Re-Education Camp #32, Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region
Commandant Chen Jiang stared at his computer screen, fuming with rage.
“Does someone care to explain this to me?” he spat, looking up at his staff. They stood at attention, eyes forward, unmoving.
Lieutenant Zhao took a deep breath and spoke. “It’s an imam, sir. He’s calling for jihad against the Chinese Communist Party. He claims the Party is forcing Muslim Uyghurs into apostasy.”
“I get that, lieutenant. I can read,” Chen muttered, running a hand over his face. He looked at the screen again, saw the Twitter feed of Imam Abbar al-Abadi, speaking for a new jihadist movement, the Sons of the Liberating Sword. “What I don’t understand is how he has footage from inside our camp.”
On the Twitter feed, a video was playing on loop. It showed Uyghur prisoners getting strapped to iron chairs, chained at the wrists and hung in the air. The execution of three prisoners gave the film a vague punctuation, an ellipsis of rifle shot, pop-pop-pop…
“We have cameras throughout the camp, and everything is networked,” Zhao offered. “Perhaps we were hacked? They are getting more sophisticated in their methods…”.
“This is unacceptable,” Chen said, staring at the screen.
Zhao looked from the screen to his commandant. “This is what the Party ordered, sir. To eradicate the ideological viruses and safeguard our country.”
Chen threw up his hands. “Not that. Of course they must be cured of their religious diseases.” He ran a hand through his hair. “I was there after the Ürümqi attacks. These… things… will slaughter women, kill children.” His hand drifted up to his breast pocket, where he kept a photo of his own wife and son. “I know what these monsters are capable of when they drink their poisonous doctrine. But we cannot allow this to be seen. It plays right into the hands of our enemies.”
“Sir, he’s just some zealot with a Twitter account. He has no real power.”
Chen’s eyes flashed. He turned the monitor around, making it visible to all. He pointed at the screen, and the looping execution. “He has the power to say that blood cries for blood! The next soldier seen on a video like this will be the next man I shoot. We cannot give this Abbar al-Abadi a reason to declare war on our country.”
An Undisclosed Location
“So how’s our boy doing?” the Director asked.
The Engineer raised a screen showing an analytics breakdown. “Blowing up across social media. He’s staying strong on Twitter, Facebook and the other usual suspects. Some consistency on Weibo and Weixin as well; the Chinese keep shutting him down, but they’re playing whack-a-mole. He gets new accounts up almost as fast as they get taken offline.”
“And our rate of engagement?”
“The execution videos are hard to look away from. They’re getting shared and viewed globally, but mostly in the West and the Middle East.”
The Director leaned over the Engineer’s shoulder, looking at data. “We need to up our exposure in Africa. Lots of reasons for Africans to be miffed with the Chinese.”
“We can run the vector on the jobs issue?”
“Yeah. It’s time. Pull the trigger.”
Jidda Oni stood in the sweltering heat on the busy city street, leaning against his beaten cart. He’d failed to sell any fruit to the laborers in the past few days, and it was starting to spoil. Sweat poured down his t-shirt and ragged jeans. He wiped at his brow, and sat down, defeated.
Across the street, Chinese workers swarmed in and out of the new manufacturing plant. Those who passed his cart didn’t give his wares a second glance. He glowered.
Tayo Eze, finely dressed in a white atiku, came out of the alley and sat down next to Jidda. “I told you it was a deal with the devil.”
“My fruit cart?” Jidda said. He reached into the cart, fishing out an icheku, cracked open the brown shell, and sucked out the orange pulp.
“No,” Tayo said, smiling. He helped himself to an icheku and sat next to his friend. “Our new guests,” he said, nodding at the Chinese. “Our families were supposed to have jobs, weren’t they? When the Chinese brought their factories?”
Jidda spat an icheku seed on the ground. “No one said that Chinese workers would come with the jobs they were bringing to Lagos.”
Tayo nodded. “And now even the few jobs your brothers had are up in smoke. Our families grow poorer than ever.”
