David knew one of Iran's largest nuclear facilities—the uranium enrichment plant at Fordow—was just a few miles away over the ridge, and sure enough, a split second later, he heard the deafening roar of explosions, one after another in rapid succession. He turned and saw enormous balls of fire and plumes of smoke rising into the sky and the four Israeli jets disappearing into the clouds.
But then another strike package came swooping down behind them. Four more Israeli fighters—emblazoned with the blue Star of David on their wings—descended like lightning. He assumed their mission, too, was to attack the facility down the road. But David watched in horror as one of the jets first fired an air-to-ground missile at the heart of the mosque behind him. They were sending a message to the Twelfth Imam and to all his followers. But they were about to destroy David's plan.
His instinct was to get up and run for cover, but it was too late, and he had to do everything possible to protect Javad Nouri. That was his mission. Under no circumstances could he allow Nouri to die. He absolutely had to deliver the aide back to the Mahdi wounded but alive and indebted to David. It was, he believed, the only chance to gain the Mahdi's trust and the only shred of a chance he had to be invited into the inner circle. Then again, did any of that matter now? The war he had been sent to prevent was under way. The carnage on both sides was going to be incalculable. The entire region was about to go up in flames. What was left for him to do?
Suddenly the ground convulsed as a series of explosions ripped through the complex. The minarets began to totter. People were screaming again, running in all directions as the first tower came crashing down and the second followed. David covered his head and made sure Nouri was covered too. Then, as the smoke began to clear, he turned and surveyed the carnage. Bodies were sprawled everywhere. Some were dead. Others were severely wounded. David turned Nouri over. He was covered in blood. His eyes were dilated, but he was breathing. He was still alive.
Guns drawn, three injured bodyguards soon rushed to David's side. With his help, they carefully picked up Nouri and carried him to the white SUV, severely damaged by the car bombing nearby but still intact and still running. Together, they laid Nouri down on the backseat. One security man climbed in the back with him. Another climbed into one of the middle seats. The third shut and locked the side door, then got in the front passenger seat.
"Wait, wait; you forgot these," David yelled just before the guard closed the door. He grabbed the box of satellite phones and gave them to the guard. "The Mahdi wanted these. They don't all work. But some of them do."
Then he pulled out a pen and quickly wrote his mobile number on the box. "Have the Mahdi's people call me and tell me how Javad is. And tell me if there's anything I can do for the Mahdi himself."
The guard thanked David and shook his hand vigorously. Then he shut the door, and what was left of the motorcade raced off.
David stood there alone as the ground shook again. More Israeli jets were swooping down from the heavens. They were firing more missiles and dropping more bombs on targets just over the mountains. For a moment, David couldn't move. He stared at the billows of smoke rising from the air strikes over the horizon and tried to calculate his next move.
He looked to the street, searching for the taxi he'd asked to wait. It was nowhere to be seen, but he could hardly blame the driver. People were panicked from the gunfire, the car bombing, and the air strikes. They were fleeing as rapidly as they could in every direction. David knew he had to get away as well. He couldn't afford to be caught by the police and dragged in for questioning. He had a mission. He had a plan. He had a team that was counting on him. He knew he had to stay focused, yet he grieved for those wounded around him. So he turned and rushed to the side of one severely wounded guard who was slipping into unconsciousness. Hearing sirens approaching from every direction, David took off his jacket and used it to put pressure on the man's bleeding leg. As he did, he silently prayed over the man, asking the Lord to comfort and heal him.
Ambulances began arriving on the scene. Paramedics were soon rushing to the wounded to triage them and get the most critical cases to the nearest hospitals. Amid the chaos and confusion, David saw his opportunity. He took a pistol off the wounded bodyguard and slipped it into his pocket. Then he moved to another of the downed guards. The man seemed to be staring up at the sky. His mouth was open. But when David checked for a pulse, he found none. David closed the man's eyes, then quickly lifted a spare magazine and took the guard's two-way radio.
Firefighters were now arriving to battle multiple blazes. More police officers were pulling up as well. They began to secure the crime scene and interview what few witnesses had not fled the scene quickly enough. David tried to use the commotion as cover. He was determined not to be questioned, much less exposed. But then he heard someone shouting behind him. David turned and saw an elderly cleric, blood splattered all over his robes, pointing at him.
"Talk to that man!" the cleric said to a police officer. "He was here when all the shooting started. And I think he just took something off that dead body."
The policeman looked directly at David and ordered him to stop. David didn't dare. With a surge of adrenaline, he pivoted hard and began sprinting into the blazing wreckage of the mosque. The officer shouted again for him to halt and began running after him, blowing a whistle and calling other officers to join the pursuit.
Excerpted from DAMASCUS COUNTDOWN by JOEL C. ROSENBERG Copyright © 2013 by Joel C. Rosenberg. Excerpted by permission of TYNDALE HOUSE PUBLISHERS, INC.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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