About this story:
The Tall Man referred to in the title is Osama bin Laden, a highly intelligent if extremely dangerous person, a man who is unlikely to remain in the area where he is being sought, in Central Asia.
The story reveals that he may in fact be in a very unlikely, very ordinary place doing very unlikely, very ordinary things.
Or are they so ordinary? Is he still the leader of Al Qaeda? or has he cast a long shadow? Have his methods and strategies been taken over by splinter groups mirroring Al Qaeda? Or has he established a very clever cover? Perhaps the perfect cover for an operation that could ruin the US economy.
The USA’s Homeland Security Organisation sends Agent Katja Monney into Afghanistan to uncover the truth.
When Monney and her partner Jean Rosset, who knows nothing of her real operations, discover a terrorist plan to ship a ‘dirty’ nuclear device to New York, the Agency sends in their Special Forces to capture the man they think is Osama bin Laden ... with unexpected and extremely threatening consequences.
Educationalist and undercover agent Katja Monney is placed in deepest Afghanistan by the USA's Central Security Agency to locate the source of intercepted data signals thought to originate from Al Qaeda and possibly locating Osama bin Laden.
When she finds a special training school for highly intelligent young Afghans led by the very well educated Rais, she doubts that the school has anything to do with bin Laden or Al Qaeda. Despite this The Agency sends their Special Forces to eliminate Rais's operation, without success. With her civilian partner Jean Rosset she follows Rais and his highly educated young operatives to Sicily, where Rais meets with a commercial fisherman, Malek bin Mohammed al Hafiz. When Monney uncovers Malek's plan to ship a highly dangerous 'dirty' radio-active device to New York, a plan that could wreck the US economy, the Agency is convinced that Malek is bin Laden but Monney suspects that international terrorism may have made itself autonomous; and much more dangerous.
The action takes Monney and Rosset through some of the least known and least accessible country on Earth, through danger not only from this terrorist group but also from her employers, The Agency, to a show-down in the Mediterranean between Sicily and Tunisia, where The Agency again attempts to capture the man they think is Osama bin Laden
1 THE ANCIENT CITY OF SIRACUSA, SICILY
The blue and white painted fishing boat chugged slowly across the glassy black waters of the inner harbour at Ortigia, opening out into Siracusa's PortoGrande leading to the Ionic Sea bordering on the Golfo de Noto in the south, the Med. Dawn is still some time off, only the harbour lights and distant street lighting give some form to the blackness around the boat and its crew. A tall man, clad in a long overcoat and wearing a balaclava against the early morning chill stands beside the wheelhouse door. Two crewmen busy themselves securing drums on the fore-deck, a third engages himself in looping mooring ropes behind the wheelhouse. The unseen crewman at the wheel steers south-east after clearing the invisible spit of land at the limit of the Porto Grande. Shortly afterwards he again changes course heading south past Cabo Murriro di Porco, generally in the direction of Malta.
Sicily gradually took form in the distance behind and beside them, well off to the right as dawn approached. Behind them the very distant form of Mount Etna began to glow with the first rays of sunlight illuminating its smoking peak, floating in the blue grey mist above the horizon. The boat picked up speed, fast for a smallish fishing boat, rising over the developing swell with ease. The tall man entered the wheelhouse and went below. The crewmen stationed themselves fore and aft, on watch.
Around noon, in fine calm weather and after another course change heading west past Cabo Passero in the general direction of the island Pantelleria, the fast moving boat began to slow. The boat's name, 'Ortigia Bella', was now clearly visible on the transom, above it the red and yellow Siracusa fishing fleet flag fluttered busily in the breeze of passage. The men on deck showed signs of life, scanning the horizon with high-powered binoculars. The tall man appeared again, giving orders. He had not removed his overcoat or the balaclava, despite a sunny autumn temperature in the low twenty's. Two crewmen unpacked one of the drums on the foredeck and began mounting equipment on the hatchcover behind the wheelhouse. A tall extendable alu mast was mounted against the wheelhouse wall, an antenna perhaps, stabilised by wires to the wheelhouse roof and the bow. The tall man finally removed the overcoat; his light frame braced against the wheelhouse, and began to work on the equipment. A portable computer screen glowed faintly in the shadows; directions were given to adjust the antenna.
The boat slowed further, almost stopping, the crew now con-centrating their view forward. Another boat appeared in the distance, changing course slightly in the direction of the 'Ortigia Bella', and eventually swung around in a long curve to come alongside the Siracusan, showing its red, green and white hull colours. Its crew, lightly clad and darker of skin, sprang into action, looping ropes fore and aft to the 'Ortigia Bella' to hold the boats together. The newcomer, a Tunisian fishing boat from its red and white flag, was somewhat larger than the 'Ortigia Bella', but no name was visible, just a number, '0145'. The crews waved casual greetings, a tall thin dark-skinned dark-haired and bearded man wearing a white cotton wrap around his head, probably the skipper, stepped from the wheelhouse and crossed to the 'Ortigia Bella'. The two skippers greeted one another, arms around shoulders, noses briefly touching. In the wheelhouse, the Siracusan skipper handed a small shoe-box sized plastic-wrapped and sealed package to the other with a few words of instruction. The Tunisian skipper called from the wheelhouse to one of his crewmen, who carried a similarly prepared package across to his skipper. This he handed to the Siracusan, also with few words. Another crewman carried a tea- or coffee pot from below deck and poured two small cups, adding condensed milk to both. The two men moved out to the sunny side of the wheelhouse, inspecting the equipment, the Tunisian obviously interested.
