I have put off writing about this experience for nearly ten years. I declined an interview with a Madison WI Cap Times writer at the time, rejected an author's solicitations, and have stopped talking about my experience altogether for the past 9 years. I put it down to the Big Fish syndrome...you know, the Tim Burton movie where the stories are so far fetched they can't be believed? Yet, I feel the need to put these events into the record, so here goes...
September 11, 2001, at my mortgage brokerage named Moneytalks, 112 Drake St, Rochdale, Lancs England. My partner, Massud S., or Mac as he was known, flipped the portable tv on around noon as was his custom. Or should I say, the custom of the past 6 weeks, as the previous 10 months he had not even had a tv in our office. Yet, there it was, always turned on, silently showing some afternoon rubbish, Countdown or some other quiz show or news. So, at about 2pm on that fateful day, my wife called and told me to look at the telly. A small plane had flown into the Twin Towers, and smoke was coming out and such. Mac showed up in minutes, excitedly looking at the tube saying how he couldn't believe it, and I agreed. It was amazing, but still appearing to be a terrible accident. Until of course, the unmistakable second plane, and the sickening realization that this was no accident. Mac, a second generation British-Pakistani, had a hard time containing his glee, as he imagined what the hijackers must have been screaming as they plowed the planes into the side of the skyscrapers, "Lie la la hala allah akbar!Alu Akbar, Alu Akbar" is what Mac insisted these hijackers screamed. I was saddened, pissed that Mac was secretly happy, but I understand the seething hatred that many muslims have toward the west. I left the office for the day. Within 5 months my family and myself narrowly avoided being murdered by Mac and company as we fled back to my home state of Wisconsin. Oh yea, this is a Big Fish story that Burton would have had to animate, it is so unbelievable. I'll try to tell it like it was.
September 15, 2000. Almost exactly one year earlier. Mac and I shake hands and sign off on a partnership to arrange mortgages, and also sign the lease on the office on Drake St. Mac is a stocky, mid 40's man, who dresses smartly yet his clothes are dishelved and wears a permanent scruffy beard. One of the first orders of business is to hire a secretary, and we select a young single 20 something muslim women named Sadaf, and she is western and very progressive while being a follower of her faith. And sassy. I like her instantly. And yes, we were very close.
Mid April, 2001. Business is slow, and Mac has a too good to be true propostion. Saudi friends of his, through his contacts in Islamabad, want to invest large amounts of money into commercial property. They need a broker in the UK to handle their interests, and will pay a salary and expenses as well as a top of the line office. Wow, Mac knew that I always wanted to get into that line of business, we spoke at length about in back in the fall of 2000. Thanks, Mac, what a great partner for making my dreams come true!!! I had to meet the 'man', name of Ziad, to audition for the part, but Mac assured me that he would vouch for me and that is the muslim way, and I've got the gig!! 45K pounds a year to do nothing, plus expense and a beautiful office in Leeds, and I could keep the mortgage business. Wow. Oh, one more thing, Mac explained. he and I would have to fly to Geneva, Switzerland to finalize bank accounts but this was explained as a formality and we just should look at this as an excuse to check out the red light districts and goof around all day. Mac would pick me up in a few days and drive to Liverpool Airport and we would fly out together. Sweet.
As Mac was driving towards Liverpool, he dropped the "Gee I guess I can't go to Geneva, you'll have to go alone" bomb on me. I smelled a rat, but Mac assured me nothing was up and I was to read everything through and not to sign anything I felt uncomfortable with. Okay, I say, I probably won't be signing anything then. Mac agreed and told me to enjoy the overnight on Ziad. The next morning in Geneva I arrived at the Faisal Bank early, and was escorted to a private room. Three Arab gentlemen came in smiling, and after exchanging pleasantries, the slid over some business papers to sign. These papers were to be signed by me, and I would have sole control over the bank account that was going to be set up. The initial deposit was to be 250,000 pounds, and authorization on any transfers would have to be verbal per Ziad. No mention of Mac. When I looked at the papers, the primary business was mobile phones. I pointed this out, and said there must be some mistake, I would like to speak to someone. The bankers suddenly became agitated, and a landline phone appeared in less than a minute, and it was thrust in my face. Ziad is on the line, and you should talk to him about this misunderstanding. When I explained it to Ziad, he just said, "Sign it, we'll take care of you when you get back, you'll be rewarded nicely". He then put Mac on, and I confided to Mac that I would not sign it under any circumstances. Mac then whispered to me, "Sign the fucking thing, they know where you live, I'll sort you out, you really don't have a choice". I hung up, and told the Faisal folks to shove it. They refused to let me leave the room, but they all left and a dutch man of about 50 entered. He looked at me, and told me if I wanted to get back to my family, I should apologize, sign the paper, and get on my flight and get back to England. And to do it now. So I did. When Mac picked me up in Liverpool, I was terrified and pissed off. Mac stopped the car on the freaking M62. He told me that I would be paid 20K a week, but only if I would be okay with 'fucking' the Inland Revenue out of VAT taxes (It's complicated, involves the shell company I set up). I remembered the threats, and gave him a thumbs up, I'm in, don't worry about me performance of my lifetime. He then started detailing all the other crooked bank check cashing scams and credit card smashing scams that he orchestrated. I laughed and tried to make him believe I was his partner in crime as well. The next day I called Inland Revenue in Manchester, or Salford to be correct. I became an undercover informant. When they called me on my cellphone, they asked for Brett Favre, as that was the name I picked out, being a cheesehead, and then I would know who it was.
