Excerpt from the first draft MS for PIRATES (Cutting Edge Press) © Greg Cummings
Ali al-Rubaysh’s third-storey apartment was bathed in the lustre of late-afternoon sunshine. Located four streets up from the waterfront, in al-Mukalla, an ancient port on the Hadramaut Coast of Yemen, he had a commanding view of the Gulf of Aden. “The sun doesn’t rise upon a land that does not contain a man from Hadhramawt,” said Rubaysh, gazing through his picture window at the sea, which sparkled with a thousand pinpoints of shimmering light, as though a silvery leviathan had surfaced from its depths.
As a Hadrami Sayyid, directly descended from Mohammed, Rubaysh could trace his ancestry back millennia to a time when the Arabs from the Hadramaut Coast ruled the entire Indian Ocean. He was also a seasoned terrorist, one-time leader of the Aden-Abyan Islamic Army, former inmate in Guantanamo Bay, and now a military commander in Al-Qaeda Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). Consequently, he tried to disguise his high-born features with tussocky facial hair and heavy spectacles, though he usually dressed nobly at home, in a white cotton dish-dash that swayed from side to side as he went about his business.
Watching him from an armchair was Omar Abu Hamza, a twenty three-year old al-Shabaab commander from Somalia. He was long and slender, with a complexion like blued steel, and sported a similar beard to Rubaysh’s: clean-shaven on his chin, upper lip and cheeks but bushy around the jowls. He was wearing a grey polyester jacket two sizes too large, and mismatched socks that shot out of his slacks like gun barrels. Their meeting had been kept secret even from their own superiors.
Rubaysh emerged from the kitchen, smiling and carrying a silver tray laden with a mint tea service and a bundle of khat he’d bought in the market that afternoon. “So the American got away,” he said, placing the tray in the centre of his coffee table. He spoke with an accent that reflected his English public school education, though often as now, he purposely tried to sound more Arab, in order to make his company feel more at home. “And his wife?” Omar shook his head. “At least if you’d captured that sharmouta, we could have flushed him out.“
He poured the tea into two glass cups, and was about to divide the khat into two equal halves but Omar gestured that he would not partake. Unlike the Shabaab mujahideen, Rubaysh and others in AQAP were not averse to chewing khat. He sat down opposite his Somali visitor and immediately began plucking the leaves from his half of the bundle, placing them in his mouth, and munching until all the juice had been consumed.
“He knew we were coming,” said Omar. “We arrived just minutes too late. If the American is still on the Horn, my men will find him.”
“These days you’ll find many Americans on the Horn,” said Rubaysh, using his tongue to shift the pulp into the corner of his mouth, “mostly in the ranks of your militia, al-Shabaab. We even have blond-haired, blue-eyed jihadists in al-Qaeda! Still, there was only one I was interested in, and that was Mehemet Abdul Rahman... Inshe Allah, you have some good news for me.”
“I could have told you this news by telegraph,” snapped Omar. “Why did you insist I come here in person? I had to leave in the middle of the night, at great risk to my own life, and cross the Gulf in high winds and choppy seas. What could be so important to warrant such a visit?”
Rubaysh removed his glasses, pressed his left palm against his chin, swiveled it back and forth a couple of times, then twisted his head sharply clockwise, making a loud cracking sound at the back of his neck. “What I am about to tell you is extremely sensitive, and I did not wish for our messages to fall into the wrong hands. Masha Allah, you were able to reach here safely as quickly as you did.”
“Thanks to the almighty Allah who sustains all the mujahideen.”
“It has not gone unnoticed by al-Qaeda that these days all-Shabaab is fighting the Kafir on many fronts in Somalia, more aggressively than ever before. Now Kenya has invaded, AMISOM has pushed you out of Mogadishu and Kismayo, away from your lucrative port taxes, and the US keep sending those fucking drones. Correct?”
Omar took a few contemplative sips of his tea then said, “We need more money and recruits.”
“Is that why Shabaab sold those two Spanish hostages you took in Dadaab? You should have beheaded them. You need to do more terrorizing. We have taken you under our wing and now we must fly together. Allah hu-Akbar. The problem is Shabaab militants are all concentrated in the south, fighting a conventional war. The north is rich pickings for jihad.”
“That is why we have established a base in Galaga, in the Karkaar Mountains, but the Majeerteen are racists who despise outsiders, unlike al-Shabaab who welcomes all mujahideen who wish to defend Islam.”
“So, you teach the racists a lesson,” proclaimed Rubaysh, putting down his tea. “And it must be done now, because the Majeerteen are becoming too rich from this piracy business, and soon they will be powerful. Strike a blow at the heart of Puntland,” he said, beating his fist into the palm of his hand, “as you did in 2008, and then another, and another.” They glared at each other for a second. Both pairs of eyes were unemotional, as though they no longer drew blood from their hearts. They were cold-blooded killers.
Rubaysh sat back and breathed deeply. “Look at me. The Americans gave me a badge of honour when they sent me to that Cuban pig pen of theirs. They tried to break me with torture, but instead they turned me into a better warrior.”
“This is why we have aligned ourselves with al-Qaeda,” said Omar. “Al-Shabaab also want to fight the Kafir. But they are cowards, and they hide. A mujahideen will bravely martyr himself in an American aeroplane, but they refuse to even put pilots in the ones they send in retaliation. We’re sick of fighting AMISOM. We want to fight AFRICOM."
Rubaysh leaned forward and put his hand on Omar’s shoulder. “They have failed to see the bridge that connects us, my friend. South Yemenis have always been closer to Somalians than we are with the rest of the Arab world. This is our true identity.”
Omar nodded sagely. Rubaysh pulled him closer and rasped, “We’ll part the sea as Musa did.” His words hung there for a moment, like gold-embroidered Arabic on a black, velvet wall hanging. Then he stood up and moved towards the window. The light had faded from the apartment, and the sun was sinking fast. “The Gulf of Aden… How many million barrels of oil do you suppose pass through it every day?”
“I don’t know,” said Omar.
“Ten percent of the world’s oil trade. That’s millions of barrels a day, worth billions of dollars… Al-Qaeda has grown stronger during the Arab Spring, especially in Yemen. Our forces are better trained and more sophisticated now.”
A muezzin’s call reminded them of their religious duty. “Come,” said Rubaysh, “let us go to the mosque and pray to Allah. We have much to thank him for.”
“You still haven’t told me why you called me here.”
“Ah, yes,” said Rubaysh, smiling. He reached into a briefcase beside his chair, retrieved a sheet of paper and handed to Omar. “Look at this diagram.” It showed two drums side by side tethered to the seabed beneath the surface over which sailed a ship.
Omar pointed to the letters H2S written across the drums, and asked, “What does that stand for?”
“Hydrogen sulfide,” smiled Rubaysh. “It kills instantly.” Omar nodded profoundly and rubbed his chin. “The drums can be made to any size. Triggered remotely they quickly rise to the surface. Once in contact with air, they explode with a cloud of deadly noxious gas.”
"Ingenious," laughed Omar.
“You see how we have adapted, my Somali friend... I promise you, when we’re through with them, the Kafir will have shed enough tears to turn the deserts into oceans.“