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When you read this, I'll be dead.
I'll have been murdered. Others will join me in death. Most will be innocent people. Stall holders, tourists, children, taxi drivers, street cleaners - nothing of these deserved to die.
Among the shattered bodies however they'll find pieces of a man who should have been killed long ago. They'll match his DNA to members of his family. There'll be widespread relief among the police in Pakistan. State Department officials will break open the champagne in Washington. Hillary will probably toast the death of my murderer. The assassin of innocents.
It's his story that I've told in detail for the last month. My words that captured the attention of the world's press. Millions of readers throughout the world have followed my travails. Many have agonized over my plight. Prayers have been said in numerous churches. Moderate Muslim leaders have pleaded for my release. Last week, I was mentioned by the Pope in one of his weekly addresses to the faithful in St. Peter's Square. I welcome the world's concern, but it'll make no difference. The decision to kill me has been made.
The man who will murder me portrays himself as a selfless martyr. Perhaps he believes this. His capacity for self-delusion is immense. In fact, he's a monster. A man I'm convinced who has never felt the faintest flicker of human sympathy or remorse. A man whose world began and will end with himself.
It was he who forced me into writing for the world the longest and most chilling suicide note in history.
Both he and I will be remembered long after our deaths. That was the point. Over the last month, he's often told me that I should feel grateful. After all, he points out my accounts of life as a captor and unwilling participant is my finest work. He's right.
Yesterday, he told me that today he would grant me one last, great favor. He and I will become immortal.
He believes that he will be remembered as a hero for his people. A freedom fighter. A beacon on the hill.
I'll also be a beacon. A journalist who pulled off the scoop of the century. My name will be up there in the eternal pantheon. Add my name in gold to the list of honor: a name to rank beside that of legendary newsmen such as Hearst, Luce, Bernstein, Woodward, Murrow and Pulitzer.
And the truth? Neither of us were more than media whores.
You may never read these words. I've been scribbling this confession down using the stub of a pencil on smuggled scraps of waste paper. Each day, the cellar has been searched. So far, they haven't found them. Perhaps they never will, but this record might remain undiscovered. Builders will one day tear down this decrepit building (if it doesn't first fall into the street) and my papers will be buried forever under the rubble.
At least, I've tried.
Let it be known, that there was no Stockholm Syndrome. I never learned to love my tormentor. I hated him before I met him. My last words to him will be a curse. He was never more than a story.
The man whose name translates as 'The Unflinching Eye' was born in Cairo in 1975. His family is one of the richest in Egypt, most of their wealth coming from extensive media and property interests.
His was the classic trajectory of today's terrorist. A wealthy playboy until his early twenties, he majored with honors in oriental history and literature, before accepting a post as a professor at one of America's leading universities. It's now thought that he was radicalized while still at Cambridge. Groomed by a radical, London-based Islamic cleric who was later deported. By his early thirties, he had traveled to Pakistan where he spent a month in a jihadist training camp in the wild hinterland region close to the Afghan border. Narrowly escaping a drone attack that wiped out the camp, he returned to the States. Within a year, he re-entered Pakistan where he dropped out of sight.
It was then that the trouble began.
I knew the danger. I accepted the risk.
Pakistan's history is short and bloody. Its politics are violent and unpredictable: a seemingly endless feud between two rich and powerful adversaries - the Bhutto and Sharif families. I reject the common assertion that Pakistan is a failed state. One day I believe this will be a great Islamic nation. Today it's like a new island emerging hissing from the sea.
I entered Karachi wondering if I would leave in a coffin. Madness, but danger is a drug and I'm hooked. Even today, with all that I know, I still would have come. The lure was irresistible. The reward immense. The gold standard for any foreign correspondent.
The chance to interview one of the world's most feared, hated and elusive men.
I travel light on assignment. What I need I generally buy. My first stop is usually the local market. I often leave hotels with less than I carry in, binning my clothes or giving them to a room maid. Snagging my old but dependable laptop from the plane's overhead locker, I cleared customs without incident and entered the arrivals hall. I searched among the sea of signs without success. A nondescript man aged in his early forties sidled up.
'Mr. David Thornton?' he asked softly.
He led me to a quiet corner.
'Your passport and press credentials.' I handed them over. He checked them, nodded and put them in his pocket. I didn't like that, but decided it wasn't wise to argue. He gestured for me to follow. We left the main building and crossed into a car park. He unlocked a grubby white Tata and motioned for me to enter. He ignored any questions and we drove in silence to the city.
Karachi is a port city. It offers natural beauty with several attractive beaches and sweeping vistas of the Arabian Sea. It also provides some fine examples of Victorian architecture: remnants of the British Raj. A nice place if you ignore the armed guards and tanks guarding the airport, offices and western style hotels, such as the Marriott. Eight years ago, the government estimated there was over 18 million unlicensed small arms in Pakistan. There'd be many more today.