After a few months of telling the Inland Revenue everything I heard, one of the agents blurted out to me that I was the number one informant they had, my info was gold and to keep bringing it. It was July of 2001, and on that particular call, I carelessly was talking out loud with my door open. After the call, Sadaf came into the office and admitted she had listened to it and knows that I am an informant. Don't worry, she said, I think you are totally doing the right thing. Oh shit, I thought. Fuck, careless me. That weekend, I was to have my monthly meeting with Ziad. I loathed these meetings, as he was rabidly anti-semetic and also hated non-muslim women-they were all whores and sluts. I had to take. That weekend's meeting, with pressure from being an informant, Sadaf, Sadaf knowing I'm a snitch, was too much for my big mouth. When Ziad launched into another Kill the fucking jews rant, I remarked how many similarities jews and muslims had from Abraham to Jerusalem to kosher/halal foods. . Ziad, visably upset, looks at me. He says, "America will have a huge financial catastrophe soon". Hell, I said, the market was tanking big time now, so there's no news there pal!. Now he was angrier, "No, this fall, (using his palm flattened-motioning it down in a dive like manner), it will be a massive loss". Then he smiled, others smiled at him, and he laughed and laughed. Nothing registered with me. I told the Inland Revenue at the time about that, they never followed up, why would they? That was my last meal with Ziad. Late July 2001.
Mac and I were recieving our bogus salaries, the rent was paid for in Leeds, but the only thing that wasn't paid for was our expenses. Ziad told us that the folks in Islamabad kept questioning every expense and denied most of them. That was strange I thought, but maybe cultural.
Inland Revenue had cleverly worked our business application on the slow path, so the phone scam just kept getting delayed and delayed. They were very clever, but Ziad and Mac and the boys were getting impatient. Every check scam and card scam was being shut down too, and they were getting low on cash. One of Mac's boys I became friends with, Zahir, and he told me of a meeting north of the city of Leeds in the country that had just happened the previous weekend-early August 2001. He says I wouldn't believe it, but these guys were mixing Lucozade (a popular soda pop) with 2 other chemicals to form a powerful explosive. They had demonstrated it in a field, and he reported a huge bang, and a subsequent crater. I laughed at him, as he was a check scammer involved in bank jobs. 'What are you gonna do, blow your way into a bank now?'. He laughed, and said these crazy fucks wanted to take down a passenger jet airplane. I laughed too, but he said they were going to send 3 guys on the same plane, go to the bathroom, mix two, and give the third man the last concoction and he would blow it up midair. We both looked at each other and said there aint no money in that. We agreed. When I was talking to Inland Revenue giving my snitch info, I hestitated in telling him about the Lucozade bomb. Then I did, but qualified it by saying it sounded crazy. I'll never forget the eerie silence I got for literally a couple of minutes, I had to repeat it because he 'didn't hear it correctly' and he asked about names. I had none so he hung up.
The evening of 9/11 came, and Ashad, my only good friend in the circle of crooks, stopped by my house. He kept looking around, and told me he shouldn't be here, and he is going to tell me something that I will have to figure out myself. Ziad had bought a TV 3 days earlier, and had never before owned one in his life. That's all Ashad said, he hugged me, told me to get the fuck out of the country, and he wished me peace and long life. I teared up, I loved that guy, even though he banged banks, he was my friend. Ashad left, I sat down on my front porch, shaking as I had finally figured out I was in an Al Qaeda cell in England. I was still in the shit too. In the coming week, Ziad ordered me to transfer all the money from the Faisal account to another, I refused and he verbally shouted down the phone that he would kill me and my family. I called Inland Revenue in a panic, but they said it was international and there was nothing they could do. My favorite agent called me back, and told me quietly to just sign the sheet. Before I could decide, I spoke to an extremely angry head honcho of Faisal Bank in Geneva, who vacillated between threatening me to sobbing saying him and his family would also be killed. I signed and faxed him the transfer letter. I signed over my share of the business to Mac. That was almost the end of it. Inland Revenue gave me a final call to end my snitch life, but there was a sting waiting for me. Sadaf.
In January of 2002, Sadaf called me in a panic and told me not to hate her but she had given my secret up to Mac, who had grilled her about me. What did they want, I asked? Not surprisingly, they wanted 100K pounds and they would call it even. I had 20K, but I knew that there would never be peace, they wanted the money first THEN they would kill me. I started spooning out money, i gave them 2K as a good faith payment, but they were 'insulted' so they sent 4 goons over to my house. Just as my wife and 2 small kids (3yrs old and 4 yrs old) were were standing by my side in front of the house, the goons hammered out all the windows on our 4 cars and shot out our house windows with the handgun they brought. They shot my windows after they took the barrel of the gun off my forehead. Sadaf sent over 3 of her English (yes white) friends to give me round the clock protection, and I did need it. It seemed like every taxi driver reported my every move, I got threatened in a bloody Tesco's for fuck's sake. Even though the Rochdale police gave us real time video surveilance,a helicopter flew over twice a week, a panic button and our lines were tapped, we left the country in 2 weeks.
Footnote. When I picked up a Newsweek in the states in 2002 describing what the CIA found in the Afghan caves al qaeda laptops, they mentioned a weird exchange between cells raising money for them and the petty arguments over paying expenses for the groups. That was my chilling confirmation. And yea, Big Fish is one of my favorite movies. Go figure.