Ash Shaddadi, the Syrian Governorate of Al Hasakha, December 2017
Ellis raised his carbine to kill the man who had dropped the grenade. It was a futile gesture because in the confined space of the building most of them would be dead when the grenade went off anyway. The women were screaming, as though they were trying to claw their way through the walls. Ripley saw Ellis raise his weapon.
“No James! No time. GET OUT!” she screamed at him, although she knew he would never get out in time.
The Jihadist in the woman’s niqab lunged at Ripley as if to kill her with his bare hands and she dropped the C8 carbine and grabbed the front of his garment with both hands.
Tai otoshi is a hand throw that should generate a lot of power with very little contact. It can create one of the hardest falls in judo, yet it relies on timing and kuzushi rather than lifting. The power comes from a fast rotating action that drives the opponent right into the mat. It is a very common throw, but one which must be studied thoroughly to have any chance of using it successfully on a resisting opponent.
Ripley had done a great deal of study over the years. Using his momentum against him, her opponent went over her right leg and she rammed in her hip to get him off his feet. He thudded down on top of the grenade with a grunt and she was on top of him, pinning him to the ground. His eyes were malevolent slits of fury as he reached up to choke her and he rammed his head into her face. She felt the skin above her left eye split open. He was stronger than her and was lifting her off him to roll away. She put her hands both side of his head, rammed her thumbs into his eyeballs. He began screaming and Ripley opened her mouth as the grenade went off under them.
She was lifted several feet by the blast but the terrorist’s body and her body armour saved her, although she felt the tearing, burning sensation of fragments that ripped her right thigh. It was like she was inside an enormous bell. Her ears were ringing and she felt sick. One of the women dashed towards Ellis who had been flung against the wall in an attempt to grab his carbine. Ripley drew her Glock and shot her twice in the back and the woman fell partially on top of Ellis, who disentangled himself. Ripley rolled off the body and sprawled on the floor, feeling dizzy and disorientated. The Jihadist’s chest had burst open exposing shattered ribs and the front of her body armour was a ripped, bloody mess.
“James, are you all right?” she yelled because her ears were ringing.
He stood up and helped her to her feet, handing her the carbine. They helped each other outside as Cairns and Carson ran up.
“Watch them. If any of the bitches so much as twitches, shoot the fuckers. Not you, Jamie. Get your medical kit.”
“What for them?”
“No you bloody idiot! For me.”
“Oh,” he said realising that she was covered with blood and it was running down her face.
“Which of you arseholes is supposed to have searched them?” she demanded back at the vehicles.
“Me, well both of us.”
“One of them was a bloody man who had a grenade! Search them properly next time and cable tie their arms behind their backs. Always! Forget about their cultural sensitivities, because they sure as hell don’t care about yours. Search under their arms and between their legs and always, always get them to remove their headgear. Because you didn’t do your jobs properly, you nearly got James and me killed!”
Ripley suddenly became aware that her thigh was hurting and when she looked down it was dark with blood.
“Bugger, I’m running out of trousers,” she took off her tattered body armour and her boots, “If the pair of you would be so kind as to turn round. I know James has had a good old look, but a lady needs to keep some things secret.”
“I did not look!” Ellis said indignantly, “You could be a pre-op tranny for all I know.”
Nevertheless they did turn round and Ripley took off her trousers, then sat on the front passenger seat of the Supacat. She draped the trousers over her lap for modesty.
“OK Doctor Mengele, do your stuff.”
He examined her thigh with a head torch and noted two deepish wounds where the skin had peeled back to reveal the subcutaneous fat. He got a suture set, some antiseptic, topical anaesthetic and sterile, adhesive dressings from his medical kit. Then Cairns cleaned the wounds, applied the local anaesthetic and stitched her thigh. He did neat little stitches to avoid leaving a scar.
“If it hurts a lot around the site or starts to feel hot, come and see me or Shippers. You’re still finishing your course of antibiotics so it should be fine,” Then he cleaned the gash above her eye and stitched it, “It’s near your eyebrow so it shouldn’t be too noticeable. What about you, James?”
“I’m OK, thanks to Ripley, but when will the tinnitus in my ears go?”
Cairns shook his head, “That’s a difficult one, James. A couple of hours, or even days. It may never go, I’m afraid.”
“Thanks, Jamie. Now if you’ll do the business again, gentlemen, I’ll put my kecks back on and then, James, we’ll go back to the ladies and spoil their night. Grab the flashlight from the back.”
Back inside the building, “Frank” Carson had them lined up, squatting away from the walls with their hands on their heads.