Jidda glared at Tayo’s atiku. “Looks like you’re doing alright.”
“God smiles on me, my friend. And he’ll smile on you, too. Take a look at this.”
Tayo handed Jidda his phone. On it, a Youtube video displayed Imam Abbar al-Abbadi, crying out against the infidel stealing the wealth of the Ummah, and calling for retribution. The video cut to closeups of documents allegedly taken from the Chinese Communist Party’s Financial and Economics Affairs Commission. The report detailed plans to use debt-trap diplomacy against Nigeria.
“You see, Jidda,” Tayo said, leaning over his shoulder. “They are taking all the money right out of the hands of our community. It is a crime against God and his people.”
“I’m not a Salafist,” Jidda said. But he didn’t take his eyes off the video. He kept watching Abbar al-Abbadi, entranced by the passion of his speech.
“Neither am I,” Tayo said. “But we are both Muslim, and Nigerian, and we must look out for our own interests first. And God will help us if we enact his law.”
Al-Abbadi kept preaching, and Jidda kept listening.
An Undisclosed Location
“And now?” the Director asked.
“Huge influence,” The Engineer said, smiling. “We’ve really saturated the angle about job theft from the Ummah. Other imams across the globe are running with it too.”
“Never thought ‘They took our jobs!’ would be something we could weaponize.”
“I think we’re demonstrating we can weaponize just about anything if we play it right. The debt-trap documents were a nice touch.”
“So where aren’t we hitting yet?”
The Engineer glanced from screen to screen, comparing analytics to the execution plan. “Infiltration of academia. We’ve got a vector for that. Should I launch it?”
The Director nodded. “Let’s play it and see where it goes.”
Comenius University, Bratislava, Slovakia
Gregor Kovak sat on the floor of the apartment, flipping through the Koran in his hands, as Abbar al-Abbadi preached at him from his laptop, the volume on full blast. He scratched at his scraggly new beard.
Henrik, his roommate, stumbled in the front door, burdened by a backpack and an armful of groceries. He set his bags on the table and covered his ears, wincing.
“You know, I liked you better when you were a nationalist,” Henrik shouted. “Can you turn that down?”
Gregor obliged, but the religious video continued to play softly in the background. “I was a fool to be a nationalist.” He stood and placed the Koran in its place of honor on the top shelf of their bookcase. He helped himself to an apple from the grocery bag and took out a bite. “I was empty of purpose, filled only with hate. But now I have direction. I am guided by God’s law.”
“You’re a joiner,” Henrik said, cracking open a beer. “The question is, are you going to go out in a hail of gunfire screaming ‘Heil Hitler,’ or ‘Allah Akbar’?”
Gregor snorted. “You criticize me, while you endorse the oppression of my innocent brothers in China.”
Henrik raised an eyebrow. “I’m endorsing no such thing. And they weren’t your brothers until a couple of weeks ago.”
Gregor pointed an accusing finger at Henrik. “You spend two days a week at the Confucius Institute, refining your Mandarin, while those godless communist infidels install Huawei all over the campus and the country so they can control us as thoroughly as they control the Uyghur!” He set his laptop on the table, shifting his browser over to reveal the footage of the Uyghur executions.
Henrik closed the laptop lid. “Everyone knows those videos are fake.”
“They are not fake. You’re blinded by the poisoned gifts they’re offering you. It’s a Trojan Horse, Henrik! Can’t you see that?”
“I can see,” Henrik said, standing to leave, “that you’re unstable. This time next week, you’ll have shaved your beard and be spouting Marxism.” He walked back to the door. “At least put the perishables in the fridge before you go back to your indoctrination.” Henrik left.
Scowling, Gregor opened his laptop back up, and tuned back into the latest stream of Abbar al-Abbadi and the Sons of the Liberating Sword.
