Rami’s dark eyes studied his beard in the mirror. Then slowly, he began to carefully shave it off. His Arab heritage defined his sable looks. Clean-shaven, he was a very handsome young man. Barbara would be pleased.
He was to enter the Mall of America, the largest shopping mall in the United States. It was the Friday after Thanksgiving, the busiest shopping day of the year, and he needed to blend in with the other holiday shoppers. Dressed for the occasion in preppy clothes from J. Crew, Rami would be carrying a shopping bag containing 40 pounds of explosives. He would walk into the large food court on the third floor in front of Nickelodeon Universe at noon with Barbara, a red-haired American girl he had met.
Rami would not have the trigger for his bomb, nor could he disarm it. Another Al-Qaeda member would observe him from a safe distance in the mall and when he reached the center of the food court, or other target of opportunity, he would use a cellular phone to set off the device. Rami would not know the identity of the trigger man. This arrangement was so that Rami could not lose his nerve. But Rami was calm. He had been preparing to be a martyr for as long as he could remember. Today would be that glorious day, the day he would give his life for a great cause.
Al-Qaeda had determined that the easiest way to paralyze the American economy was to make people afraid to go to the shopping malls and other public places. The Mall of America was to be the first of many suicide bomber attacks. An Al-Qaeda cell was assembling 35 more bombs in a warehouse across 24th Ave from the mall. These would be set off in other cities during the holiday season anywhere there was a crowd – clubs, theaters, churches, subway and train stations and airport security checkpoints were among the many possible targets.
Al-Qaeda had recruited and cultivated Rami at the age of 16 and sent him to the U.S. on a student visa at age 18 with two dozen other recruits over a period of months. Another dozen recruits were home grown terrorists already in the United States. Rami was an ideal candidate for a suicide bomber. His mother was a poor widow. Even his name fit: In Arabic, Rami meant marksman, literally, the one who throws the arrow.
Rami met Barbara and Paul at the university. Paul, an Arab American, was the same age and build as Rami, but they could not have been more different. The three began hanging out together. The Al-Qaeda cell leader accepted this arrangement because the more American Rami seemed the easier it would be for him to move around without arousing suspicion.
Barbara was not like anyone Rami had ever known. She was spirited, reckless and a flirt. She asked him all sorts of questions and debated Rami about Islam, Sharia law, women’s rights, Al-Qaeda and suicide bombers. After a heated argument one afternoon at her apartment, Barbara took a sheet and wrapped it around herself leaving only a slit for her green eyes and a wisp of red hair. The seduction was complete.
Barbara looked out the entrance of the mall and saw Paul carrying the shopping bag from J. Crew and wearing the new clothes she had picked out for Rami. “Where is Rami?” she asked. Paul smiled and said Rami would be waiting for them and led Barbara swiftly toward the food court.
The trigger man had never met Rami but knew he would be carrying a J. Crew shopping bag, wearing a yellow jacket and would be escorted by a red-haired American girl. From the fourth floor, he watched them walk to the center of the food court and stop. It was noon and very crowded with families and children waiting to sit in Santa’s lap. He pulled out his Blackberry and began quickly moving away.
At that moment, Rami walked into the Al-Qaeda warehouse with a Christmas package. The cell members were busy building the bombs and looked up in shock. Rami smiled, held out the package and walking toward them saying, “I have a Christmas present for you.”. The cell members began screaming in Arabic and running but it was too late. The package detonated and set off the unfinished bombs lifting the roof off the warehouse in a chain of explosions.
Everyone in the mall could hear the explosions and grew silent. Barbara looked at Paul. Tears welled up in Paul’s dark eyes as Barbara cried uncontrollably in his arms.