to the floor. He draped it over the neck of the younger guard, then, using his left hand, he wrapped the chain round their waists and round their necks; finally he pushed it between them and pulled it hard to tighten it. He fastened the chain with the padlock and pushed the men to the floor. The guards said nothing as they glared defiantly up at Shepherd. He holstered his Glock, picked up the backpack and began to run to the entrance at the far end of the mall. Several shoppers saw what was going on but hurried by, not wanting to get involved. London was a city where passers-by who intervened in violent situations tended to end up in hospital. Or worse.

The mall was so crowded that Shepherd couldn’t manage more than a jog and he was constantly having to change direction. People he banged into cursed and shouted at him but he was so focused on checking faces that what they said barely registered. He was looking for two things: faces from the Thames House surveillance photographs and Asians with backpacks.

He took a quick look at his watch. A minute and a half to go. He barged between a group of teenagers. One of them lashed out with his foot and caught Shepherd’s calf but Shepherd barely felt it. He slowed to a walk, scanning faces. Walking in through the glass doors were two Asians in Puffa jackets, both carrying backpacks. Shepherd’s hand went to his gun. One of the Asians said something and the other laughed. They were too relaxed to be a threat, Shepherd realised. One of them went over to a display of store guides; he took one and unfolded it. The two men looked around, trying to get their bearings. Shepherd took a deep breath, knowing that he had come close to shooting two innocent shoppers.

He moved closer to the doors. A police ARV arrived and it screeched to a halt. The doors opened and three armed officers got out, all holding MP5s. A tall Asian man in a long raincoat walking from the train station whirled round to look at the police car. He had a backpack and he took it off and began to fumble inside it. He turned so that his back was to the approaching policemen. Shepherd caught a glimpse of a pistol. He pulled out his Glock and fired twice, catching the man in the centre of his chest.

The armed police all jumped as if they’d been stung and then crouched low as they covered the area with their MP5s. Shepherd threw down the backpack that he’d taken from the security guards and turned and ran from the doors He didn’t have time to explain to the police that he was on their side. People were screaming all around him and some were running out into the street.

He slotted the Glock back in its holster as he ran towards the escalators that led to the lower ground floor. He stopped and looked down over the balcony. No one on the lower ground floor had reacted to the screaming or to the shooting.

He couldn’t see the doors that led to the outside, but he heard shouts of ‘Armed police’ at the entrance behind him. He hurried on.

As he rode down the escalator he looked left and right, scanning faces, checking for bags. He was almost at the bottom when he saw an Asian man with a backpack facing a shop window and looking at his watch. As the man turned round Shepherd recognised him. He was one of the men from Leeds who had arrived at St Pancras on the tube. The man started to walk away from the shop and Shepherd ran up behind him. He pulled out his Glock and slammed it against the side of the man’s head and he slumped to the ground without a sound. Two middle-aged women screamed and backed away from Shepherd as he holstered his gun. Shepherd looked down at the unconscious man. He’d be out for a while, certainly until the police had arrived in force.

Most of the shoppers in the vicinity seemed unconcerned about what had happened and continued to walk by, looking down at the prone figure but not stopping to help. Even the two screaming women soon fell silent and hurried away.

Shepherd did a full three-sixty turn but didn’t see anyone else that he recognised so he jogged over to the entrance that led to the tube station. He stopped when he saw that an Asian man in a green anorak with the hood up was walking purposefully towards the entrance. Shepherd had seen the man’s face before, in Thames House. It was the Egyptian, Riffat Pasha. Pasha was carrying a backpack in his right hand as he looked at his watch. He looked scared, as if he might be having second thoughts about what he was about to do.

Shepherd ran towards him, pulling out his Glock. Pasha saw him, saw the gun, and then began to grope inside his backpack. Shepherd stopped, steadied himself and took aim. As Pasha’s hand appeared from the backpack holding a gun, Shepherd fired twice, both shots to the chest. Pasha fell backwards and hit the ground hard. Shoppers screamed in terror and began running out of the mall.

‘He’s got a gun!’ screamed a woman with close-cropped hair and a nose ring.

Shepherd looked at her in amazement. ‘I think they know that,’ he said.

The woman pointed at Shepherd. ‘He’s got a gun!’ she screamed again at the top of her voice. She backed away, then turned and ran towards the entrance.

Blood was pooling around Pasha. His legs shuddered and then went still.

‘Armed police! Drop your weapon!’

The shout came from above him. Shepherd looked up. Two cops on the floor above were aiming their MP5s at him. A third armed officer was on the escalator, keeping his weapon trained on Shepherd as he moved smoothly down to the lower ground floor.

‘Armed police! Armed police!’ More shouts, this time from the entrance to his left. Two more armed officers.

Shepherd bent down and placed the Glock on the floor, then straightened up and put his hands behind his neck. He slowly knelt down and waited as the armed police ran towards him. ‘Please don’t shoot me,’ he muttered to himself. ‘I really don’t like being shot.’

Khalid beamed and looked across at Abu al Khayr. ‘It is after six o’clock, brother,’ he said. ‘It has started.’

The two men were alone in the sitting room of a terraced house in Tower Hamlets, home to an Afghan refugee and his family. The man was a diehard Taliban soldier but had claimed to have been a government official who had been forced out of his village under threat of death. In fact al-Qaeda had funded his travel from Afghanistan to the UK and had guided him through the asylum process. Along with him had come his wife and four children. All had been in the country for three years and his council-funded home was often used as a safe house and as a place to store weapons and materials. A false wall behind the water tank in the attic had concealed more than a dozen of the handguns that were being used in the attack on the shopping mall.

The man had taken his wife and children to see a movie and was under instructions not to return before nine that evening. But there were two other men in the house; both worshipped at a mosque in west London and were trusted associates of Khalid’s.

Khalid was sitting on a sofa with a floral pattern and Abu al Khayr was settled in a matching armchair. On a pine coffee table between them were eight cheap Nokia phones lined up in a row. On the wall above the fireplace was an LCD television tuned to Sky News. Khalid knew from experience that the station was almost always the first to cover a breaking news story.

‘How long before we know?’ asked Abu al Khayr.

On the television a blonde woman with unnaturally smooth skin and hair that looked like a blonde plastic helmet was talking earnestly about a car crash on a motorway in the north of England.

‘The first reports should be out within minutes,’ said Khalid. ‘Someone will call the station because they pay for tip-offs. They will check with the police and then they will announce it. But it will take another half an hour or so before they have pictures.’ He rubbed his beard. ‘But as we speak the kaffirs are being killed in their hundreds. It is a glorious day, brother, a day that will live for eternity.’

‘It is a pity that we could not be there to witness it,’ said Abu al Khayr. ‘It would be quite something to see.’

‘There will be CCTV footage of everything and the media will show it,’ said Khalid. ‘The whole world will bear witness to our triumph.’

‘Allahu akbar,’ said Abu al Khayr.

‘Allahu akbar,’ echoed Khalid.

They heard a dull thud from the hallway.

‘What was that?’ asked Abu al Khayr.

Khalid pulled a face. He stood up and as he did so he saw a movement through the lace curtains at the window that overlooked the street. Three men, all dressed in black, their faces concealed. He turned to say something to Abu al Khayr but at that instant something smashed through the window and rolled across the carpet. It was a small metal cylinder and Khalid immediately recognised it for what it was. He closed his eyes and clamped

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