New York was hot for early October, the air hung-over from summer giddiness, thick and wet not yielding to fall’s cleansing embrace.
Sally and I were in the city to see the new blockbuster at the Met, we were crossing Fifth Ave at 82nd Street when I saw him. He had changed, there was a slight limp and his left arm hung from his shoulder like a rag doll. He was wearing sun glasses, a nylon bomber jacket, jeans in the wrong wash and a Yankees cap. Omar was as handsome as I’d remembered; almost 6 feet, slim and muscular with dark olive skin, black hair, deep brown eyes and 4 days of beard growth. There was no mistaking him, this was the jihadist, the killer, the man ready to give me up in a stinking safe house on the Hindu Kush Afghan border three years ago. My heart slammed against my chest, how was it possible he was still alive, walking the streets of New York?
He didn’t see me, I pulled down the sun glasses propped on top of my head and turned my face towards Sally keeping him on my peripheral vision.
I had to report the sighting, Omar was not in NY to see the sights or was he?
“Find them Mustafa, find them and rescue my daughter” He spit the words out, his voice was deep and guttural. I had never seen Owen like this, he was always calm and dignified, the consummate diplomat, now he was an anguished father, determined to find his daughter at any cost.
“Ambassador, as you know, since Al Qaeda and the Taliban emerged as political forces in Pakistan they’ve used kidnapping as leverage to gain freedom for their leaders from western prisons. The US and the UK have been consistent in their policy of no negotiation.”
“I didn’t say negotiate Mustafa, I said find them, use whatever means necessary, I’ll authorize it”.
We had a Navy SEAL squadron attached to the Embassy, they were the best of the best an elite team of highly trained forces who worked under cover carrying out the most dangerous missions. We didn’t know who they were, team members worked anonymously performing menial administrative tasks in the embassy compound until called upon to carry out a mission. They would be my first choice, “whatever means necessary” meant the SEALS.
“Mr Ambassador we will have to be patient and anticipate their moves. It would be unusual for Al Qaeda to do the kidnapping, they contract with criminal gangs to abduct targets who then sell the victims back to Al Qaeda. The prices escalate in proportion to the importance of the victims. Alex would bring an extraordinary price. You must remember, it is not in their interest to mistreat her in any way, she will be treated with care under the supervision of muslim women. They’ll want to negotiate with you for her release, her well being gives them credibility, it is not likely they’ll ask for money it will be an exchange, a foreign exchange, Alex for a Guantanamo inmate. They won’t contact you immediately, it will take time for the criminal gang to transport Alex out of the area and set up the transfer with Al Qaeda. Remember, when dealing with Americans they know that patience is their strongest ally. They’ll want you to feel anxious, fearful about Alex’s treatment and safety. They want you ready to do whatever it takes to secure her release and they’re in no hurry. The pressure will be on you Mr Ambassador, not them, unless they feel our presence. We have informants and others willing to give them up, for a price of course, Alex is a valuable target, her release will cost us dearly either by force based upon informant intelligence or by negotiation. The latter, as we know, is not an option for the US.”
“Mustafa, listen closely, I am going to say this just once, I’m ordering you to find my daughter. US policy is my concern, I’m the ranking US official in Pakistan and will put all means at my disposal available to you, am I making myself clear?”
“Yes Mr Ambassador, perfectly clear”
Sally had her arms crossed against her chest like a vice and her legs wrapped around each other in a knot, she listened to every word we spoke. Sally Wintour was strong but this situation was bringing her to her knees, the real pressure was on me, I would find Alex.