It was a cold night. At half past eleven, the wind was blowing at thirty miles an hour with a chill factor in the low twenties when the rugged V8 Ford Expedition SUV, headed south on its final test run on Route 27, dropped them off the Columbia Pike exit at the perimeter of the Arlington National Cemetery.
It was dark too, and overcast. But they were actually glad about this because they needed all the cover there were in addition to the natural growth in the area--the grass, the bushes, the trees. Especially come daybreak.
They test drove the route at least ten times the past two days, the SUV carrying the two teams of three men each, up and down Route 27 coming from Route 110 at the Memorial Drive entrance to the Columbia Pike exit, a stone's throw from the southwest corner of the Pentagon. As part of the plan, one of the teams which was the command and control team led by Hassan Bahaji would take a camouflaged position directly across Route 27 from the west side of the Pentagon with a straight shot of the helicopter pad less than 300 meters away, a distance well within the effective range of the heat-seeking Stinger-RMP the team carried.
The other team led by Kashim Najoub, a 52-year old Egyptian and fellow veteran of Hassan Bahaji in the '73 Arab-Israeli war, using the SUV, would be coming south on Route 27 on the go-ahead word from Hassan anytime between the arrival of the targets and the time Hassan either decided to run and save as many of them as possible or to stay and fight to their death. Either case, Hassan told his team when the SUV dropped them off the night before, hopefully they would have accomplished their mission by the time he had to make that decision.
These two teams were meant to supplement the attack, one after the other, following that of the first one which would be coming from the south in a 220-horsepower Toyota Highlander SUV. Parked on a sideroad just off the Army-Navy Drive and the entrance to North 27, the five men in it led by Ahman Shahid, a 24-year old Palestinian suicide warrior, would get the word from Hassan Bahaji to move at a precise time so that they would be at the shoulder of the road with a flat tire, at a spot which would give them a clear shot with their RPG-7Vs of the target helicopter as it descended on this side of the Pentagon.
It was now 11:05 A.M. The wind had calmed down, moving at a pleasant cool-breeze temperature. The sun was up almost directly over the heads of Hassan Bahaji and his two soldiers, each of them hidden under the camouflage of thick evergreen shrubs they had brought with them at night and matted into four-by-six-foot covers they could lift slowly to survey their surrounding.
Traffic on Washington Boulevard (Route 27) was light. Hassan expected and hoped it would pick up in the next twenty-five minutes, the start of the lunchtime period. There would be people, mostly government workers from the Pentagon and Washington across the river going out to lunch, doing errands. Once the shooting started, the enemies would eventually locate them and it would help to have some people cover. It could give them time to either change their position or run to escape.
Hassan had positioned himself five yards away from his men behind a pair of pear trees surrounded by an underbrush through which he peered with his field glasses at the Pentagon, the entire length of its west side. He zoomed at the heavily guarded entrance on the north end and the activities at the south end where he could see the buses turning into and out of the busy Metro station at the south side of the building.
He was now counting minutes, glad the long chilling hours of the night and early this morning were behind them. He kept his eyes trained between the Pentagon and the sky to the south of it, keeping alert for a sudden early sighting of their target. Occasionally, he glanced to his right at the two he could see through a small side opening they had made under the thick evergreen and brushwood camouflage. One of them, Nassar Madani, a 22-year old fellow Palestinian, born and raised in Nablus, West Bank, waited patiently for any signal from his team leader whom he admired deeply and would follow to their death.
Yes. He would do anything Hassan Bahaji told him to do if it meant killing as many of these American infidels and their Jewish soldiers as they could. Here, right here at the fortress of their armed forces or in Israel or back in the West Bank where he and his generation grew up eaten by deep hatred for these oppressors, or anywhere in the world.
For almost six hours now, he remained crouched on his stomach under the thick covers, the man-portable Stinger resting on his shoulder, ready to raise on his elbows and fire at the airborne enemies at Hassan's command.
The brother to his right, Jamil Sabayat, another soldier of Islam his age, likewise was ready to give his life for the destruction of the enemies at their leader's command. He hid dutifully under the brush covers on hands and knees beside a stack of high-explosive RMP missiles he and brother Nassar had trained for weeks before this day to load in the tube, target and fire.
There is much to be said about the thinking capability of the enemies to kill and destroy, they agreed during those weeks of training. This weapon, you get a fix on the target in the air, fire and you can forget about it and just re-load for the next shot. It will seek and find the target.
