It is a principle of human nature to hate those whom you have injured.
AS MARINE Staff Sergeant Nancy Cisneros bounded from the main building of the U.S. embassy in Rabat, Morocco, the space around her seemed to light up with her energy. She was armed with an M4 automatic rifle and M9A1 sidearm, and wore a lightweight helmet with a MARPAT desert cover and an outer tactical vest with two bullet- and heat-resistant Kevlar plates.
Despite her formidable appearance, Sergeant Cisneros was in a good mood because she’d just finished Skyping her fiancé back in the States. In less than two weeks, they were planning to get married in San Diego during her annual leave.
Last Saturday, the leader of the embassy guards—a tall Berber tribesman named Jalil—had escorted her to a stall on the covered Rue Souk as Sabbat, where Cisneros picked out matching filigreed gold wedding bands.
As she crossed the driveway to Post One, the sergeant flashed a thumbs-up to Jalil, who stood outside Post Two dressed in a black Royal Gendarmerie uniform with an MP5 slung over his shoulder. Despite their cultural and religious differences, she and her Moroccan counterpart had become friends. Several months ago, Nancy and some other Americans had attended an elaborate ceremony in Jalil’s family compound near the Rif Mountains to celebrate the birth of the Moroccan’s first son. Together, she and Jalil had raised thousands of dollars for a fund that provided soccer balls, nets, and uniforms to needy local children.
The two fortified guard posts at the U.S. embassy entrance stood approximately fifty feet apart. Post One, to Cisneros’s right, monitored vehicular traffic in and out of the main gate. The smaller Post Two, where Jalil was standing, was responsible for checking people who were trying to gain access to the embassy compound on foot.
Every workday morning, hundreds of local Moroccan visa applicants lined up along the high concrete wall that surrounded the embassy compound, waiting to be checked and patted down before a marine guard waved them through the body scanner. If the red light didn’t flash, the applicants would then be escorted through a metal door and along a path to the U.S. consular office, which was housed on the ground floor of the main building.
Before entering Post One, Sergeant Nancy Cisneros looked up to see the sun burning its way through the morning haze. Inside the six-sided reinforced-concrete structure, two Moroccan security agents and another marine stood watching the front gates through a Plexiglas window. A State Department security officer named Havlichek sat before a console of six monitors that broadcast pictures of the traffic on nearby Avenue Mohamed El Fassi and the access street to the main gate.
“All clear?” Sergeant Cisneros asked the American at the console.
“Except for that white pickup,” Havlichek answered. “It’s been parked there about ten minutes doing jack @!$%#.”
Sergeant Cisneros noticed that the Toyota truck appeared to be carrying a heavy load in its back cargo bay, which was covered with a canvas tarp.
“Driver probably stopped to drink some na’na,” she offered, referring to the popular local mint tea.
“Or smoke some kif, more likely.”
“I’ll send one of the gendarmes to check it out.”
Sergeant Cisneros exited Post One and took two steps toward the front gate with the intention of giving orders to one of the four Moroccan security officers stationed there, when she heard a vehicle honk behind her. Turning, she saw the big white water truck that had arrived to deliver fifteen hundred gallons of potable water to the embassy backing toward the gate.
“What the hell’s he backing up for?” Cisneros asked into the helmet headset that connected her to Post One.
“Because he’s a typical Moroccan driver,” answered Havlichek.
“Open the inner gate,” Sergeant Cisneros barked.
Then she held up her arms to stop the driver of the water truck and yelled, “Arrêtez!”
But the driver, who had his radio blaring, didn’t hear her. Cisneros had to jump on the truck’s running board and shout through the side window before the driver applied the brakes and stopped.
Sergeant Cisneros was trying to figure out how to tell the driver in French that he should reverse course, proceed farther down the driveway, and turn around, when she heard one of the Moroccan guards shout. She turned to her right to see a white pickup speeding toward the open gate. It looked to be the same one she had viewed on the monitor only half a minute earlier.
She jumped off the running board and ran toward the gate yelling, “Halt! Halt! Tell that son of a bitch to stop!”
The Toyota screeched to a halt in front of the Delta barrier, a steel structure that came up from the ground with a flap that faced the driver. As smoke rose from the pickup’s tires, a young scrawny man got out of the passenger side, pointed to the barrier, and started screaming in Arabic.
“What’s he saying? What the hell does he want?” Sergeant Cisneros shouted to Jalil, who had joined her at the gate. Both of them held their weapons ready.
“He wants you to lower the barrier,” Jalil replied in English.
The young man on the other side of the barrier was dressed head to toe in white. His dark eyes were popping out of his head, and he was gesturing wildly.
“Tell him to get back in the truck and back it the @!$%# out of here before I blow him and his friend away!”
As Jalil started shouting instructions in Arabic, Sergeant Cisneros remembered that Arab men who were preparing for martyrdom often wore white. Feeling an enormous surge of fear and adrenaline, she screamed, “Jalil, take cover!” Then, “Tell the driver to get out of the vehicle and hug the ground!”
The man in white turned suddenly and started running away from the pickup toward Avenue Mohamed El Fassi. Sergeant Cisneros lowered one knee to the pavement and opened fire on the Toyota driver.
Seeing a flash from the barrel of the American’s M4, the driver of the pickup pushed a button that detonated the seven hundred pounds of explosives in the truck. The last thing Sergeant Nancy Cisneros saw was an enormous white flash. The power of the blast completely pulverized her body and threw her head a hundred yards.
Jalil, Havlichek, the driver of the water truck, the other marines, and all the Moroccan guards were killed immediately. The visa applicants standing in line were either killed outright or horribly wounded. All that remained of the water truck was a shredded chassis. What had been the pickup became a twelve-foot wide, six-foot-deep crater.
The blast destroyed the front of the embassy building, killing thirty-three Americans and twenty-four local employees. Flying metal, glass, and debris seriously injured another seventy people inside the building, including the U.S. ambassador, who suffered facial lacerations and a concussion. Windows were blown out in neighboring buildings, including the Belgian embassy and a preschool, injuring hundreds of others.
Less than an hour after the attack, as rescuers fought through smoke and the nauseating smell of burnt human flesh to search for victims, the president of the United States and the king of Morocco issued a joint statement calling it a “heinous and cowardly crime” against both of their countries and promising to cooperate fully to find the perpetrators and bring them to justice.
The Washington Post called it the worst terrorist attack against Americans since 9/11/2001.
From HUNT THE WOLF By Don Mann with Ralph Pezzullo Reprinted with permission from Mulholland Books/Little, Brown and Company On sale June 26th, 2012