The Hijack - By Duncan Falconer

Chapter 1

The approach to the English Channel, two hundred miles due south of the Devon coastline, was the furthest from home Abed Abu Omar had ever been in his life. At forty minutes past midnight it was wet and gloomy, but, despite the constant drizzle that had gradually soaked him and his men since they left the Spanish coast the afternoon before, the desert in winter had sometimes been much colder, and he had spent many nights during his younger days without wood to burn or food for his belly.

The cloud was low but allowed visibility in all directions for several miles. The heavy swell that had arrived with the setting of the sun contributed to the conditions, making them perfect for the mission.Allah was indeed smiling down upon the twenty Arabs huddled under their glistening army-surplus ponchos, equally divided between two wooden, open fishing boats tied alongside each other and holding position, their engines silent. The signal-strength indicator on Abed’s GPS flickered as it struggled to maintain a link with the navigational satellites through the cloud. The last positive reading indicated they were some five hundred feet off the proposed rendezvous point, but that was not a great concern to him. With this particular target he could afford to be much further from its track without fear of missing it.

The day before, Abed had received a message on his satellite phone informing him the vessel had been sighted passing Gibraltar and the Pillars of Hercules where it entered the Atlantic. Short of a mechanical breakdown, or some other unforeseen incident, it would soon be in sight.

Everything had so far gone to plan: the secret training in the desert camps of Lebanon, Syria and Jordan; access to the various ships owned by sympathisers in the Persian Gulf; the procurement of equipment; the preparation of the two second-hand boats purchased in Spain; and the arrival of the men from various places in Europe, America and the Middle East. The easiest part had been the acquisition of their weapons: not a gun, bullet or explosive device among them. Each man carried a Spanish garrotte, a dagger and a scimitar - the latter imported into Spain as antique artefacts - and they could use each of them with practised skill. For twelve months they had prepared and trained together for this moment, although it did not become a certainty until four months ago. Even now, with the time measured in minutes, there was still a possibility the operation could be aborted.That could happen right up to the point of no return, but Abed believed it was now unlikely. The sheiks, the masters, were as committed to the operation as Abed and his men.

He had not spent all of his short life, twenty-eight years, like so many of his people, waiting for the day he could serve Allah against Zion and its supporters and, if need be, make the ultimate sacrifice for the cause. Nor was his decision finally to take up the sword because he had been born and raised in the largest prison in the world, the Gaza Strip, or because so many people he knew had been killed or incarcerated. They were not the reasons he was here, although they had contributed over the years to the smouldering ember of hatred in his heart that one night burst into flames.

Abed’s place of birth was Rafah, a Palestinian refugee camp in the south of Gaza along the border with Egypt. Up until just over a year ago, when he was smuggled out to begin his training for this mission, he had spent his entire life on the narrow strip of land eighteen miles by five that was the most densely populated place on earth. Gaza was surrounded on three sides by a narrow strip of noman’s-land, heavily fenced and razor-wired, and watched over by towers manned by lookouts and heavy machine guns. Like the Berlin Wall during the Cold War, or an American high-security prison, it meant death to anyone who tried to penetrate the perimeter day or night. The graveyards were littered with those who had made the attempt. On the map, Gaza looked like a long, crooked rectangle surrounded by desert on three sides and the Mediterranean Sea, constantly patrolled by naval gunboats, F16s and helicopters, on the fourth. Only a privileged few, those who had foreign passports or special permits, were allowed to leave Gaza. Several thousand Palestinians were admitted through the Erez Crossing in the north into Israel on