Red Mist, Chapter 19
Updated: Apr 29
“Are you prepared to give up your life for the good of God?” Nasim al-Ahmed said in Arabic to his translator.
The translator repeated his words in Spanish to the teenager kneeling with his hands clasped tightly in front of him. Dressed in a worn T-shirt and cargo shorts, Hector Espinoza was a month shy of his twentieth birthday, but his scruffy beard made him look at least five years older.
“I am,” Hector replied without hesitation
Al-Ahmed placed his palm on Hector’s head. “When your time comes, you will be cast into the highest levels of heaven, and your family will never go hungry.”
“I am honored,” Hector said, after hearing the translation.
“Now go and return to your room. We will call upon you when you are needed.”
Hector bowed, kissed his leader’s hand and left the room.
Al-Aqarib’s second in command, Ramin Madani, quietly watched the proceedings from an adjacent room. “It’s much easier to find converts in the poorer areas, isn’t it, boss?”
Al-Ahmed chuckled. A Sunni from Saudi Arabia, al-Ahmed treated Madani, who was a Shia from Iran, like a brother. While a Sunni and a Shia hardly made for common working partners, al-Ahmed believed that all Islamists needed to unite and fight the evil influence of the West. At first, his ideals were met with violent resistance, but as more converts joined his movement, he became revered and his organization, stronger.
“Are you sure you don’t want to use one of the people we brought in from Qatar?” Madani asked in Arabic, one of several languages that he spoke fluently. “We have four candidates ready to go now.”
Al-Ahmed, dressed in the same fatigues as Madani, but with more shiny trinkets on his breast, ran his fingers through his bushy beard and adjusted his black eye patch. “It makes much more sense to use someone here. The locals will arouse less suspicion, and it will encourage more to join our cause. We must be a different brand of jihadists than our Islamic State and Taliban brothers, Ramin. We need to be more international.”
“And more careful. Must I remind you that you were very nearly captured in San Diego,” Madani cautioned.
“You are right, of course. That we were informed before their arrival was a blessing.”
Four hours before the raid on their San Diego cell location, al-Ahmed received word via a secure communications app that their location was discovered. He dispersed his men, while he headed to a shoe store near the U.S.-Mexico border to take a hidden tunnel to Tijuana. Once in Mexico, a private helicopter transported him to the summer home of Mauricio Duarte, the governor of Sinaloa, where he was instructed to stay until his new facilities in San Ignacio were ready.
The temporary base in Mazatlán was a stark improvement over the Aqarib’s previous operation center in Waziristan. Situated on a cliff overlooking the Pacific Ocean, the mansion came with several servants and a swimming pool, but as luxurious as it was, al-Ahmed felt trapped, for he had no way of making direct contact with his soldiers scattered throughout the world. Although the home was tucked away in a secluded part of the city, the town center and surrounding areas were major tourist destinations, so he had little choice but to remain indoors. For the time being, he ran his operation from the mansion’s four-car garage.
One of the male servants knocked on the door. “The governor has arrived. He wishes to speak to you,” he said in English.
Al-Ahmed nodded. “Let’s go,” he said to Madani. “This should be a very interesting conversation indeed.”
The two jihadists followed the servant to the living room, where a large couch and a loveseat faced each other on the middle of a marble floor. Sitting on the loveseat was a man with a dark complexion, short brown hair and broad shoulders. His shiny Armani suit reflected the sunlight coming in from the window.
“Please, my dear guests, sit down,” Mauricio Duarte, the governor of Sinaloa, said in perfect English.
Taking a seat across from Duarte, al-Ahmed said, “We appreciate your generosity Señor Governor. Thank you for flying us out of Tijuana.”
“It’s my pleasure, and please call me Moe. And don’t thank me, it was Señor Qiu who made all the arrangements, as we all have a shared interest in your new business venture here.”
“I am glad that we have been of service,” al-Ahmed said with a bow. “It does help when the law enforcement agencies are on our side for a change.”
“It’s the least I can do. Thanks to you, the murder rate in my state has dropped by half, and my poll numbers have risen astronomically. If there’s anything you need, just tell one of my servants, and I shall see to it that you get it.”
Al-Ahmed rubbed his bald head. “There is one thing. Is there nowhere else we can stay? As beautiful as your retreat is, being in the middle of a resort town is not what I call ideal for an organization such as ours, unless of course, we were going to blow it up.”
“I understand your concerns, but it’s the hurricane season, so there're very few tourists now, and the Americans would never imagine looking for you here. As long as you stay inside, you’re safe,” Duarte assured him.
“Yes, but it still makes me uneasy. That said, I am comforted by the fact that we have a common enemy.”
Duarte leaned back in the sofa. “Yes, the Americans...they've been a thorn in my side for years. They were just about to officially label the cartels here as ‘terrorists,’ which would've given them a free pass to come here with their guns blazing, so to speak. But thanks to you, peace has been restored, and they have no reason now to invade.”
Madani laughed. “If they did come, they would have exposed you for the hypocrite that you are and hauled you away in chains.”
“I take offense at his tone,” Duarte said to al-Ahmed.
“What he speaks is true, is it not?” al-Ahmed replied. “You are only helping us because of the money. Everyone knows that you’ve been on both El Chapo’s and the Eldorado Cartel’s payroll for years. I also know that Mr. Qiu paid you handsomely to arrange our takeover of the El Dorado Cartel. So, my dear Mr. Governor, er...Moe, I suggest that you continue to play the role of the obedient dog and allow us to keep doing God’s work, or you may not have the opportunity to spend all your newfound money.”