A fictionalized version of the Haqqani tribe, a Pakistan-based organization the U.S. State Department just added to its list of terrorist groups, is at the center my thriller, “Hell City.”
The novel casts the group as part of a metastasizing al-Qaida that is bent on pulling off another “big one” in New York.
Fiction aside, the thriller is a wake-up call on the true threat of al-Qaida and its affiliates in the post-bin Laden world.
A Haqqani fighter.
Photograph: Ghaith Abdul-Ahad for the Guardian
Think organized crime. You cripple the New York Mafia and the Russians, the Jheri Curls (Dominican), the Latin Kings and other, fiercer groups, take over the town.
The Haqqanis are entrenched, widespread, connected and virulent. They’ve been behind many of the recent attacks on our troops and diplomats in the Af-Pak region.
Let’s face it. The guy on the subway figures al-Qaida is broken, and he can’t keep up with the parade of threats and new groups. So he turns off, goes to sleep.
To Jack Oldham, the protagonist of “Hell City,” sleep is the enemy. The vigilant commander on New York’s Joint Terrorism Task Force never forgot how the country went into hibernation soon after the first attack on the World Trade Center, in 1993.
The novel’s narrator makes the case:
But the city had come a long way. In her own rugged fashion, she had gone from Trade Center trauma to annoyed indifference, her alligator skin shielded against the seemingly endless terror alerts and aborted plots of the new-gen jihad of the day. The first attack on the towers rocked the city to its core, but it was soon seen as a botched plot by militants who couldn’t shoot straight. They were viewed through the short-range, next-quarter glasses of the West — What? A blind cleric operating out of some storefront mosque in Jersey? Boneheads with names so long they blurred comprehension. What’s this? The Three Stooges? You gotta be kidding me.
Now, with bin-Laden — and other al-Qaida leaders — dead, our country is lulled into thinking that all the insurgents can manage stateside is the one-off, the lone-wolf attack. The airline bomber over Detroit. The Times Square bomber.
But they’re not looking deeper into the landscape of insurgency. Yemen and other African nations have become hotbeds of development for insurgent groups. And then there are the Haqqanis. They’ve been operating with impunity, deep and wide and under the radar — for a generation.