BATTLE AT DAWN
By 4:40 hrs in the morning a gun battle started between QRF and the mercenaries on Miskiimagu Pass concentrated on southwest end, closer to the school in Madand.
Before it began, Captain Harris organised the tourism police and Company Romeo armed with M25 rifles supplied by the Blue Sharks and AK47 guns maintained in Fua Mulak military stock for airfield security. They climbed those trees on Miskiimagu Pass covered with leaves and low-hanging branches; a row of Burmese rosewood trees stood in the middle of the road from end to end of the island.
The tourism police with its command centre in Addu Atoll was well-equipped in terms of riot gear due to internal troubles that sprung in the past decade and the force appeared in clean blue shirts, black helmets, armed with Tommy guns, though not too efficient with weapons. They did not have bullet-proof vests but took frontline in battle mostly engaged in driving vehicles and positioned behind the fences abreast Miskiimagu Pass with overhanging creepers and allspice trees.
Ironically, Company Romeo with a lack of gear turned up in red berets, black T-shirts and camouflage pants and by no means a Maldivian military uniform. They didn’t have bullet-proof vests either. Some twenty of them were up in the trees and appeared like some kind of wildfowl in the dawn. Rather like moorhens but for the native islanders they reminded of rooster combs and afterwards Company Romeo became known as the Cocks.
As the Cocks exchanged fire with the enemy in the northern quarter, the Imam of the grand mosque climbed to call for prayer. He came across ten or more military personnel in camouflage uniforms, red berets and bullet-proof vests engaged in battle from the inside of the mosque. These soldiers wore military uniform of the Maldives National Defence Force. A force of three hundred troopers of the MNDF under QRF8 command had climbed the island of Fua Mulak.
At 4:42 hours, call for prayer relayed from the spectacular mosque of Masjid-al-Marjan. Bullets sprayed the glowing walls of pink and black coral, killing at least one military trooper inside the mosque. As loud as it could be heard, the battle went on with serious loss on both sides. Three Cocks lay dead on the middle of the shady cool road called Miskiimagu Pass shot down from the trees like hunter’s prey. Breezes picked up and the orange beacons hidden in the foliages flickered behind teasing leaves. As the amplified prayer ended, a stream of blood pooled on the ceramic floor in front of the few believers who came to prostrate that dawn. Private Lut lay dead. Believers performed prayer immediately even before a burial dressing in shroud wrapped his body.
Five minutes to five, one of the Hercules C-130J standard transport aircrafts of the IAF winged towards the island flying low just five metres above sea level and 200 metres from the coast facing Funad hotels where Lieutenant Qusay had the situation under control. Drop zone of the Indian paratroopers was the savage waters outside the house reef on the southern perimeter of the island. Vijay Kumar of the NDTV kept his camera rolling as the island neared so much that it made possible to count pebbles on the shore to the naked eye. He could have jumped right there on to the beach.
In the light of dawn, though the trees had not shown green, he caught sight of a bluish haze overlying the whole island and filling the narrow lanes. Moisture gathered in these tropical islands by the early dawns could only be visible from outer waters. Four powerful engines turned to a hissing note carrying the heavy load of the aircraft hovering over the drop zone. Vijay kept his camera rolling and he was shockingly excited to see in its focal view, when the plane came to align with the broad road called Miskiimagu Pass, he was witnessing the boulevard hidden in overhanging trees as if he was standing on one end of the island. He saw a couple of sparks and a gunman cross the path but instantly the scene passed by. He gasped, incredible, the flight was so low.
Suddenly, noises grew loud to his ears as the ramp dropped from the rear. He saw the waves climbing into the aircraft. It was an unsafe manoeuvre but even the Maldivian military often rehearsed this procedure of jumping from a flying aircraft to the sea, in training.
Ninety paratroopers of the Marine Commando Force, wearing chemical suits, respirator masks, solvent gloves, lifejackets and body armour jumped into the sea one by one carrying weapons and equipment to combat terrorism. Vijay Kumar certainly admitted he would not jump even if the aeroplane hit the beach. Indeed, it was almost beaching. To the northeast, Funad hotels loomed taller than the flying aircraft. He observed carefully for Madam Serra knowing she never tried a jump before. She wore gasmask hood and maximum protection from chemical gases and resistant to exposure to electricity but carried no weapon. Madam Serra jumped out of the aircraft without the slightest hesitation. She had jumped several times from springboards in the swimming pools. Four armed troopers wearing MNDF uniform followed after her as bodyguards though not in chemical suits.
Captain Nabil arranged the dinghy fleet to pick them up. Some could manage a Fua Mulak sweep to the shore in the mighty current and dangerous waves but it could also be difficult for someone unfamiliar to fight these waters. MCF troops carried dangerous substances of high-voltage electrical discharge shells and devices, marine explosives, chemicals, nerve gases, concentrated liquids, pyrotechnic composites and all that required precaution and maintain certain temperature and avoid contact with water.
