Autonomous Republic of Ajara

0917 Local

Present Day 2009

(Mission: Black Light + 14 days)

Najah wiped the tears from his face and looked out his veranda at the somewhat never ending blue desert with its white peaks. A true testament of Allahs will, he thought to himself. His introspection was cut short when somebody knocked on his door three or four times from the outside, "Commander Habash," queried one of the guards posted outside his door. "WHAT," he responded rather annoyed as he walked towards the front door. "Mister Vukic needs to see you before you leave," urged the Serb through the door. "Alright. Half an hour," responded Najah and turned to walk back towards the veranda and saw her standing there looking out into the blue abyss; beyond the grimy city, beyond the hyperactive port, past the sandy coast and into the Black Sea.

He stood there and watched as the light bathed her and the breeze moved her hair brown hair in waves. With all of the atrocities and heinous events he had participated in and orchestrated, his hunger for non-Muslim or Middle Eastern women was probably his greatest vice, however, he never asked for absolution as it was one of the few things he enjoyed about his life. Almina was one of his favorites and it had taken him some to remember her name. In reality it wasn't her real name, more so she barely remembered what it was or where she was from. This was another familiar component of Ajaras involvement with the black market; the sale, purchase, and bartering of women. Almina was close to 9 when she was abducted and sold to a family in Luxemburg and then to another and so forth and for 9 or 10 years she bounced from home to street corner to brothel and from country to country. Najah knew this about her and had come to terms with her reality and was one of the reasons he did his best to treat her as a person and not as a commodity, although she would quickly remind him that she didn't need his charity. But to Najah she was more than that, perhaps he had more feelings for her than he cared to admit or the fact that he had involved himself in a much more serious conflict that he needed something more meaningful to attest for when Allah came to sequester him.

Golani Bar & Restaurant

Batumi, Autonomous Republic of Ajara

1003 Local

Present Day 2009

(Mission: Black Light + 14 days)

The Syrian stepped out of the tinted Japanese SUV and entered the restaurant, immediately noticing two guards seated at the first two tables, with one at the bar, another standing by the emergency exit and two rotating in and out of the kitchen. This was not a local eatery for regular citizens it, was an exclusive locale that reminded Najah of those American mobster movies and every time he was asked to meet Vukic here the hair on the back of his neck became prickly. The Golani was busy today with various important government officials- Deputy Ministers of Internal Security and Intelligence, the Port Director, Deputy-Vice Minister of Commerce, Customs Director, two ranking members of parliament, and a judge- not to forget those three persons (not government officials) who controlled and administered the black market; these figures were the nucleus of the corruption and racketeering that permeated Ajaran society.

Najah found his table just at the back of the dining hall and took his sun-glasses as he approached the men sitting down and eating a rather heavy breakfast. "Najah, so nice of you to join us this morning; I'm sure you know Colonel Petrovitch, commander of the Ajaran counter-terrorism group. And this is Colonel Amra with Armenian Internal Security," introduced Vukic as he articulated with his hands for the Syrian to sit. "Gentlemen this is Najah Habash, he is the commander of my foreign security section, not an official position but it suits him, am I not right comrade." "Good morning," replied Najah dryly and reeking of suspicion- particularly with the presence of the Armenian. Hacking into a piece of meat the aging Serb questioned Najah, "I tried contacting you several times earlier this morning to no avail." "I had a personal matter to deal with before leaving for Armenia later today," he responded looking towards Colonel Amra. "How is she these days," Vukic asked. "Who?" "Alana; that is her name isn't it?" A bit irritated he responded with some attitude, "Almina and she is fine Mister Vukic." Sensing some urgency in his associate he preceded with the morning's business, "Najah, our current project seems to be attracting a lot of unwanted attention and I feel that it would be in our best interest if Colonel Petrovitch were to provide additional resources towards the operation in Armenia."

