‘Bravo 22 to Gold Commander, over.’
‘Go ahead Jim.’ As Ian responded, there was the old, familiar rush of adrenaline. Bravo 22 were the strike force tasked with responding to any terrorist attack on London, and only dealt in cutting edge situations. Jim Fletcher their OIC was one of the most experienced anti-terrorism officers in the Metropolitan Police and had been seconded two years ago to head up the unique unit. It was made up of specialists from across the police, armed forces, special agencies such as MI6 and other counter-terrorist teams. As a former SAS senior officer himself, Ian Lenagh the Gold Commander, trusted Jim Fletcher implicitly.
‘Boss, we’ve just had a report that two suspects have just highjacked a London bus.’
‘What have you got?’ He could sense a trickle of sweat already moving down his back and beginning to stain his battle-dress uniform.
‘Well, following the explosions on the Central line, witnesses saw two males running away. Dressed in grey hooded suits, both carrying small back packs. They jumped on the bus at Trafalgar Square. One stayed downstairs and the other apparently went straight the top floor. Both are carrying weapons, but no identification of the type, as such.’
‘Passengers? Hang on a minute Jim, more intel incoming.’ There was a pause. ‘Jim, they’ve just done King’s Cross, so that’s three underground hits. What about the bus passengers?’
‘Bus half-full, mid-morning. Shoppers and tourists.’
‘Nothing. Experienced driver, plus he’s an ex-veteran, which could be helpful. He’s got voice radio with his HQ but not activated. Bus appears to be heading towards Admiralty Arch. Police cars in close proximity.’
‘Pull them back Jim. This could be a trap. Stay on them, but more allow distance.’
Ian looked across the bunker at the series of desks with monitors, and overhead screens streaming live footage from many of the thousands of CCTV points across the city. There was increasing evidence of the seriousness of the attack with many pedestrians scurrying along the pavements, stopping occasionally in shop and building doorways, then resuming their journeys. The underground entrances were flooded with passengers desperate to escape the localities, and traffic was already backed up nose to tail as far as the cameras could record. Emergency vehicles of all services were visible with a cacophony of siren sound accompanying their blue flashing lights.
The team that had assembled to support and advise him were fully focused on their screens with a constant movement within the varied communication networks. They had consistently practiced for such an attack, but as the reality began to sink in, he knew that practice alone would not have prepared them for the real event unfolding in front of them. There was a positive nervousness in the room and yet a visible determination to respond to the current attacks.
He looked down at his monitor. Bravo 22 were responding. There was a pause.
‘Boss they seem to be heading directly towards the Mall. Consider interception?’’
‘Not yet. Queen’s awaiting evacuation by Helo. They’re taking her to Windsor Castle. Should be airborne in 5. Palace being evacuated.’
There was a distinct pause. He looked longingly at his tunic hanging off the office door, which held a packet of cigarettes. As he moved towards them, his personal mobile on the desk vibrated. He paused momentarily then activated it.
‘Daddy, I know you’re probably very busy, but Mummy said I should speak to you direct.’
‘Alright sweetie, but be quick.’
‘Are you coming to see me in the school play tomorrow? It’s on at four o’clock.’
‘Look darling I’m up to my eyes in it at the moment, but will do my best.’
‘Does that mean yes? Please Daddy say yes.’
‘I’ll do my best, as I always do, now I must go.’ As he began to disconnect, he could hear his wife in the background saying “I told you so.”, and knew that whatever time he managed to get home, there would be another row. They’d become more frequent and vicious recently, but he could not face the inevitable outcome at this stage, particularly when his daughter was so vulnerable.
The comms network activated again
‘Bravo 22 to Gold Commander, over.’
‘Go ahead Bravo 22.’
‘It’s definite now. Bus will enter Mall shortly. No other route Boss.’
‘Right Jim. Continue to follow. I’m calling for backup. There’s an Apache flight located at RAF Northolt. I’m activating them.’
‘They can’t evacuate passengers Boss.
‘I’m fully aware of that, Jim. I want their strike capability. The PM has authorised whatever action is necessary. Now I want you to set up an in-depth blockade in front of the Palace. Commandeer whatever vehicles are in the vicinity, cars, lorries, buses, anything. Stack them up at least 100 metres in depth and evacuate all the drivers and passengers. Nose to nail, side to side. Once it’s entered the Mall, that bus is going nowhere.’
”Understood. There’s plenty of parkland on either side of the road but the trees will stop any other exit. There’s a unit of SAS being helicoptered from their base in Hereford. We’ll need to establish a control and command point in the vicinity.’
‘Don’t think that’ll work Jim.’
‘Whichever cell this group belong to they’ve shown already they’re not prepared to negotiate. They’re on a killing mission, they’ll be expecting us to seek a stand-off with them able to maximise PR and making various demands. But in the end, it’ll end with major casualties. This is not the Iranian embassy, when we last used the SAS.’
‘So, what is your intention?’
‘Boss what about the driver and passengers?’
‘Jim we’ll do our very best for them, but we’ve had three underground trains destroyed, hundreds killed and maimed. We can’t stop what they intend to do, but I’ll make damn sure, this part of their plan won’t happen. Well, not the way they think we’ll respond. They’ll drag it out, maybe even offer talks of hostage release getting maximum media for their rotten cause. But not today.’
‘So that’s why you’ve called up the Apache strike force?’
‘You’ve got it in one Jim. There will undoubtedly be casualties. Where’s the nearest medical facility?’