In the meantime, Major Altaf with two hundred troopers climbed Digwand beach and positioned outside Hotel Korakeli in Dandimagu. It was the major task for the Indian troopers to attend according to their plan outlined back at QRF8 nerve centre in Addu Atoll. This force from QRF3 wore helmets, bullet proof vests and well-equipped for battle.
Jaws of Sprout and the two civilians identified as Mr Girali and Sheikh Radeef left Efrémen Secondary School ten minutes before the EMB170 aircraft landed. He picked three tourists held at the school and carried them in the Dozor-B APC to the airfield.
Superintendent Azmyl and Atoll Chief Hanim followed them in their squad car but diverted to take a different route racing up Digwand Pass and turned to a dirt road leading to the airstrip. Driver kept the lights out all the way. They climbed down and moved into the undergrowth to watch the APC arrive at the airstrip. In a while, the airfield lights lit up and the aircraft landed. Shortly afterwards they heard the Oplot firing and six minutes later, the BTR-4 sped pass them down the dirt road towards Digwand Pass. In less than a minute or so, missiles zipped to the soil like lightning and the blasts shook them.
Something had gone wrong. Then they watched the mercenaries hurriedly refuelling the aircraft. After fifteen minutes, Superintendent Azmyl answered a call from Inspector Jabir who reported a successful takeover of the dockyard and the gun. That moment it shook the ground again. A ball of fire lit the sky a kilometre away beyond the havitha and it was the missile that hit the landing craft. Seven minutes later, Captain Harris called to inform that the missing schoolgirl was located lying on the beach, 200 metres from the explosion.
Azmyl called Sergeant Ilham and arranged to pick her up.
At 4:40 hours, a truck arrived from Efrémen Secondary School with two dozen tourists. They were lined up on the tarmac with hands on their heads and in proximity to the aircraft. In the minutes that followed, twelve foreign hostages were taken up to the Embraer. Others remained lined up by the aircraft. Six civilians in the flight were brought down and lined up similarly to the rest. Three of the local crews made no appearance.
Atoll Chief Hanim identified those locals lined up and kneeling down on the tarmac with hands raised on the heads; Attorney General, Atoll Minister, Tourism Minister, Election Commissioner, Mr Streetboy and Mr Mehdi.
Few minutes later, Jaws of Sprout walked out of the terminal followed by the other two natives, Major Kembo and First Lieutenant O’Nambo. Jaws called Mehdi to step forward and he did. Jaws raised his right arm with an ugly little toy, a Beretta M84, and touched the barrel to Mehdi’s forehead. Flashes flickered from the bushes around. Reporters and locals hidden behind the surrounding making night-vision photography made it clear they were watching. Jaws paused only to establish the fact as a voting candidate would do so in front of a ballot box. In this whole operation Jaws of Sprout killed only one person. He shot him dead. It made a loud blast but a single shot and Mehdi fell on the tarmac. His brain gashed and blood swept on the tar.
Atoll Minister stepped forward uttering words angrily. First Lieutenant O’Nambo put his Kalashnikov on his chest and pressed him aside. Two mercenaries pulled him back on line on his knees. Jaws of Sprout put a foot on the flight of steps and leaned forward to tell the Atoll Minister, “It’s all over.” Then they climbed the steps and the staircase was rolled away. The aeroplane started its engines.
As drama unfurled at the airfield, those scenes were captured by the journalists and photographers on the ground, unknown to all and ubiquitously the CCTV cameras at the airstrip kept rolling and a US espionage flight flying beyond the naked eye captured the images. At the same time, US bases all over the world observed as it happened. Adam Ushrif certainly knew the Embraer now known as Flight DU190 took 12 hostages of foreign origin onboard followed by Jaws of Sprout, Mr Girali, Sheikh Radeef, First Lieutenant O’Nambo, Major Kembo and nine other mercenaries plus the local crew of three pilots who didn’t show up.
Inside the aircraft, First Lieutenant O’Nambo took the pilot seat joined by Sergeant Omera as his co-pilot. As the horizons lit in the break of dawn, beyond twilight to merge an allusive hue of daylight, fifty-six minutes before sunrise, the flight took off at precisely 5:00 hours in the morning.
A couple of police officers rushed out of the bushes and reached the girl lying on the beach. Sergeant Ilham dropped on a knee and checked her pulse, “She’s alright, I think. Quick, take her to the ambulance.”
Jumanah opened her eyes and saw the morning sky hint in deepening blue. A brighter star was moving fast towards her. She noticed a red signal blinking from its longitudinal bottom. “An aeroplane!” cried Jumanah clutching to the arms of a policeman trying to lift her. It came too fast and caught them by surprise because of its low altitude and incredible noise. A Douglas DC-9 with rear-mounted twin jets and an elevated tailplanes spread eighty-nine feet wingspan over their heads like a black bird. Its rivets rusted on the fuselage fabrication and on the rims of the windscreens. She got no landing lights. It was the noisiest aeroplane in aviation history. They watched the flying ceiling pass by with their necks stretched to the upper limit and flinched quickly when the shockwave hit their faces. Simultaneously, another bird was flying over the aircraft away from the island. It nearly missed the DC-9 by thirty metres in the vertical height. The little bird painted white with blue bottom was the Embraer of Divehi Uduhun flying away with the terrorists and the tourists.