“The one in the middle is a bit bashful and doesn’t want to take off her burka, or whatever you call it.”
Ripley walked up to the figure and said in Arabic: “You were told to remove your head covering,” She struck the figure on the side of her head with the butt of her carbine and wrenched the material off the head.
“Fuck’s sake, Ripley!” Ellis exclaimed with shock.
“Shut up! Well, well, what have we got here?” she continued in Arabic, “Oh ladies. You forgot to tell us you saved this pretty, little Syrian rose until last.”
The bludgeoned figure was a man with an immature, wispy beard, “Do you get it now, James? Cable tie the bastard’s hands to his feet, then carry him out and throw him in the other building. I’ll want to have a chat with him later, but first the ladies…”
“Well we can’t hang around all night. I’ll go down with “Manny” covering me,” Halward taped a flashlight to the right side of the underslung grenade launcher, “Have a Willie and Pete handy, Manny. I wish we had some bloody dogs.”
They descended cautiously and their noses were assailed by the residue of phosphorous, sweat and something else, familiar but forgotten. The stairwell reversed halfway down and at the bottom a corridor stretched away into the darkness, with openings left and right.
“I’ll go left first. Stay here in case I run into any trouble.”
The rooms off the branch were mainly storerooms with some living and sleeping accommodation. A room at the end was full of buckets and it stank of human excrement. Halward doubled back and went down the right branch, which consisted of living areas, cooking area and more storerooms.
“Left and right clear. I’ll go on ahead. Keep a grenade distance behind me, Manny.”
Halward reckoned that the underground area was laid out in a form of an H and sure enough the rooms off the central corridor were larger. He checked each one carefully. A couple were like workshops and were full of assorted detritus, which would have to be investigated thoroughly once they were sure the complex was clear. One of them had a 10,000 watt KVA petrol generator, vented up through the roof. It would have been powerful enough to run the lights and electrical appliances in the underground complex.
At the next room on the right Halward paused outside the steel door, reluctant to go inside. He didn’t know why. He prised the door open with the barrel of His C8 and the flashlight swept the room. At first he thought it was full of piles of discarded rags, bright reds and browns, but then he looked closer.
“Oh dear God.”
The bundles of rags were the bodies of Yazidi women and girls and then he realised what the smell had been that they first identified going down into the basement. It was the smell of death and blood. Lots of blood that was staining the female Yazidis’ clothes. While Halward and his troopers had been clearing the floors above, the Jihadi women had cut the throats of their Yazidi slaves. Halward felt a deep, burning anger and now he understood what made Ripley tick and he hated both her and himself for it.
He went back out into the passageway and looked back at Cohen. “I wouldn’t go in there Manny, but I know you’ll have to.”
He was feeling grim as he pressed on, Cohen following behind. He looked into the room Halward had left and said one word.
In a room on the left towards the end there was a figure lying on the floor, moaning. It may have been an injured fighter evacuated down earlier in the day’s fighting. Halward swept the room with his torch and then fired a short burst. The moaning stopped.
He left and went to the end and decided to turn right. This leg had only one large room, a living area with chairs and a large TV, games console with piles of DVDs. He went out and took the opposite corridor that had the same layout of a single, large room. Halward looked inside the room and it felt as though his heart had stopped. He looked around to make sure he wasn’t imagining what he had seen in the flashlight then got on the role radio.
“Mr H, send Larry down here to help Manny search this place, to find every piece of electronic equipment or documents that’s down here. I’m afraid there are lots of bodies here as well. Then contact the vehicles. I want Babel Fish to come and see this and Ruth had better tag along as well.”
“Roger. Is it bad? Over.”
“Bad and interesting.”
Ripley had five of the women against the walls in stress positions while she questioned the sixth. She was not in a very benevolent mood having been nearly killed by a grenade and every time one of them slumped to ease their aching muscles, she would kick them back into position. Ellis had left her to it and was hunkered down where he could watch the doorways of the buildings. The two bodies had been dragged out and were covered by a tarp, awaiting disposal. James was happy to be out of the way, shaken at what Ripley was capable of.
The woman who Ripley was currently interrogating in Arabic was she suspected, a Chechen and probably one of the wives of the dead man who lay in a sticky mess under the tarp outside. She had Halward’s ruggedized electronic tablet and showed her the photograph of Gamal Kirmani.
“I want to know if you have seen this man. He is a Pakistani who was born in England and he is known to have been here. Have you seen him, when did you see him and where is he?”
