Salome kahn was clearing her desk and preparing to leave work. Her office at the Martyr’s Foundation was always tidy and well organized, but the habit of straightening things at the end of the day was a satisfying ritual and bought her some time to think.
She’d just finished a brutally emotional session with the Sadeghi family. Salome had the unfortunate duty of informing the Sadeghis that their daughter would not be coming home. The daughter, Fatima, was barely nineteen years old and had run away just over two months ago. She had left only a note behind that told her parents that she had been chosen to do God’s will. She’d not been heard from since. The Sadeghis were blindsided by Fatima’s abrupt departure. They were busy but loving parents who, like almost everyone, had no training or experience to allow them to detect the textbook changes in their daughter’s behavior. If they’d noticed anything different about Fatima, it was chalked up as a phase of becoming a woman. That she was descending upon the slippery slope of extremism had never crossed their minds.
The all-too-short story of what actually happened to Fatima Sadeghi was tragic. Late last year, she’d fallen in with a new circle of friends she’d been introduced to through her boyfriend. This group of young men and women were brought together by the fact that each of the men had recently volunteered as suicide commandos. Volunteering was a straightforward process these days. Registration forms had appeared on Tehran’s streets and university campuses with no apparent signs that the government had any plans to stop this all-out recruitment movement. In fact, Tehran was home to many ostensibly charitable organizations that fronted as recruiting centers where registrants were given a number of options in how they could volunteer. One could select suicide attacks against Israel or U.S. forces in Iraq. Other options included training for the assassination of Salman Rushdie or any of the Danish cartoonists whose work was condemned as denigrating the image of Muhammad. Volunteers were estimated in the tens of thousands, an estimated twenty thousand had been chosen for training.
As the men of Fatima’s newfound group slipped away from society to begin their training, the women were left alone. Rather than being saddened by the loss of the men they loved, they became emboldened. Determined to make their mark against the crusaders and infidels in the name of God, they too began volunteering. While the majority of volunteers remained men and boys, the planners of these attacks against the West could not deny the disarming effectiveness of putting women into play. They knew that women drew less attention than men and were less apt to be subject to rigorous security checks. Security procedures still had trouble dealing with searches on women, as it was considered indecent and violated Islamic laws that required women to remain traditionally clothed in public. The recruiters had no qualms when Fatima Sadeghi and the rest of her girl gang willingly offered their services.
On Monday, the fifth of March, a woman wearing an explosive vest loaded with acetone peroxide entered an open market in Baghdad. Over the vest was strapped a fragmentation jacket that held a lethal payload of 7-millimeter steel ball bearings. The entire apparatus weighed fifteen kilos and was fashioned under her abaya as a ruse to make her look pregnant. Waddling slowly through the crowd, she used her arms to protect her explosive, unborn child.
During her training she’d learned that acetone peroxide, or TATP, had earned the nickname of The Mother of Satan for its renowned instability. Cautiously, she navigated her way beneath the camouflage of her abaya like a black raven, a harbinger of death. She was weary from hauling her heavy load, but wanted her act of martyrdom to cause maximum impact and thus pushed deeper into the crowd.
As she approached the market’s center, she recognized the kill-zone from the photographs she had studied. The time was nigh. She was trembling with fear yet overcome with anticipation for the rewards she expected to receive in paradise. At that moment, as her thumb twitched above the vest’s detonator, a large basket of pistachios fell from a vendor’s stall on to the ground behind her. Someone shouted. Startled and on edge, she spun around, seeking the source of the commotion. The weight of her suicide vest coupled with the fatigue of carrying it and the carpet of pistachios beneath her feet proved a combination of elements that toppled her. She fell face first to the ground. The Mother of Satan did the rest. Due to the position of the explosives centered around her stomach, the ground absorbed the brunt of the explosion while her body was torn in half and hurtled in opposite directions. Fortunately for many, the collateral damage was minimized because the detonation occurred while she was prone; however, nine people were ravaged by the discharge of shrapnel and several others were seriously wounded. While this martyr did not go out in the blaze of glory she had hoped, her actions still had the intended effect of striking terror in the hearts and minds of those who bore witness to the traumatic event both locally and globally via the world’s news networks.
The pregnant martyr had been Fatima Sadeghi. Salome had broken the news as gently as she knew how, but when the Sadeghis demanded evidence—not believing that their daughter was capable of such a heinous act—she was obligated to show them a photograph of Fatima’s disembodied torso that had been taken by a security clean-up team in the aftermath of the suicide bombing. Upon seeing their daughter’s mutilated remains, Mrs. Sadeghi wailed aloud, while the father simply wept.
Salome found it terribly difficult to console the Sadeghis. After all, there was not much she could offer beside her compassion and sympathy. She could not in all honestly tell them their daughter was in a better place. Nor would she ever admit that Fatima’s attack was in any way an act that would be condoned by God. Fatima was a girl who had been seduced by the lure of a religion misrepresented by men with ulterior motives that were decidedly unholy. Salome, of course, had not shared these sentiments with the mourning Sadeghis and mainly sat with them in silence as they processed this harsh reality in their own way. Eventually, they mustered the courage to return home with the knowledge that they would never see Fatima again.
Salome said she would be available anytime for them if they needed someone to talk to and recommended that they join one of the many support groups the Foundation helped organize. There they would meet families who were fighting to recover from similar tragedies. The Sadeghis thanked Salome for her kindness. She gathered her things and escorted them to the building’s main entrance. She watched them leave and couldn’t help but feel their pain as they walked away overcome by the shared grief of their loss.
As she turned and reentered the Foundation, Salome caught a glimpse of a disheveled young man staring anxiously at the building’s façade. She observed him through the door’s mirrored glass and thought there was something vaguely familiar about him, but she couldn’t place it. Salome was about go back outside to ask what he wanted, when the young man darted out of sight around the corner.
“Well, so much for that,” she thought. It had been a long day. Salome dismissed the young man from her mind and returned to her office.
Click Follow to receive emails when this author adds content on Bublish