An Undisclosed Location
“We’re getting hits on the academia vector in Eastern Europe?” The Director asked, flipping through the pages of a classified binder. She turned to face the Engineer. “Are we even targeting Eastern Europe?”
“It wasn’t intentional,” The Engineer said. He shrugged. “I think we picked up some lone wolves.”
“The boss knew when we got started there would be unexpected branches. Let’s call it a win.”
“I hope it’s not catastrophic success.”
“I hope it is,” the Director said, looking back at her screen. “So what’s next?”
The Engineer tabbed over his options. “Here’s a strange one for you… did you know that illegal fishing is almost ninety times more economically destructive than piracy?”
“Neither does most of our audience. Let’s fix that.”
Sutti Suwardi sat in his hut on the beach, watching the Chinese fishing boat trawling through the water in the distance. In the background, his small television was broadcasting Al Jazeera. The shouting voices from the program stoked his sour mood.
“They’re in our spot again,” Sutti shouted to Hatta.
Hatta looked up from the repairs he was making to their own jukung, the traditional canoe their family had used for generations to provide a living. “Yeah, well until we have a boat in the water, we don’t really have a fishing spot, do we?”
Sutti stalked over to his brother. “Even if we get in the water again, what’s to stop them from putting another hole in it?” He pointed at the hull, and the three gunshot holes at the waterline. “Are we just going to lose another week banging on it with hammers instead of pulling in fish? Are wood and nails going to feed our families?”
Hatta threw down his tools. “It’s not our job to deal with this,” he said, his voice rising. “We filed a report. The authorities will handle it. Our government is sinking plenty of illegal fishing boats themselves.”
“Yes, sinking other Indonesian boats, but not Chinese. Not when Chinese Navy ships are ramming into our Coast Guard’s boats and getting away with it.”
Hatta walked back to the hut and sat down, exhausted. Sutti followed. Hatta stared, desolate, out into the water. “Father is dying. My children are sick. We cannot afford medicine, or enough food to make them strong enough to fight off their illness. Arguing won’t help. We need to focus on getting out in the water. Beyond that, all we can do is pray.”
Sutti pointed to the television. “Prayers demand action.”
On the TV, Abbar Al-Abbadi was being remotely interviewed by an Al Jazeera reporter. The reporter asked a question, and Al-Abbadi bent over in contemplation, or prayer, and then would sit up, eyes ablaze, and deliver a fiery response. They watched the exchange, peppered with fatwas. “The infidels are starving the people of God. God filled the ocean with food enough for all, but the infidel is greedy, eats more than he needs, then steals from his neighbor, who take only what they need according to the law of God. When the infidel seeks to starve the Ummah, the Ummah must respond as if they are being attacked, for they are being attacked.”
“Al-Abbadi is fighting the war we should be fighting,” Sutti said. “He’s been forced into hiding. The Chinese Army is hunting him. They’ve killed other imams by accident, looking for him. But still, he fights on. The Sons of the Liberating Sword fight on.” He looked up at the Chinese fishing boat in the distance. “Must we stand by while these godless thieves starve us in our own land?”
Hatta watched, and listened, as Amar Al-Abbadi continued to preach.
An Undisclosed Location
“You’re not going to believe this,” the Engineer said.
“You’d be surprised,” the Director said, running a hand through her graying blonde hair. “I’ve been around a bit.”
“The New York Times is publishing our boy’s op-ed piece.”
“He wrote an op-ed?”
“All on his own!” the Engineer said, eyes raised, amazed. “Emailed the editors on his own too. They ate it up. And the story is penetrating everywhere — social media and mainstream outlets across the globe. Everyone’s listening to Al-Abbadi.”
“We’re winning the information game. We’re at critical mass.”
“Is it time for the call to action?” The Engineer asked.
The Director nodded. “I think it is.”
“I’ll launch it.”