The Syrian was taken by surprise with this suggestion as his superior had always allowed him a spectrum of independence in the development and execution of those operations of utmost importance to Vukic; rarely if ever did he intercede or impose his will on Najahs command. "I'm confused Nikolic as I was under the impression that everything was relatively going as planned. If your concern is about the Azeri bombardment of the town were the items were held, I, I think it was purely coincidental," preached the Syrian as he examined the faces seated at his table. Before Vukic could respond the Armenian Colonel scoffed, "Hah, coincidence you say," a remark which twisted the Syrians insides. "Colonel, I would appreciate it if you would keep your fucking mouth shut until I ask you to speak," scolded the Serbian under his breath and watched as Amra dipped his head down in shame and disgust. "Is there something that I am not aware of," queried the Muslim, "has INTERPOL infiltrated our group, Nikolic?" "My friend I believe it is greater than that. The American presence in Azerbaijan may not be there solely to aid the upcoming Azeri offensive to retake the Nagorno-Karabakh region currently under Armenian control," informed Vukic, "Colonel Amra- if you will."

Bringing his head up to save what dignity he had left, the forty year old Armenian gave the Syrian his version of what had occurred 13 days ago, "Commander Habash there were many coincidences that day. I have several Azeri informants who have infiltrated the military bases occupied by the Americans and was told that 2 helicopters, the infamous blackhawk types, left the main base in Yevlakh and stopped at a small airstrip some 7 kilometers away from that border town. At this airstrip the Americans transferred to 3 smaller helicopters and crossed the border into Armenia," educated the Colonel and paused to let the information sink-in before continuing. "Our primary reports of the attack stated that the first strike was directed at the power plant, however, it was actually sabotaged first and then obliterated during the formal bombardment. One of the power plant guards was admitted to one of the local hospitals with several life-threatening gun-shot wounds. When questioned later by elements of the Ministry of Internal Security he said that the plant had been attacked and subsequently sabotaged. MIS conducted a thorough investigation. They questioned the citizens who had survived the attack and have informed me that an incriminating number of those witnesses reported hearing helicopters and several instances of gunfire before the artillery began to fall," finished the Armenian before saying, "so it seems Mister Habash that the Americans have finally caught on to your operation."

What had once started as one of the most beautiful days for Najah Habash was now becoming one of the worst. He had dedicated a little more than a year to this operation and up until a week ago it had been a flawless work of art. He was brought out of his stupor by the Serbs familiar husky voice, "Najah this transaction must be completed with the utmost priority," urged his employer. "Yes-yes, I understand, but the Iranians won't be ready for another two or maybe three weeks at the most. Once I arrive in Armenia I will do my best accelerate the process." Learning from Amras outburst Colonel Petrovitch waited for Vukics silent acknowledgment before interrupting, "Major Groval will be waiting for you at the airport and will be traveling with you to Arme..." But before he could finish his statement Najah cut him short, "Traveling with me? What is this Vukic, do you no longer trust me?" "Things have grown out of your, how should I say it, realm of expertise. I feel that it is in our best interest if Colonel Petrovitch and his men are to play a more active role in ensuring that the remaining Americans are delivered intact to the Iranians. Andro please continue."

"You have nothing to worry about Habash as it will only be a small detachment of six men plus Major Groval and you will have control of them unless the Major deems otherwise. He will travel with you today and liaise with me until the rest of his men arrive later this week." The words unless the Major deems otherwise seemed like an open invitation for Groval to hijack the trade but did he or anybody else, aside from Vukic, know what the Americans were being traded for? "I still do not understand what a difference six or seven men will make when I have 15 of your best men Vukic. Not to mention the men that Colonel Salmen has agreed to contribute," Najah asked while looking at Vukic. "Najah if things go wrong and the Americans confront you it will be like nothing you have experienced. And not to forget mentioning that you will probably not be countered with regular soldiers, but American special operations. This is for the good of the transaction and there will be no more discussing it. My decision stands, Colonel Petrovitchs men will accompany you." The decision had been made and there was little Najah could but accept his employers order and catch his flight to Yerevan Armenia.