And so here he was, standing in Muhsin’s makeshift office. The office was almost empty. Empty save for Muhsin’s desk, a few chairs, a laptop, a digital camera, a prayer mat and some rosary beads. People would come into the office throughout the day. Almost always they were women and children collecting donated clothes, blankets, and food.
Harry met some of Muhsin’s associates for the first time. There was Abu Bakr, a tall, broad strong as an Ox Ghanian with a cheery smile and a crushing handshake. Abu Bakr took care of distributing donated items. He might double up as a deterrent to potential thieves and trouble makers too . Samir was a local who looked like he worked out. He was big built and imposing yet friendly and affable. From what Harry could tell, Samir’s role was to liaise with deliveries of aid material.
Harry and Paul or ‘Ibrahim’ as Muhsin called him sat drinking mint tea. They discussed the issues they faced in the refugee camp. Muhsin listened to each word with concern written all over his face. They were soon joined by Abu Bakr and Samir. the men struck an agreement that Muhsin would find workers to guard the Syrian Hands camp. In return, both camps would share their resources.
Harry noted the lack of weapons or anything hostile in Muhsin’s refugee camp. It was much smaller than the Syrian Hands camp. Yet people were coming in and out all the time to get food and other supplies.
Like Polly and Wes, Muhsin concentrated a large part of his efforts into social media. He was a dab hand at video editing. His videos told first-hand accounts of local Damascenes. Each video attracted tens of thousands of likes and shares on Facebook. But, as Muhsin pained to point out, the social media engagement didn’t convert into anywhere nears as many donations.
“Do you get any trouble from the Caliphate?” Harry asked. “It’s not in their interest to give us trouble” Muhsin replied continuing “Much of what they do is what we call PR back home.” This made sense to Harry. It was plain from the daily reports and bulletins about the Caliphate. Whenever and wherever there was a random act of violence they were quick to claim responsibility. Their absence in key conflict areas like Palestine aroused suspicions among Muslims and left-wingers. The fact that the Caliphate had no qualms about combat with other Muslims was not lost on the public either.
If Harry was here to gather Intel he wondered what exactly there was to gather. Everything seemed so normal, so mundane. These guys wouldn’t harm a fly. In fact during the conversation a ginger tabby cat strolled in and curled up on the prayer mat. It turns out this cat was a regular to the camp who received food, shelter, and plenty of fuss.
So what was Muhsin’s crime? The media back home painted him as a hate filled militant who had turned on the nation who raised him. Endless reports spoke of his ‘propaganda videos.’ Clear tools for extracting money to fund violent extremists posed as victims of the Syrian conflict.
But none of that was visible here and it felt like a stretch to imagine this was all an act. Harry wondered what he would say the next time he received an abrupt call in the middle of the night. Would he tell them their ‘asset’ was a dedicated relief worker? One who cared about people and made enormous personal sacrifices? Because that was the truth after all.
Harry put those thoughts to the back of his mind. He gave up gathering Intel preferring to be a relief worker. The conversation came to an end signalled by vigorous handshakes. Harry and Paul returned back to their van with promises that men will come to protect Syrian Hands.
While Paul drove, Harry allowed himself to drift off into his thoughts. One moment he ruminated over striking a deep conversation with Muhsin. Then he pondered why hardships lead some to such depravity. Why did they harm innocent women?. There was a darkness creeping over the camp. As if people had started to give up and were resigning themselves to the lowest means of fulfilment. All kinds of problems were breaking out in the camp. Looting, racketeering and sickening violence against women and children almost on a daily basis.
They arrived back at Syrian Hands late in the afternoon. As Harry got out of the car he caught sight of a familiar face standing next to Polly. The sight of this face filled Harry with anxiety. “This man says he is a friend of yours Harry,” said Polly “He wants to join Syrian Hands.” Harry’s ‘friend’ sauntered over and planted a jovial slap on the back. “Hey bud, long time” the ‘friend’ grinned.
So they knew, they knew Harry had been ‘turned’. That’s the buzzword they like to use, ‘Turned’ meaning ‘gone over to the enemy’s side.’ They must have been observing Harry for a while now. The decision would have been to send in Richard to ‘turn’ Harry back. And here Richard was posing as a wannabe relief worker. Now Richard was the definition of living your job. He never moved so much as an inch from the agency protocols. If orders came down to Richard that he must accept the sky was green, he accepted. Now he was here to infiltrate the camp, get Harry back on track and to seize the ‘asset’.
Harry couldn’t do much else but play along with the charade. He returned the greetings and smiled but on the inside, he was in pieces. Richard was going to make trouble, lots of it as if there weren’t enough problems already in the camp.