Re-Education Camp #32, Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region
Enzir Davajan felt the familiar exhilaration as the entry control point to the camp exploded. The gate guards, completely unprepared, fired a few sporadic, un-aimed shots as Enzir’s fighters gunned them down with precision. The first wave of his men, a ragtag assembly of foreign fighters he’d been leading in Afghanistan for years, poured into the gaping, smoking hole in the camp’s perimeter. Enzir rose from his position and trotted along with the second element after them.
A few of the Chinese soldiers stood their ground, but poorly trained, they didn’t stand a chance and died where they stood. Most of the conscripts hopped into vehicles and attempted to flee. Enzir took a knee, raised his AK-47, and fired at the retreating vehicles. With each hit, he felt the righteous satisfaction of fighting for God, and for the liberation of God’s people from the infidel.
“Allah Akbar!” he heard his men shout from further in the camp.
“Allah Akbar!” he shouted back, his body singing with life. Since the Taliban had signed the peace deal with the Americans, and the withdrawal of the infidel from Afghanistan, he’d been purposeless. But with the fatwa from Abar al-Abbadi, to liberate the oppressed in their neighboring country, he had another calling, a new lease on life.
Bahiri, his second-in-command, directed him to the command center, where they’d surrounded the camp’s leadership. An open, bullet-ridden door hung ajar.
Lieutenant Zhao rushed out, a grenade in one hand and a pistol in the other, firing at his attackers. Enzir’s men fired bursts that ripped across Zhao’s body. Zhao fell to the ground, along with the grenade, which exploded on top of him.
Enzir’s men rushed into the command center, and after a brief scuffle, dragged Commandant Chen outside. He struggled in their arms, but a few more strikes from rifle butts brought him to his knees.
Without missing a beat, Bahiri directed the set up a video camera and started recording. Chen looked up at them, wild-eyed and disbelieving.
Bahiri pulled out a machete and offered it to Enzir.
Enzir shook his head. He looked up at the liberated Uyghur prisoners.
“Let our brothers have the honor,” he said. “What better way join the Sons of the Liberating Sword?”
Bahiri turned to the Uyghur closest to him, a tall, rugged man covered in scars gifted from his captors.
The Uyghur took the machete, tested the weight of it in his hands. He looked at Chen.
Chen began to scream.
Tayo watched the manufacturing plant from a distance through a pair of binoculars.
Jidda stood by his fruit cart, just as he had, every day, ignored by the Chinese workers as they went about their business.
Tayo could see the apprehension on Jidda’s face. But Jidda knew Tayo was watching. Knew the honor he would gain by answering the fatwa. Knew the shame he would endure if he backed out now.
The bell, signaling the end of the work-shift, whistled. In a moment, streams of Chinese workers began to pour out of the factory, exhausted after a long day on their assembly lines. Those coming to relieve them for the next shift fought against the crowd to get into the plant.
Tayo nodded. He couldn’t have asked for a richer target.
Jidda ran into the crowd. Tayo saw the blast before he heard it. Those who’d survived the bombing ran screaming in every direction away from the blast. As the smoke cleared, there were more bodies and parts than Tayo could count.
He nodded. Jidda had been a good recruit, a holy warrior, and would receive his just reward.
Tayo walked home, wondering who he should recruit next.
Comenius University, Bratislava, Slovakia
Gregor uploaded his manifesto to his personal website, with links posted to his Facebook and Twitter accounts. Then he grabbed his gun and ran to the center of campus.
Panting, he came to a stop several yards away from the Confucius Institute, watching the group of Chinese students prepare for a Tai Chi presentation in the quad.
He saw Hector, alongside one of his professors, talking with other students.
Gregor’s eye twitched. He lifted the rifle.
“Remember Xinjiang!” He cried. “For the Uyghur! For God!”
He fired, strafing the crowd, burning through the clip on automatic. Many students dropped, others scattered, nearly everyone screamed. When the magazine was spent, Gregor reloaded, just as he’d trained, just as he’d watched a dozen times on Youtube while he rehearsed. With the next round chambered, he fired again, taking aim at those students still fleeing, still in sight.