Less than a mile away on Lynn Street a block off the Army-Navy Drive, Ahman Shahid in the driver's seat, along with the four other suicide warriors with him in the tinted Toyota Highlander, awaited the call from Hassan Bahaji. They knew it could come any moment now so they hardly said a word to each other unless it was absolutely necessary.
Shahid kept vigil on the southern sky through his field glasses, his breathing short and tense while the four, one in the front passenger seat and the other three in the back seats held their weapons of war close beside them--M249 SAW machine guns, M-16s and AK-47s, several of which already mounted with 40mm UBGLs (Under Barrel Grenade Launchers) to supplement the Soviet-era RPG-7Vs.
Two miles north, at a parking space by the Iwo Jima Memorial park in the Ford Expedition SUV, Kashim Najoub and the two men he led sat quietly with the same weapons of war. The last call he got from his friend Hassan was ten minutes ago just to hear the man say everything is on schedule as is, hang on and get ready for his next call.
Two minutes later, he and Ahman Shahid in the south would get on the conference call with Hassan Bahaji on the radio after Hassan, at 11:40 A.M., finally spotted five helicopters approaching from the southeast.
Anne Durham, a 50-year old Department of the Army procurement specialist, sat in a window office on the fourth floor with a serene view of the Arlington National cemetery across Washington Boulevard. For fifteen years, she worked with her back to the window, facing the door from the E-ring corridor outside, until yesterday when she finally had her desk turned perpendicular to the west wall of the building so that with a slight turn of her head to the right, she had the full view through the window.
She could knock her head on the wall for not having thought of this years ago. Now, in addition to enjoying the view outside, she didn't have the direct glare and reflection from the window to hurt her eyes and muddle the image on her PC monitor while she worked.
The view outside, as she turned her head up and a little to the right just now while she was contemplating lunch after seeing 11:42 A.M. on her computer monitor, included a dark-colored SUV that had pulled over the shoulder of the road for what looked like a flat tire. Within a minute of this, her life would suddenly come to a violent end that none of her co-workers, along with the tens of thousands of other people in the building, could have imagined and thought possible.
First, after observing a man come out of the SUV to work on the right front wheel, she heard the muffled sound of the helicopters high above the building approaching the landing pad she could see below at least a hundred yards away and almost in a straight line of sight between her and the SUV. Then the helicopters, five of them, came to view, a Bell 412 transport craft rear-flanked above by two Army Kiowa combat gunships and forward-flanked below by two USMC twin-engine Supercobra. They hovered beautifully for a few moments at Anne Durham's fourth-floor eye-level altitude to get into position before the 412 began to descend. Then she saw a puff of smoke materialize on the side of the SUV, proliferating into a straight line from the tail of a rocket-propelled missile hurtling directly towards the helicopters. Another one followed within a couple of seconds.
The first one hit one of the Supercobras, the one nearer her, right below the double-bladed rotor where it connected to the top of the craft, severing it clean from the helicopter as the rocket-propelled grenade exploded. The second one missed completely and headed straight to Anne Durham's window.
The Kiowa Warrior at the rear flank staggered in mid-air momentarily, its two crews shocked at the suddenness of the attack as they watched the now rotorless Supercobra crash forty feet down and explode as it hit the ground. The other two escort helicopters were equally shaken. But the pilot of the Supercobra quickly became alert to what was happening and didn'½t lose a moment to maneuver in front of the 412 to cover it from another pair of RPGs he saw coming.
He knew they could evade these non-heat-seeking missiles if there's time and there was, but only in fractions of seconds now. The pilot of the 412 acted as fast as he could to maneuver the ship straight up and away over the roof of the Pentagon upon catching the signal from the Supercobra to abort the landing.
The transport craft carrying the Israeli Defense Minister and his entourage of six, four U.S. Army security personnel and the pilot, eluded the missiles, but the Supercobra didn't.
The missiles found their mark. One went directly into the cockpit and the other on the tail rotor, killing the two crews instantly and fragmenting the Supercobra into flaming chunks of metal that plunged violently on the helipad below.
The first Kiowa had at this time turned to target the SUV with its Hellfire missiles. The first one left its pylon even as the remains of the second Supercobra were crashing down on the first one on the ground. The SUV had started to run just as the missile hit on its rear end and set it aflame. The Kiowa gunner crew observed two bodies on fire fall out of the vehicle as it picked up speed on Route 27 north. The pilot homed in on the SUV while the gunner reset for the next shot.