Jumanah and the officers felt those pounding wheels of the DC-9 as they watched the EMB170 aircraft disappear in the sky. A blinking light on its tail created an outstanding star and the only one visible in the early morning sky. It grew suddenly frisky of some daylight around. She felt her body shiver in the breeze stroking cilium on her arms alleviated of living cells in the skin – her senses returned. She folded her hands around the nipples consciously. The brackish leaves coated of wax and aromatic herbs of sandy beaches strengthened its scent by the coolness of dawn. She thought she saw the leaves brushing with the wind over low-lying shrubs as two of the policemen carried her to an ambulance. She listened to the noises of their shoes crushing mangrove roots on the shingle beach and the engines of the big black bird roared to a halt. Then a sudden bang of an explosion knocked her out as her head touched a pillow.
The DC-9 aircraft was called to run for rescue three hours ago. Major Kembo had sent an email from Southern Cross to a contact in Somalia before he finally departed the hospital. It wasn’t called off therefore the aircraft had flown three hours to pick the mercenaries in Fua Mulak. It landed just seconds after the Embraer took off and nearly missed a collision since there was no air traffic communication from the tower. As the DC-9 aircraft turned at the end of the airstrip, a grenade rocket launched by the QRF hit its rear engine and blew off its tail. The DC-9 ditched out of the airstrip when a second rocket hit the aircraft and lit instantly. Then a battle of rapid fire took place endangering the hostages caught in the middle of crossfire. Some ran for cover while some got hit. The Atoll Minister attempted again heroic, or his elderly mind challenged to direct others to safety, ended up with serious wounds. He died at the Regional Hospital hours later. Others just ran in fear. Tourism Minister was wounded. Two tourists among the wounded died from this incident rather hit by friendly fire. Many mercenaries lay dead.
The ambulance carrying Jumanah wasn’t taking any chance to drive on paved roads to pass by the knoll or Hotel Korakeli. It took a shortcut and drove through mud in the undergrowth over a narrow and dangerous dirt road along the west bank of the North Kuli to climb Digwand Pass. As they climbed the paved road, Sergeant Ilham observed several islanders rushing with mallets towards Dandimagu. It occurred quickly to Atoll Chief Hanim that foreign hostages would become meaningless once the climb was reported. Instead, the enemy would seek refuge at local residences in the hamlets. He feared this scenario from the beginning. Hanim called on radio from the police car behind the airstrip and asked the ward offices to bring out male islanders with whatever tools they can get hold of in order to protect the women folk and children in the hamlets.
Some mercenaries fighting on the southeast of the island attempted to escape. Lance Corporal Izmoni managed to cross Funad Pass and slipped into the mangrove of Bandara Kuli. Sergeant Essan died by the Oplot.
While the QRF battled on Miskiimagu Pass, the police in police cars and private vehicles crossed the broad road into Madand and returned with an attack from the northern side of the school. The vehicles rolled into bullets. Some rolled over the playing field, firing what seemed to be furthermore effective in this battle to knockout the mercenaries in the school holding the remaining hostages. The police squad fired teargas, stun grenades, smoke bombs, pepper spray and riot control agents into the schoolyard and the tourists inside the school hall. These implements had proven successful in throwing out riots and mobs with faces uncovered from any protection of gasmasks and goggles. It caught the tourists too but gave the right amount of time for the military to charge in. Some of the vehicles moved in too close and some just rushed into the schoolyard blindly. The enemy fired their automatics making holes in metal and smashing windscreens. Four cops died and some wounded by enemy fire.
Captain Gysha in charge of this segment, most qualified in guerrilla warfare, was hardly expecting an attack from riot police. He rushed up to the fourth floor where he knew smoke would reach less and give air to breath.
Warrant Officer III Ibroman Monez ran between two rows of classroom edifices behind the main school complex and the dog followed him. He shot his dog and threw his gun still running across the schoolyard wiping his eyes. He jumped over the boundary escaping bullets. He passed the blown up radar station and arrived at an empty big space where he found not a sign of a living thing. Monez hid behind the shelters in this area that happened to be the Dhiraagu block. In the early light, it was the best place to hide.
On a winning streak, as reports poured in from Captain Nabil, Major Mustag, Captain Harris and Superintendent Azmyl, in the QRF8 nerve centre at Herékendé, Hithadu, Colonel Omar shook his fat arse chewing a burnt cigar before his lieutenants, especially Lieutenant Colonel Ishaq of QRF3, in admiration of QRF8 triumph when Commissioner X called to say that an unknown missile had blown the Embraer aeroplane out of the sky roughly 200 nautical miles off the Maldivian territorial waters.
“Believe me, Colonel,” Commissioner uttered, “I have confirmation from incoming messages to the High Commission of India and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs that it isn’t one of them. It is not