Bowson heard through the radio that operational control was being passed to the military, they all knew what that meant. He was summoned back to the temporary situation base in the north-eastern corner of Cavendish Square, leaving his team in situ. He ran at full tilt, being joined by other similar officers with detachments on the other side of the BBC building, where they were met by a Major who briefed them outside the communications vehicle. Five minutes that’s all, then race back to re-join the others. No, they had no choice. His job was to contain this side of the building, cover any civilians attempting to escape the building in the chaos, prevent a breakout, be ready to lead half his team into one of the side entrances on command to help with any evacuation. We aren’t specialists in this, not properly trained for it, but resources are so stretched. He looked at the others, who to take in if required, some like George looked excited, some grim, others anxious: they picked themselves really.
People were checking weapons, making sure rounds were chambered, spare magazines fully loaded, divesting any unnecessary kit to speed movement, looking at the windows over the street for any sign of people, down the street for any hint of the direction the assault teams would take, anything to divert their minds from their rising heart rates, their anxiety.
Suddenly, the distant thump, thump, thump of rotor blades punching the air rumbled into earshot from the south, the vicinity of Oxford Circus. They couldn’t see it from here, now more from the north, Regent’s Park. There was a dramatic shaking of the buildings around them, a huge explosion to their right, must be in the courtyard between the two front wings of Broadcasting House, dust and debris fountaining up above the roofline of the building, then raining down onto the roof and some into the street in front of them. They were later told a laser guided missile dropped from a fighter jet had hit the van parked by the lobby, which had been presumed to be a giant bomb awaiting the assault teams, bringing down the lower floors at the front of the building, enveloping the streets around in a cloud of dust and smoke, deafening those not wearing ear protection.
A voice came on their radio frequency, the code word for the start of the assault. He motioned to his team to get ready, the entry squad sheltering by the door, the others training their weapons on Broadcasting House from the windows, only dimly visible through the plumes of smoke and dust, trying to spot any gaps of clear air through which to aim their firearms. Mouths dry, lips too, heart rates in the training zone: he’d once been told that the waiting was the worst. It was one of those hackneyed truisms beloved by the clichéd press. Well, they were about to find out if it were true; he rather suspected it wasn’t.
Somewhere across the street, through the fog of war, men were abseiling down onto the roof, others gaining entry to the back of the building, still more preparing to attack the eastern wing while Apache gunships manoeuvred into position at front and back to give covering fire if required, point-blank range for them. As the aftershocks faded, the ringing of heavy debris falling ceased, the sound of other explosions, automatic and semi-automatic gunfire could be heard. It could be seconds, minutes, even hours, before they received the command to go… How the hell they could maintain this state of readiness for more than a few minutes he didn’t know.
Abdul Al-Benazzi was thrown to the floor by the initial explosion. He had been in a corridor on the fourth floor not far from the front of the building when the van blew; taking away the suite of rooms between the corridor and the front, exposing his stunned form to the dust and darkness created by whatever angel of war had descended on them. He crawled away, trailing his Kalashnikov behind him on its strap; his wingman was dead, crushed by a fallen steel beam, his radio lost.
He found an inner staircase, got to his feet, stumbled up three floors to the seventh. Here, at the rear, they would make their final stand with over forty hostages in groups held around them. He looked at his phone, still in his trouser pocket, no signal, been shut down then. We need to start communicating with one another, identify the points of entry by the assault teams, begin triggering the bombs rigged at key exit and intersection points. More, smaller explosions from what sounded like the roof, so obvious, all the stairs to the roof were rigged, must have been triggered by those defending them; sounds of automatic weapon fire, grenades, even heavy cannon from outside, must be armoured vehicles or helicopters being used.
He was on a seventh-floor landing now, the air was poor here, not just dust, but smoke too, cordite and fire, parts of the floor upstairs must be burning. Good. Footsteps racing down the stairs from the floor above, he trained his weapon, it was two of his, no three; he motioned to them to come back into the seventh floor off the stairs just as there was a burst of automatic fire from above, and the lagging third brother was thrown forwards down the staircase. He and the other two, both fellow Moroccans, slammed the landing door shut behind them, retreated back up the corridor a little way towards the final refuge, built a barricade from office furniture while they told him what had happened. They must have used shaped charges to blow holes in the roof, ignoring the stairwells, just rolling grenades down them while others dropped through the newly made entry points after percussion grenades had been dropped in. He grabbed the radio off one of them, telling them to hold them here, retreat down the passage way if you must, fighting as you go.
He ran further back, trying to roll call what was left of his command. Fourteen it seemed to be, the rest dead or lost somewhere in the chaos. They needed to get a grip, wrest back the initiative, hadn’t counted on the ruthless application of battlefield force in here of all places. It must’ve been a missile or bomb that hit the van in the lobby, now heavy weapons strafing parts of the building, must be Special Forces on the roof and floor above, no idea as to numbers. Others entering at the back of the building, probably larger numbers, a pincer movement, maybe other teams we don’t know about yet. There’re six of us on this floor here; the others can fight it out where they are, retreating here if able.
Get back the initiative, slow it down, think calmly. They are clearly not bothered about the building, ignorant of our hostages, are prepared to take military casualties; it’s more like Syria. Let’s show them we have hostages. He shouted an order; four were marched out of a room, all women of various ages. They were told to strip their tops off, unmistakeably women now, motioned to the corridor where the two Moroccans were awaiting the ingress of the enemy, wondering why there was a delay. The women were told to stand behind the door against the passage wall: human shields. He ran back to the rear where the other hostages were held, four more had been ordered to unclothe similarly. One of his men reported that the dust and smoke was clearing on the side of the building, visibility was returning, he had a view of the buildings opposite, several of the windows had been blown out too. He barked an order, the four women were led away, time to give them a gesture to make them pause, retract. Exploit their weakness.
© 1642again 2018