The driving rain was unrelenting, whipped into a frenzy by howling winds, and the waves surged and crashed against the coast, a maelstrom in the black night. In the shallow waters just offshore, a dozen or so dark figures bobbed, clinging to their buoyant, waterproof haversacks like survivors of a shipwreck. The freak storm had caught the men unawares by was good; it provided better cover than they could have hoped for.
From the beach, a pinpoint of red light flashed on and off twice, a signal from the advance team that it was safe to land. Safe! What did that mean? That this particular stretch of Tunisian coastline was left undefended by the Garde Nationale? Natures assault seemed far more punishing than anything the Tunisian coast guard could attempt.
Tossed and buffeted about by the heaving swells, the men made their way toward the beach, and in one coordinated movement clambered silently onto the sand by the ruins of the ancient Punic ports. Stripping off their black rubber dry suits to reveal dark clothing and blackened faces, they removed their weapons from their haversacks and began distributing their arsenal: Heckler & Koch MP-10 submachine guns, Kalashnikovs, and sniper rifles. Behind them, others now came ashore in waves.
Everything was precisely orchestrated by the man who had trained them so exhaustively, so tirelessly, for the last months. They were Al-Nahda freedom fighters, natives of Tunisia come to free their country from the oppressors. But their leaders were foreignersskilled terrorists who also shared their faith in Allah, a small, elite cell of freedom fighters drawn from the most radical wing of Hezbollah.
The leader of this cell, and of the fifty or so Tunisians, was the master terrorist known only as Abu. Occasionally his full nom de guerre was used: Abu Intiquab. The father of revenge.
Elusive, secretive, and ferocious, Abu had trained the Al-Nadha fighters at the Libyan camp outside of Zuwarah. He refined their strategy on a full-scale model of the presidential palace and instructed them in tactics both more violent and more devious than anything they were used to.
Barely thirty hours ago, at the port of Zuwarah, the men had boarded a five-thousand-ton, Russian-built break-bulk freighter, a cargo ship that normally hauled Tunisian textiles and Libyan manufactured goods between Tripoli and Bizerte in Tunisia. The powerful old freighter, now battered and decrepit, had traveled north-northwest along the Tunisian coast, past the port cities of Sfax and Sousse, then swung around Cap Bon and entered the Golfe de Tunis, just past the naval base at La Goulette. Alerted to the schedule of the coast guard patrol boats, the men had dropped anchor five miles from the Carthage coast and swiftly launched their rigid-hulled inflatables, equipped with powerful outboard motors. Within minutes, they had entered the turbulent waters of Carthage, the ancient Phoenician city so powerful in the fifth century B.C. that it was considered Romes great rival. If anyone in the Tunisian coast guard happened to be monitoring the ship on radar, he would see only a freighter pausing momentarily, then heading on toward Bizerte.
On the shore, the man who had flashed the red signal was hissing orders and cursing in a low voice with unquestioned authority. He was a bearded man in a military-issue rain anorak worn over a keffiyeh. Abu.
"Quiet! Keep it down! What do you want, to bring out the whole godforsaken Tunisian Garde? Quickly, now. Lets move it, move it! Clumsy fools! Your leader rots in jail while you dawdle! The trucks are waiting!"
Next to him stood a man wearing night-vision goggles and silently scanning the terrain. The Tunisians knew him only as the Technician. One of Hezbollahs top munitions experts, he was a handsome, olive-skinned man with heavy brows and flashing brown eyes. As little as the men knew about Abu, they knew even less about the Technician, Abus trusted advisor. According to rumor, he was born to wealthy Syrian parents and raised in Damascus and London, where he was schooled in the intricacies of arms and explosives.
Copyright Robert Ludlum 2000. All rights reserved.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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