As we turned into Korangi Road, I could glimpse two of the Towers of Silence rising from the compound. Vultures and buzzards circled the sky. They would soon feast on bodies laid out by the Parsees. I've seen that eight times before, but for the first time I shuddered. Someone had walked over my grave.
If this was a story, I would have been blindfolded. There was however no need for me not to see where I was going. The area I was taken was a rabbit warren of interconnecting houses. I later learned that all of our neighbors were loyal supporters. No one, least of all the police could enter this maze without warning. Besides, we moved location every two or three nights.
I was told to book into the Pearl Continental, the best hotel in the city where I'd be contacted. Clearly, there'd been a change of plan. That suited me. The sooner I could interview my subject and fly back to Delhi the better.
Every Westerner visiting Pakistan is of interest to Security. Within two hours of my leaving the airport and failing to arrive at the Continental's check in counter, a search began. The disappearance of a well-known American journalist raised red flags around the city, including the US Embassy. Footage from the airport that showed me meeting my driver was analyzed, but the man wasn't recognized. There were no CCTV cameras in the car park. Concern grew. My editor was contacted in New York. The story headed the local television news that night and began to snowball.
When the driver's body was found the next morning on wasteland, concern became fear. He had died from a single slash to the throat: a cut so deep that it nearly severed his head.
In the course of a long career, I've interviewed a number of world leaders. Some I thought were heroes. Others I dismissed as fools or rogues. I've spoken at length with a number of bad men, but met only two I considered evil. The first was a Somali war lord who kidnapped boys to turn them into brutal child soldiers. The other was the 'Unflinching Eye'.
The most remarkable feature of my captor was his eyes. There were long-lashed, dark, and almost feminine. Normally they glowed like black coals warmed by a hidden fire. When he grew angry, they blazed forth like a furnace.
Each day, he would have me brought to his room. I was instructed to bring my notebook. When I had composed each article on my laptop, he would carefully read it. He knew that the world would yawn over a long diatribe, so he rarely edited what I wrote. Then my story would be emailed to my editor who would publish it to the world.
I tried hard to peel back the layers to discover the man behind the terrorist, but can't claim success. He was evasive about his early life and I thought insincere about his motivations. Only once or twice, I glimpsed the former playboy or the history professor in the fanatic I interviewed.
On the fourth day of my capture, I was brought from the cellar where I slept.
He had read the article I had written the night before and was furious.
'This is rubbish!' he exclaimed. 'Do you think I have gone to all the trouble of bringing you here to tell my story to the world and accept this drivel? What is all this whining about your life as a prisoner? You've been treated well. If you'd prefer to suffer like my brothers in the rendition prisons, I'll gladly arrange it.'
'Western readers want to know how I'm coping. They put themselves in my place. They're bored with descriptions of America as the Great Satan.'
'They want excitement?' He smiled cruelly, then snapped his fingers. 'Yes, I have just the thing for your jaded readers.'
He had me led to another building. There in another cellar was a young man. His hair was long and matted. His clothes had become filthy rags. His skin was criss-crossed with angry welts raised by a belt buckle. The man looked at me without hope. He said nothing. Even later, he made little noise. He was the bravest man I've ever seen.
'This man was once a Catholic priest. He said he wanted to help the poor. We reject his help. Today, he'll be your story. We'll torture him. We'll photograph our torture. You'll describe in detail what we are doing. You'll tell the world of your disgust and horror. This will interest your readers. At the end, we'll give you a gun. You'll press the barrel to the head of this priest and blow his brains out.'
'I won't! I've never killed a man! You can't make me do that!'
'By the time we have finished, he'll beg you to pull the trigger. You'll kill him as you would kill a dog that is in agony.'
I can't bring myself to repeat the horrors of that day. It was as he said. If he thought that by killing the priest I would feel complicit, he was wrong. I feel guilt but not for this merciful act. Rather, I deeply regret having helped this monster's voice be heard.
Today, I am filing my last story.
I've been told I'll carry a tape recorder to capture my first-hand impressions of being a suicide bomber. Shortly before I walk into the crowded market I shall hand the recorder back to one of the men. Someone will watch as the terrorist and the journalist walk side by side as though we are friends. Someone will ring a number on the leader's mobile phone. The explosives that we have strapped to our waists will explode. Even if I bawled out a warning, the innocent shoppers wouldn't have time to flee. There'll be terrible carnage.
I'm frantically scribbling these words, hearing footsteps approach. They are coming for me. I have only time to hide these words, hoping that one day they will be read.
Pray for me.
(This is the second story in Stephen Collicoat's recently published e-book 'Chill Factor'. To sample or purchase this book, please go to http://smashwords.com/b/214363.)