The woman wouldn’t even look at the screen and Ripley sighed, “I know you haven’t come that far, just a short trip through Georgia and then through Turkey, but you’re still a long way from home. The Russ are close and they would just love to have you as a plaything. Was your husband a good man? He’s not much use to you now, is he?”
She spat in Ripley’s face and her interrogator just laughed, “Pathetic! I haven’t even started yet. I’ll ask you again. Have you seen Gamal Kirmani, when did you see him and where is he now?”
She was interrupted by banging on the door and Ellis shouted, “Put them down. The Boss wants to see us right away.”
“Don’t fret, girls. I’ll be back for more fun and frolics.”
It was getting lighter to the east as dawn was approaching. Ellis looked exhausted as he handed Ripley her carbine. Tracks of his sweat had smeared the camouflage on his face and she guessed she looked as haggard.
“Do you know what this is about, James?”
“No, only that they’ve found something in the factory and he wants you to see it.”
It was a short walk through the destroyed buildings. Mr Hogan was outside getting some air. He looked as fresh as a daisy.
“Go through the main open area to a doorway by the stairs. They’re down in the basement.”
Ellis turned on his torch and they went through the open steel door and down the steps. Halfway down a corridor that stretched away into the darkness, Corporal Cohen was waiting for them.
“Boss wants you to see this first, Ripley.”
She borrowed Ellis’s torch and looked into the room and the heaped pile of bodies. She stood motionless for several moments taking in the wickedness then turned away. Ellis thought he saw the glisten of tears on her cheek.
“Why do ISIL hate them so much, Ripley? What have they done in their history to deserve this?”
Ripley sighed as though this was all getting too much for her to bear, “They exist, Manny. That’s their greatest sin, to pre-date Islam and simply to exist. Despite being your resident Muzz, I don’t know a great deal about the Yazidis. They are classed as ethnically Kurdish, but they and many Kurds dispute this. They can trace their roots back to the ancient Mesopotamian religions of around 3,000 BC. They are the true first nationals of this area and lived here long before Islam spread north from the Arabian Peninsula.
“Yazidis have a caste system and they believe strongly in maintaining their racial purity. Any of them who marry a non-Yazidi are no longer of their kin. Both Sunni and Shia, no not the singing and alleged domestic violence partnership of the 1960s, consider them to be devil worshipers because of their belief in the seven divine custodians of the world and the chief deity, the Peacock Angel. They believe in reincarnation and that they are descended from Adam, but not from Eve. So you can see how a “tolerant” Islam regards them as an abomination, fit for only slavery and genocide. Tomorrow we’ll do the Sikhs and the seven articles of their faith.”
Cohen shook his head, “I thought you didn’t know much about them. What fucked-up religions this place has.”
“Oh really, Mr Cohen? It was only a few hundred years ago that the two branches of Christianity were burning and torturing each other in the name of their God, supposedly the same God, and it’s still going on today if you can recall the Provos. And those wonderfully tolerant Orange Marches in Northern Ireland and Scotland. And don’t get me bloody-well started on your mob and its contribution to world peace.”
“I meant no offence, Ripley.”
“And none was taken, Manny,” she said softly and touched his face, a strange act in such a place of horror, “There’s surprisingly little that separates humanity from depravity. It’s a tightrope act that I have to walk far too often for my liking.”
She turned away and Cohen looked at Ellis who shrugged and raised his eyes as much as to say, no I don’t bloody understand her either.
Halward was waiting at the far end of the passageway, “You saw them?” He noticed that she was limping slightly.
“Yes, Major Halward. I saw them. We’ll have to let the Yazidis know and they can remove the bodies according to their customs.”
He looked at the front of her body armour, tattered and bloodstained, “What the hell happened to you?”
She told them about the men hidden in amongst the women and the grenade.
“What are you doing about the male fighter?” asked Halward.
“When we’ve finished here, I’m going to treat him very roughly.”
“So is that what you wanted me to see? The slaughtered women and girls?”
“Yes, but there’s something else. This way and you tag along as well, James.”
He stopped at a doorway off the side passage, “In there.”
He gave Ripley his flashlight and the three went in. The room was painted black and the black flag of ISIL dominated a far wall. A single chair with a tubular metal frame but no seat sat in the middle of the room, facing the black flag. The chair was in dark patches of what could have been body fluids, spattered on the concrete floor.
“This was their torture chamber,” Halward said somewhat stating the obvious.
Underneath the flag was a podium raised above the floor, like a throne. Sitting on top of the podium was a Martin Baker Mk10A ejection seat.
© Blown Periphery 2019