While this was happening, the second Kiowa turned to follow the 412 up just as the pilot saw a trail of smoke from a Stinger missile fired from across the road just inside the perimeter of the Arlington National cemetery across the road. Unlike the Supercobra, this time the pilot didn't have time to provide cover to the 412 which had climbed up and over the top of the building to escape the attack. But he knew too that this time it was a different ballgame. The Stinger will chase its target unless, thought the Kiowa pilot, he can lure it away to make himself the target. And this was exactly what he tried to do, but to no avail.
As he climbed above the building to attract the missile, it went past over the top as if it had its own mind and it did, for it had been programmed so that nothing else mattered but the target it was aimed to destroy. The most he could do as a split-second move to help the 412 was shoot at the missile with his .50 caliber machine gun as it went by. But this actually made a difference in saving several of the lives in the Bell 412 transport including that of the Defense Minister.
The missile caught its target alright but was partially deflected by the spray of the .50 caliber rounds so that it hit at the rear of the passenger section, sparing five of the twelve people in the craft. What remained of the helicopter with the survivors in it fell and went partially through the roof in flames.
Now what's left to do, the harried look on the face of both the Kiowa pilot and his gunner said, was blow the hell out of the Stinger-shooting position somewhere out there inside the Arlington National cemetery without being blown out first by another RMP missile. So the Kiowa went south out of visual range of the enemy position, right above the median of Washington Boulevard.
On the ground around the Pentagon, they saw MP humvees mobilizing along with several DPS patrol cars and the Virginia State Troopers. They could hear the noise picking up down there from every direction. Traffic which did pick up in the last twenty minutes had slowed down as motorists became aware of what was going on, seeing the downed helicopters burning on the ground and on the Pentagon, the columns of black smoke filling the air, sirens screaming from near and far.
Suddenly, it dawned on the crew's mind in their mounting disbelief, the country is under attack, right here at the Pentagon, the headquarters of the government's Defense Department! In a blink of an eye and with anger quickly building up inside, they recalled that this was the very same side of the Pentagon where Flight 77 smashed back in September 11, 2001. Incredible! How could we have let this happen again!
No time for any of that at present. Right now the only thing that matters is to get those motherfuckers in the bushes inside the National Memorial Cemetery who didn't even give a shit about committing the sacrilege of hiding on one of America's most hallowed grounds to kill us.
"Steady!" said the gunner to the pilot as he locked on the target position with the Hellfires and released the two missiles simultaneously.
The missiles were on target, blew up a hole the size of a house foundation on the ground where Hassan Bahaji and his two warriors were, moments before. They watched the explosion from twenty yards away behind a clump of trees where they had scampered to unseen right after they had shot at the 412. Hassan prayed to Allah when he saw the smoke on the roof of the Pentagon then that they had done what they had come for and had quickly summoned his friend Kashim Najoub on the radio.
Kashim was now weaving through the southbound traffic in the Ford Expedition SUV and got a full view of what was going on.
The first Kiowa which had engaged the partly disabled Toyota Highlander SUV in a shooting match was now strapped from shooting back as the SUV moved close to the northbound traffic, hiding behind other vehicles. Seeing this, Kashim ordered his team to shoot at the Kiowa as they neared the scene. Unaware of another enemy attacker in the Ford Expedition, the Kiowa crew was surprised to see two RPGs streaking towards them at close range. Their effort to dodge the missiles was a few seconds short. It looked like the Kiowa disintegrated into hundreds of little scrap metal pieces when it blew up.
At that same moment, Hassan Bahaji had opted to take out the second Kiowa shooting at them from right above the middle of the road in the south. Nassar Madani and Jamil Sabayat who had the second Stinger missile ready to shoot quickly acquired the target on the scope, and shot. The two men in the Kiowa, believing they had destroyed the enemy, were stunned when they saw the Stinger-RMP missile coming and made a run for it. But they knew it was too late.
At the Columbia Pike on-ramp to Route 27 where Ahman Shahid and his team launched the attack in the Toyota Highlander, Army Sergeant Tom Davis, hands gripped tight on the 40 mm Mark-19 Automatic GL atop the humvee coming from the Pentagon south parking lot, saw the Kiowa get hit and explode practically right above him. He had to duck to avoid pieces of metal crashing down in his direction.
"Move it!" he shouted to Corporal Jenni Wapner down at the wheel. "Let's go, Wap! The black SUV with the busted tail! Go! Go!"