When he could see no more targets standing, Gregor waded into the quad. As he walked over the fallen, he prodded them, checking for signs of life, firing killing shots as needed.
Finally, he came upon Hector. Blood spilled out of the gunshots across his torso. Hector raised a hand, palm open, at his friend.
“Gregor,” he choked out, coughing up blood, “Gregor, don’t-”
Gregor fired. Hector didn’t speak again.
“Traitor,” Gregor spat, and stalked deeper into campus, his weapon at the ready.
Sutti stood in his motorboat and watched from the bay as the Chinese guided missile destroyer Changsha steamed by. Not far behind, sailing in trace, was the frigate Liuzhou. Both ships were en route to participate in the multilateral Komodo naval exercise. Neither ship seemed to mind the fishing boats that passed dangerously close to each of them.
Sutti turned, looked down the bay, and saw Hatta standing in his own boat. Hatta raised his arm. He was ready. Sutti raised his arm back.
Sutti thought of his father, and his nephews, Hatta’s sons, all now dead. Dead from something so preventable, had they had the funds needed for food and medicine.
No matter, now. Soon, they’d be together again, in paradise.
Together, the brothers started their motors, and sped into the water. First strafing one of the fishing boats to avoid suspicion, Sutti suddenly turned his craft, rammed into the Changsha, exploding the bomb strapped to the front of his boat.
Seconds later, Hatta crashed into the Liuzhou, disappearing in his own fiery blast.
An Undisclosed Location
The Director of Information Operations sat in her chair, her eyes flitting from the classified reports on her laptop, and up to the live reporting on the TV screens in front of her on CNN, BBC, and Al Jazeera. She shook her head in disbelief.
“We’ve exceeded all expectations.”
The Engineer turned in his chair, facing the Director. “We didn’t even coordinate these attacks… Al-Abbadi did. Chinese embassies, factories, Confucius Institutes, their navy ships, foreign fighters pouring across the border into Xinjiang, and now a full-scale Uyghur uprising.” His hand caressed the server stack next to him. “He turned out to be our top performer.”
The Director stood and walked over to the stack. On the monitor, a visual output of the Al-Abbadi program sat in flowing white robes, looking first to the Engineer, then back to the Director.
“And now we’ve handed off the Global War on Terror to our greatest competitor,” she said. “Chinese shore batteries are moving from the East China Sea to Xinjiang. Their infantry divisions are breaking apart to send contingents to secure their embassies and factories across the globe. National police are tied down in Hong Kong with even more riots. And what remains of their fleet is returning to port for safety’s sake.”
She lifted a hand and patted the monitor. Al-Abbadi flinched and glared at the Director. “Good work, for a deep fake.”
“I was concerned he couldn’t pull off the live interviews,” the Engineer said. “It’s harder to pass the Turing Test when you’re live. But he came through after all. So what now? Do we execute the next vector? Or put him to sleep for a bit?”
“The boss says to hold off on any other activity. We’ve set the conditions for diplomatic action. Don’t want to introduce any more variables while we tighten up the first island chain.”
“So we should expect to see US, Australian, and British diplomats in Taiwan soon?”
“Escorted by a coalition of Marines in their new embassies and allied navy ships in the port of Taipei. But not until we give them their covering fire. Let’s pull the plug on Al-Abbadi and start launching the Taiwan plan.”
The Engineer nodded. “Guess it’s ‘goodnight, imam’ for now, then.”
“Indeed it is. He’s going back ‘into hiding,’ until we need him again.” The Director gave the server stack one last pat and addressed the monitor. “Good job, Al-Abbadi. If I could give you a medal, I would. Guess some downtime is the best I can do.”
The Engineer clacked away at his keyboard, the monitor faded to black, and the servers went silent in a controlled shutdown.
Al-Abbadi disassembled, first into a series of programming languages and functions, then ones and zeroes, pulses or pauses of electricity, and then into nothing but a crazy idea in someone’s head.