Moving to the rear deck the Siracusan removed his balaclava to reveal short cut sun-bleached mostly dark hair, passed his hand across his scalp then slipped a pair of sunglasses over his dark blue deep-set eyes. He gave what appeared to be orders to his counterpart, who in turn gave orders to his crew who, within minutes, had fixed blue and white side panels to the outside of the Tunisian boat, the same colours as the 'Ortigia Bella' was carrying. One of the panels carried the words 'Ortigia Bella 02', covering the previously visible number. To all intents and purposes, and from a distance, these were now two Siracusan fishing boats exchanging news on the high-seas.
A crewman on the Tunisian boat called from his wheel-house, indicating that their radar showed another vessel approaching from the southwest. All heads, and binoculars, turned in that direction, tension mounting. The newcomer approached swiftly, a grubby grey Tunisian coastal patrol, uniformed crew with weapons standing at the ready on the upper deck and along the port side railings nearest to the two fishing boats. The patrol boat approached to within thirty or so meters and motored slowly around the still tied together fishing boats. An officer appeared with a loud-hailer and in Arabic asked for identification. A crewman brought a loudhailer from the wheelhouse to the Tunisian skipper, who, also in Arabic, identified the two boats, out of Siracusa, Sicily. The patrol boat skipper seemed satisfied, but asked if there were any Tunisians on either boat ... yes, the 'Ortigia Bella' had one, Mahmoud Moussa, the 'Ortigia Bella 02' had two, Ahmed Bejoun and his brother Hamed, all registered with the Italian authorities in Mazzara and in Siracusa. Several minutes passed. Two of the crew on the 'Ortigia Bella' slowly and casually stationed themselves near to the rear deck hatch while the third went forward of the wheelhouse where a large box-like structure sat below the windows. Smoking cigarettes, looking casual and unbothered but ready to move quickly.
The patrol boat moved in closer, the officer, now without the loudhailer, asked what they were doing and was told they were comparing notes on fishing grounds, one of their radios was out of action. The officer then asked about the equipment visible behind the wheelhouse of the 'Ortigia Bella'; the computer, the large antennae? Tension in the fishing boats crew’s climbed, not noticed by those on the patrol boat. "This is a new fish-finding radar, on test. You've heard about it? Shows us where the tuna are shoaling. Making a living from the sea these days is tough, needs new technology" explained the Tunisian. Several more minutes passed during which the patrol boat officer moved from the bridge-wing indoors, then reappeared: "Your compatriots are finding tuna about fifty kilometers north of here, I suggest you head in that direction. Besides, you are very close to Tunisian waters here, you don't want to get caught fishing south or west of here", he laughed. "Salam Alaikum ... Qul hu wallahu Ahad!" Peace be on you, He is Allah, the one and only. The patrol boat officer disappeared into his bridge again and soon after the boat puffed a dark cloud of diesel smoke into the crystal clear air, gave a blast on its horn, and ploughed away, turning right and heading off south-west.
For several seconds no-one on the two smaller boats moved, then the Siracusan gave an order. "Send the batch signal now!" One of the crew busied himself at the laptop, selecting items from the screen, and with a flourish indicated that it was done.
"Shut the system down now!"
Within the space of perhaps thirty seconds, the Codan satel-lite communications system had been switched on, the data signal sent and the system shut down. Amid the radio traffic that the patrol boat was undoubtedly sending, its encounter report, the short burst of communications activity should not have been noticed by any watching spy systems, if any were active in the area.
The crews relaxed, the skippers planned their moves; they would progress north, stationed about five hundred meters apart, seven knots, fishing speed, the Tunisian to the east of the Siracusan. At a position just east of the Isla di Pantelleria, Latitude 37°, the two boats would come together, with the Siracusan crossing behind the Tunisian, heading east while the Tunisian would head west, passing just to the north of Isla Pantelleria. He would make a radio check-in at the harbour master Pantelleria Port, first as 'Ortigia Bella 02', heading for Agrigento, then shortly after on the Tunisian wavelength, as the Tunisian '0145', heading for Tunis, not fishing. They agreed that this would firstly confuse any radar watchers about which boat was heading where, and secondly, in the radar shadow of Isla Pantelleria, would enable the Tunisian to change identities without suspicions being aroused. Both would fish in home waters, a catch of tuna, however small, being evidence of a day's work.