"Yeah! Yeah! I see it!" Wapner shouted back, burning rubber while getting around traffic, avoiding big chunks of the Kiowa debris and the bodies on the road to make the open high-speed left lane.
Ahman Shahid and the two men left of his team in the Toyota Highlander saw the humvee bearing down on them. The two men opened fire indiscriminately, one with an M249 SAW machine gun, the other with an M-16 which slowed down the humvee. Sergeant Davis gave them back some from his MK-19, putting a hole the size of a cantaloupe in the upper torso of one of them. But the humvee was immobilized after a few rounds from the M249 blew its front-end wheels and busted its motor.
Corporal Wapner and Sergeant Davis then watched in horror for one instant as the remaining attackers in the SUV turned to the motorists around them and kept firing in random. It became clear that they intended to kill anybody in sight. It wasn't much different from what a suicide bomber did except in this situation, the killer must be killed by someone else to stop the carnage. And they did, the Army MPs that arrived in two other humvees, one coming from behind Wapner and Davis, another coming southbound against traffic on the road shoulder, but not after the attackers used up all their rounds and turned the northbound stretch of Washington Boulevard this side of the Pentagon into a bloody scene of battlefield devastation.
Ahman Shahid had stopped the SUV and got out on the road with the last man he had of his team. The two of them then, back to back, sprayed rounds first at the motorists around them then the humvees when they saw them coming from both directions.
"Die Americans and Jews! Die!" he yelled nearly as loud and violent as the AK-47 in his hands pouring rounds all over.
"Die! Die! Die!" the 24-year old Palestinian kept yelling to the last moment of his life when both the humvees returned fire with .50 caliber machine guns that ripped him and his companion to pieces.
On the other side of the road, the shooting had intensified with the arrival of several Defense Protective Service patrol cars from the Pentagon's north parking lot and the Virginia State Troopers from Highway 110. Four cars gave chase to Kashim Najoub and his team in the Ford Expedition. After they downed one of the Kiowas, Najoub had maneuvered to the Columbia Pike exit road to pick up Hassan and his team according to plan which didn't count on the four government cars on their tail. Thus, they went past the pick up point while Hassan and his team engaged the pursuer from their position behind the trees in the cemetery, shooting 40 mm M203 grenades from their M-16s.
Two of the pursuing cars took lethal fire, skidded in the ditch burning. The other two, a State Trooper and a DPS car took position against the median concrete barrier of Route 27 and got into a shooting battle with Hassan's team less than a hundred yards away.
Hassan Bahaji who had been in radio contact with Kashim Najoub throughout the assault talked on the radio while working an M-16.
"Leave us!" he screamed at his friend Kashim over the radio. "Save yourself! Go! Go!" he insisted as he saw the Ford Expedition stop on the side of the exit road and wait.
Now it started backing up. The rear door swung fully open on its hinges and the next moment an RPG came shooting straight out towards one of the government cars in the middle of the road. The missile went through the windshield of the State Trooper patrol car and blew its top off.
Seeing a moment of opportunity for Hassan and his team to flee, Kashim Najoub screamed back at Hassan on the radio.
"Come on! Come on! You can make it!" he urged while continuing to back up and close the distance between them.
Nassar Madani, one of Hassan's men, humped over a large tree branch let go of his AK-47 trigger for a moment and turned to his leader. "Sir, please go now," he pleaded. "Don't worry about us."
"I go we all go!"
"Go now, please, Commander. We'll cover you."
"You've done your duties. And you've done them well."
"It's still our duty to protect you, so please go now."
"Come on!" Kashim Najoub's voice again came through the radio.
"There's more coming." Jamil Sabayat, the other man of the team, cried suddenly as he saw two humvees jump the median from the other side of Washington Boulevard.
"Salaam Aleikum," Hassan Bahaji finally said to each one of the men who immediately resumed firing at the government forces.
"Salaam Aleikum!" they responded over the sound of their weapons.
He sprinted through the tall overgrowth at the perimeter of the cemetery, leaped out at the first clearing he came upon to the side of the road and ran to meet the SUV that was still backing up.
The first burst of 40 mm rounds from one of the humvees came and tore at the rear fender of the SUV. Kashim Najoub quickly shifted gear to drive and stepped on the gas as soon as he saw Hassan grab a hold of the open door. But before Hassan could haul himself into the passenger seat, a round struck his right thigh, sending a tremendous wave of pain through the rest of him as it tore through his muscles.
"Hang on!" Kashim Najoub cried as he floored the gas to get out of range of enemy fire. "Hang on, my friend!"