COVER STORY: by Terence HankeyNews Weekly
In the name of Allah, the wise and the merciful
, July 30, 2005
What form could an Islamist terrorist attack on Australia take? This imaginary scenario, written by Terence Hankey, has been prepared as a professional research task for the purpose of educating people in counter-terrorism.Yousef al Khamal eased his red truck carefully out of the driveway of his modest weatherboard cottage in Gage Street, Lakemba, New South Wales. He waved cheerfully to his wife Belah and an elderly neighbour walking a dog as he drove off down the street.
A swarthy man, Yousef was known to be a quiet neighbour and delivery man for market vegetables in Sydney. He was rarely known to comment on political matters, or for that matter on his religion. He prayed regularly as the Koran dictated, but otherwise worked energetically at his job. Socially, he had a few friends mainly through the local mosque, and was known to be a dutiful husband and father.
Pushing a tape into the jaws of the player, he changed his mind and turned the radio on instead. Radio 2BL was, as usual, full of talk on the War against Terror. Yousef, seething inside at America's continuing military presence in Iraq, lit a cigarette and tried to concentrate on his driving.
On Parramatta Road the traffic was slow as usual. In the truck tray behind his cabin, the vegetable and fruit boxes were neatly secured. Yousef took pride in getting his employer's produce to Sydney restaurants in top-class condition. As the traffic crawled through Concord, he lit a second cigarette, smoke seeping through his nostrils. The acrid Camel cigarettes were nowhere near the strength of those he obtained through his friends visiting from Egypt.
As he passed the Five Dock turn-off, the traffic thickened and slowed to a crawl. Horns honked in frustration, but Yousef was serene and philosophical as ever about the vagaries of Sydney motorists. He had seen worse traffic in Cairo.
The traffic was slow and his watch showed that it was just after 7:00 a.m., but it was of little consequence. Rather than listen to the news headlines and another round of triumphalist Muslim-bashing, he pushed the tape firmly home and the little cab was filled with Egyptian music interspersed with a particular prayer. His eyes lit up as the bridge approached. It was a beautiful clear Sydney day with a blue sky and the pollution haze had been carried away by overnight breezes into the undulating waves of the Pacific Ocean.
Australians, or at least those from New South Wales, were inordinately proud of the "coathanger". The Sydney Harbour Bridge had been considered a masterpiece of engineering during its construction in the 1920s. It had a certain ugly elegance about it and connected the city with the more affluent North Shore suburbs. Its eight lanes were inadequate for the traffic volume - only the double-decker trains crossed it quickly.
Slowly Yousef's red truck made its way to a middle lane and proceeded on to the bridge as usual.Phone call
This was a typical day for him, or it had been until last night. A husky voice on the telephone had announced "Allah Akhbar
" and the receiver was put down.
He had risen at 3:00 a.m. as usual, rolled out his prayer mat and dutifully prayed and slipped out of the house to pick up his load of fruit and vegetables. His wife Belah was used to this daily ritual and, after briefly stirring, rolled over and went back to sleep.
Yousef's truck arrived at the Flemington markets at exactly 3:15 a.m. - a perfectly normal day. The fruit and vegetables were loaded and secured in the usual efficient manner, but on this day there was an extra load beneath the parsnips, tomatoes, lettuces and apples.
When loading had finished, he had a cup of acrid Middle East coffee with his loaders, who were quite used to adding a little extra to the truck's load. Whatever was in the packages, questions were rarely asked about the contents. They were, after all, stamped and certified by the Red Crescent, presumably for relief of refugees somewhere in Sydney.Out of the shadows
By 4:45 a.m., Yousef was on the road again, but unlike a normal day he made a detour out to Parramatta. Outside a shabby run-down junkyard, a figure emerged from the shadows, mumbled a brief greeting in Arabic and slipped under the truck. In less than three minutes, he wriggled from the other side, muttered a brief farewell and slipped away into the darkness.
By now, barely five minutes after 7:00 a.m., Yousef's truck was close to the centre of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. He reached into a compartment in the dashboard and pulled out what appeared to be a normal cigarette lighter, pushed it into the circuit and thrust it home.
Only he would have heard his prayer of triumph "Allah Akhbar
" as the device ignited the specially-shaped charges of Semtex in the bed of the truck and its lower chassis. His soul was on its way to paradise.
The fireball engulfed the truck, many cars around it and the long curved spans of the bridge itself. The downward-facing charges blew a huge hole on the inward-side of the bridge and the whole structure twisted, groaning.
The 6:00 a.m. train from Gosford slid sinuously off the end of the rails and into the harbour waters fifty metres below. As the centre of the bridge collapsed, several cars and trucks plunged into the abyss while people, backed up at the approaches at each end, screamed and gasped with horror. A few managed to escape from cars on the bridge and run to safety, while others floundered in the water desperately trying to stay afloat until help arrived. Bodies floated on the water like broken dolls. Later, sharks would dine well.Collapsing
At Kirribilli House on the Harbour, the sound of the explosion was not heard by the Prime Minister who had taken out his hearing aid. His wife woke him and they pulled back the bedroom drapes to see a dense pall of smoke rising into the clear blue sky and Sydney Harbour Bridge collapsing slowly, as on a videotape.
Telephones commenced ringing almost immediately and it was the Prime Minister's wife who managed to drag her transfixed husband from the window to take calls from the Federal and New South Wales Police, the New South Wales Premier's Department, the Department of Defence, the Attorney-General's Department, the Australian Protective Services, Emergency Management Australia, the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet and, one-and-a-half hours later, the Director-General of the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation.
In the middle of the War against Terror - after New York, Bali, Madrid and London - war had come to Australia, America's ally in Iraq.
Official inquiries commenced. Blame was allocated to the least culpable. Australia was a country that had been barely touched in previous wars. Intelligence was confused, disorganised and ill-prepared.
As usual, the advantage of surprise lay with the enemy. In public, moderate Muslims would come forward and condemn the terror; but in the mosques and madrassas, the message of hate would continue to be proclaimed and volunteers, sublime in their belief of an afterlife with virgins, would not diminish in number or fervour.
The bombing of the Sydney Harbour Bridge was merely the latest in the round of violence and bombings that swept through major Western cities in the Dar al-Harb
("the abode of war"). All, of course, "in the name of Allah, the wise and the merciful".
- This imaginary scenario, written by Terence Hankey, has been prepared as a professional research task for the purpose of educating people in counter-terrorism.