‘Best equipped emergency centre is the MOD one, just off Horse Guards Parade.’
‘OK, put them on high alert, establish a comms centre there, and tell them to ensure they have extra back-up. Hang on a minute Jim, just been notified that the bus driver has been allowed to use his Mic. Wait one.’ After a pause, Gold Commander spoke again.
‘Whoever’s got the bus is demanding a meeting with the world media. If that demand is met, they might consider releasing some of the hostages. How’s the road blockage going?’
‘Almost complete Boss. About 400 metres before they’ll have to stop. SAS will be with us within ten minutes.’
‘OK. I’ll tell the bus we agree to a short stand-off. No back-offs on our part and we want some hostages released. Where are the media now?’
‘All stacked up at Admiralty Arches and desperate to get their cameras rolling.’
‘Right, I will stall some more to give us more time. Meanwhile, divert some of the SAS straight to the media centre. They’re taking over the cameras. The high-profile anchormen have just got themselves a new team. Terrorists will be suspicious if they don’t recognise some familiar newsroom faces.’
His microphone activated again.
‘What’s this damn nonsense about activating a comms centre in my hospital facility? It’s outrageous.’ He did not recognise the caller, who then continued ‘this is Colonel Park, Medical Officer in charge of this unit. What’s going on? Who the hell are you taking over my medical unit?’
‘Colonel, there’s no time for explanation, London is under terrorist attack, 3 tube stations blown up, and an attack in the vicinity imminent. We need your comms facilities which I am advised are state of the art.’
‘We’re fully aware of the current emergency Gold Commander, we have casualties already here and more enroute, but I must protest, this is a medical facility, not a location for more armed combat. However, apart from all that, we need the comms network ourselves.’
‘Colonel, I am acting on the PM’s direct authority. My understanding is that you’ve got more than enough comms, and there is capacity in an emergency to share. Whilst I appreciate your medical ethics, they are nothing more than that. Ethics. My job is to try and prevent even more deaths in this city. Now I must go Colonel, I have several other calls stacked up.’
‘I must protest…’ said Colonel Park again, as he was disconnected.
‘Bravo 22 can I have a sitrep?’ As he spoke, Ian saw that his personal mobile was activating. He looked down, and immediately switched it to voicemail. His wife and her predictable outburst could wait. Bravo 22 responded.
‘Bus has stopped. 100 metres from our barriers. Doors just opened. Hang on a minute, some hostages being released.’
‘How many, Jim?’
‘About 20. Difficult to count they’re running in all directions. Man in grey hoodie now in sight at bus door. Wait! Just heard sound of shots from inside. SAS now in position in close vicinity and with press group.’
‘Right. Am telling bus that press will set up interview point with worldwide cameras, 50 metres from bus. Need more hostages to be released and if so, media can be ready in 5 minutes.’ Gold Commander paused. ‘Jim, just been told only prepared to release 5 more and none of them can be Jewish. Estimate how many are left, on bus?’
‘Boss we’ve managed to talk to an escapee. They’re lying. There isn’t that many left. Consider it leaves two terrorists onboard, plus driver and two other passengers, both elderly and unable to escape.’
‘That explains the shots we heard Jim. Bastards. Right hold the press at Admiralty Arch, ask the SAS in locality, to withdraw discretely. I’m being looped directly into the bus.’ As he did so, a special red phone activated in front of him. Ian picked up the receiver.
‘Gold Commander, PM enroute to your location. Are you ready to give him a sitrep?’
‘Yes Sir. How long till he arrives? Am at a crucial point of intervention.’
‘Within a few minutes, but you already have his full authority to act. Don’t let his arrival delay operational decisions. He’s coming over to support your response, not interfere with it.’
Ian replaced the receiver. The next phase of operations, and his reactions were crucial.
There was a crackling sound across the bus microphone. He took a deep breath, then spoke.
‘This is Gold Commander. We know you have just shot innocent people on the bus and are still holding the driver as hostage. Time is running out for you.’ A voice from within the bus activated its microphone.
‘Allahu Akbar. Where are press and TV? You promised. Where are media?’
‘I want to speak to the bus driver.’
‘Not possible. You speak to me. You insult Allahu Akbar. Why are you changing what we agreed?’
‘What we agreed was in good faith. You broke that. We know you have murdered innocent passengers on the bus; several elderly people. Deals off. And I would advise you to look in the sky behind you. Some friends arriving.’
From behind Buckingham Palace came a distinct deep throbbing sound as helicopter blades rotated. Four Apache helicopters swung into view, spacing themselves so they covered each corner of the bus. There was a distinct presence with the “chuff, chuff, chuff” of the rotor blades dominating.
The voice from the within the group had a distinct US accent.
‘Gold Commander, Flight 002 in place, await your instructions. Over’
‘Allahu Akbar,’ came a defiant cry from the bus, then the sound of a scuffle before the voice of the driver broke through.
‘Fuck em. Do it.’. It was followed by a burst of shots.
‘Deliver as directed.’ said the Gold Commander. The response was immediate. Each of the Apache helicopters shuddered as they simultaneously discharged their rockets directly into the bus. Within seconds it had burst into flames, with a spiral of dark embracing smoke reaching skywards.
As he sat back in his chair, Ian realised that both his fists were clenched. He relaxed momentarily then sensed a presence nearby. The PM was holding out his hand. His personal mobile was also activating again.