Monday, May 14, 2007

The Enemy Next Door

From USA Today:

"Plots by American-based Islamic terrorists with no direct ties to international terror networks form a large and growing threat to the American homeland, FBI and other security officials say.

"'The trend we're seeing is that we are uncovering more instances of people here who have been radicalized … where there is not a direct thumbprint of al-Qaeda,' says John Miller, the FBI's assistant director for public affairs . . .

"'If they look like the neighbors next door, it's because that's what they are,' says [Pasquale] D'Amuro, CEO of Giuliani Security and Safety in New York."

The old man next door never fooled me. Sure, he had white hair and a hefty paunch, his bald legs bordered by canary yellow shorts and tall black socks. He waddled more than walked, and seemed confused and disoriented when the sun hit his face. But I could tell there was something sinister about him. Call it a patriot's hunch. So for the sake of my neighborhood and nation, I plotted to take him down.

It wouldn't be easy. These jihadist types know so many secret tricks, so many ways to take out their enemies, it's like battling levitating ninjas. But what choice did I have? This guy, doubtless getting orders from some cave in Pakistan, went about his "business" while planning a terrorist strike so insane that even semi-sane people could not remotely grasp it. That's how insane this guy was. And only I saw it, and had to stop it.

Whenever he drove off in his Ford F-150 (using an American pick-up was a savvy clandestine move), I'd sneak around to the back of his split-level house, looking for an open window or unlocked door. But Terror Man was too slick to allow that. Every entrance was locked, and a few windows had the curtains drawn. What the hell was this mastermind up to? What in the non-Muslim God's name was he hiding?

Many times when the undercover maniac returned home, he carried shopping bags into the house. Clearly, he was buying chemicals to build a dirty bomb, or perhaps some kind of toxin to slip into the water supply. I wasn't really sure. The Kroger's symbol on the bags was a clever cover, but I didn't buy it for a second.

"Fool me once, al-Grandpa . . ."

One day, when Jihadi-Pops went for a "walk" (i.e. casing the neighborhood), I noticed that his back porch screen door was ajar. Was this a trap? Would I be beheaded by his cell mates the moment I walked in? It seemed too easy, but I had to take that chance. Do nothing, and the neighborhood blows up the next day.

I dashed from bush to bush, staying low, pausing a few seconds each time in order to avoid detection. It was maybe 50 feet from the last bush to the screen door, all of it open ground. I peered through the stubby branches, waited for a young girl walking her dog to pass (how little that innocent child knew), took a deep breath, then made my move. A quick sprint and soon I was behind the house. I pressed against the red brick wall and slowly slid to the screen door. There was no noise from inside. I gently opened the door just enough to fit through, and like that, I was in the jihadist's hide-out.

I adopted a fighting crouch and carefully scanned the room. If there was going to be trouble, I had to bring the pain fast and without mercy. A kitchen clock ticked, but that was about it. An eerie silence pervaded the house -- too quiet for my taste. I spotted a large butcher's knife sticking in a wood block on the kitchen counter. How many throats had been sliced with that terror tool, I wondered. Well, this time around, the blade's cutting in the opposite direction. I grabbed the knife and stalked through the living room. The moment of truth was upon me. I could feel it.

"Just what the hell are you doing in my house?!"

That voice -- where had I heard it before?

"Are you nuts?! I'm calling 9-1-1."

I turned and saw the old man standing just inside the back door. Our eyes met, and for a seeming eternity, the clash of civilizations blazed in our mutual glance. Then his eyes dropped to see the knife in my hand.

"What do you want? I don't have much money! Take anything, but please leave!"

I laid the knife on an end table to my right, then raised my hands to show I held no other weapon.

"Whoa, pops. You got the wrong idea. I thought something suspicious was going on here. I was just checking it out."

"Suspicious? Like what?"

Part of me wanted to confront him right there. Just get his fat, wrinkled head in a serious arm lock and force him to confess. Problem was, I had no real evidence. What if he knew I had him under surveillance and transported the toxic chemicals to another safe house in the dead of night? Tip my hand now, and the whole operation might be blown.

"Yeah -- thought I saw some teenagers breaking into your house. Y'know, to steal stuff in order to buy drugs and hip hop CDs."

His steely gaze remained on me, looking for any sign of weakness.

"Yeah, maybe two, three teens, wearing black clothes with purple hair. Turns out I was wrong. But hey, you can't be too careful these days, right?"

His eyes betrayed lingering suspicion, but these commandoes are well-trained, and he quickly appeared resigned and a bit tired.

"No, I suppose you can't be too careful," he replied.

Had to hand it to him: he was a real pro.

"Well, all's well that ends well," I said. "I'll let myself out."

As I neared the door, the crafty terrorist pointed his finger at me and said, "Say, I know you. You're the guy who rarely cuts his grass."

Was he making his move? I stopped for a moment, but he wearily dropped into an easy chair.

"You should cut your grass more often," he continued, cleaning his glasses with his shirt. "Tall grass attracts mice."

"Sound advice. I may do just that. Thanks again."

As I walked back to my house, I thought about how easily the hunter becomes the hunted. He noticed my grass. What else was in his reports to his terror sponsors? I chuckled to myself, but it was a chuckle of apprehension, a chortle of dread.

This is going to be a long struggle.