The geography was bleak, and the facilities for the council meeting were primitive at best. But some of the meeting participants, in their own way, were as sophisticated as those found in any corporate boardroom. They were zealots for sure, but they were certainly not unsophisticated. It is just that they had been reduced to hiding and living like common thieves because their control and command structure was severely damaged. Yet they were committed men as, they believed, Allah willed it.
The light bulbs in the cave flickered as a result of the ancient, sputtering portable generator. The gasoline fumes were pungent and filled the nostrils of the men. Breathing would have been lethal except for drafts, which dissipated the carbon monoxide, coming through the cave’s five-foot-tall entrance. The outside temperature was below freezing, and the cave was little warmer. The place was natural, though it had been modified with picks and shovels to provide some additional comforts. These men thrived in its harsh environment; its ruggedness and inaccessibility kept them alive.
The council’s most senior members were present. The US Predator drones had taken a toll in recent years, and the risks of simply traveling to the meeting were substantial. Congregating in one location was very dangerous; therefore, meetings of this type were rare.
The last several years had not been kind to Al Qaeda. The American reaction to the attacks on the United States had been aggressive and effective. The terrorist group had been annihilated in Iraq. Yet one could only marvel at American technology and stupidity. Electronic surveillance had foiled several missions, though many American politicians were demanding the monitoring be curtailed.
Understanding the Americans was impossible. Even with all their weapons technology and sophistication, where was the American will to win?
The Americans had, they believed, very short memories. The passion the Americans felt immediately after the attacks had all but disappeared. Political bickering and domestic economic problems were distracting them. The vast bureaucracy created by them to protect themselves was lumbering and slow to react. The various US security agencies competed among themselves, protecting their political turf and jobs. The men in the cave fantasized at what they would be able to accomplish with just a small portion of American resources.
Sanaa Al-Fakeeh called the council to order.
“My brothers, peace be upon you. My words today will be brief, as every minute we are gathered brings much risk. I am in gratitude to each of you for coming. Your journey has been long and dangerous.” He clasped his hands earnestly.
“I know many of you and others in our cause grow impatient. The successes of our attacks on the United States fade in our memories, as many months and years have passed. Some of our followers question our leadership. They yearn for new and meaningful successes. Their impatience is understandable, but we must be reminded that our struggle has continued for two thousand years. It is likely to continue for another thousand years. We are mere mortals, very insignificant participants in a cause much larger than ourselves.”
The council sat quietly, listening to Al-Fakeeh’s grave words.
“The temptation to act swiftly and rashly is great. But, my brothers, we must resist temptation. Imprudent actions at this critical time could harm the achievement of greater objectives. You must believe this yourselves, and you must be persuasive. Your followers must understand this. Their patience will be rewarded.”
He paused to make sure everyone was with him, then continued. “We cannot control the passion of all of our brothers. They are dispersed, and communication is very difficult. Our Yemini followers are very impatient and do not suffer isolation and attacks as we do. They may launch attacks on their own. But we must trust in Allah that they do not awaken the Americans until we are ready.”
His point was sinking in. He needed only now to provide the specifics.
“Thorpe will be the new American president and our new adversary. This Thorpe is a man of weakness. He is a puppet, but we do not know the puppeteer. Thorpe will provide opportunities for our cause, but the negative influence he will have on his country will take time. The opportunities of today will be greater tomorrow and greater the day after. The opportunities today are smaller than a grain of sand. With the help of our Iranian ally, the grain of sand will grow into a mountain.
“We must work hard to regain our strength,” he continued. “We must recruit new followers all over the world to make ourselves ready for the future. This plan will take time, but it is necessary for us to achieve the greater objectives of which I speak. The Americans cannot monitor the entire globe. I desire that you plan for operations in South America and expand those in Northeast Africa. We must encourage—but try to restrain—our followers in Yemen. They will be very important to us. We will be cautious, for we have the luxury of time; but we must be thorough.
“My brothers,” Al-Fakeeh finished, “use this time we have together to begin to make these plans. Go and prepare. We will speak tomorrow and agree on what must be done. Peace be upon you.”
“And unto you also peace,” the others replied.