Today I’m taking part in the blog tour for The Language of Secrets by Ausma Zehanat Khan, published by No Exit Press. This is the second book in her Khattak/Getty series set in Canada. Thanks to Katherine Sunderland from No Exit Press and Anne Cater for inviting me to take part. First up, the blurb and then an extract to whet your appetite.
An undercover agent has been murdered… but whose side was he on?
Toronto: A local terrorist cell is planning an attack on New Year’s Day. For months, Mohsin Dar has been undercover, feeding information back to Canada’s national security team. Now he’s dead.
Detective Esa Khattak, compromised by his friendship with the murdered agent, sends his partner Rachel Getty into the unsuspecting cell. As Rachel delves deeper into the unfamiliar world of Islam and the group’s circle of trust, she discovers Mohsin’s murder may not have been politically motivated after all. And now she’s the only one who can stop the most devastating attack the country has ever faced.
On his way out of the INSET offices, Khattak paused to have a word with Gavin Chan, a former colleague. Chan had been a junior member of the team two years ago, especially gifted in telecommunications. If anyone would know about the intercepts, it would be Gavin Chan.
Chan walked him to the elevator, a compact individual with a head of spiky hair and a ferocious sense of attention to duty.
‘You can’t tell me anything, I know. But if you’re part of the operation, you’ll have heard about my sister. I need to know if she’s in immediate danger. Is there any way I could have a look at transcripts of the intercepts?’
Chan stared at the wall, dropping his voice.
‘It won’t help you. There’s thousands of them; you won’t have enough time.’ He stretched his arms behind his back with an impressive display of flexibility. ‘I think I need a coffee. You wouldn’t believe the things that cross my desk.’ He wandered away to the stairs, tipping his head at a side door as he passed. ‘Be careful,’ he mouthed.
Khattak understood at once. Two agents walked off the elevator, nodding as they recognized him. He waited for the passage to clear, then pressed the button to send the elevator back to the ground floor. He crossed to the door Chan had indicated and slipped inside.
Chan preferred to work in a closed cubicle with the pleasant scent of a vanilla candle.
His computer was encrypted, connected to a series of monitors, all of which were dark. To one side of his desk was a copier, a printer, and a security-coded shredder. The desk was a study in organized chaos, dozens of file folders stacked in an order that made sense only to Chan. Placed on top of these was a timecoded memorandum.
The memo from Martine Killiam was addressed to Ciprian Coale, disclosing the name of the agents who were responsible for delivery of the fertilizer to a man named Rahman Aziz.
Khattak frowned. He took it as a personal affront when members of a terrorist cell ascribed the names of God to themselves. Rahman meant the ‘Most Compassionate,’ Aziz the ‘Most Honorable’.
Neither was a fitting choice for a would-be bomb-maker.
He scanned the rest of the memo. The delivery date of the materials was unspecified, a fact that set him on edge. He knew the INSET team was highly competent. It didn’t stop him from worrying that Hassan Ashkouri had discovered a way of moving ahead with his plans.
He heard voices in the corridor outside. The ping of the elevator, a whoosh of doors. Footsteps came closer, then the voices moved away.
He sorted quickly through the folders, scanning dates, times, locations for anything connected to Ruksh. Gavin had been right. It was too much raw data, and he had no means of prioritizing the information he sought. But one folder at the bottom of the
pile caught his attention. It was a dossier on Ashkouri.
Amid the papers and photographs was a biography appended to Ashkouri’s immigration file. A senior construction engineer, Ashkouri had been accepted as a skilled worker into Canada, where he’d rapidly found employment before branching off to form his own consultancy. At his thriving engineering firm, he’d hired three of the congregants at the mosque. Rahman Aziz’s name was also on the list as one of Ashkouri’s employees.
There was no information about Ashkouri’s abandoned course of studies as an Islamic scholar, where he had planned to study, or whether he’d been denied entry or exit visas that would have allowed him to follow his chosen course.
The Ashkouri family was from Baqouba, northeast of Baghdad. They had moved to Baghdad to flee the fighting between American and Iraqi forces. In 2013, they had returned to Baqouba to face additional tragedy with the bombing of the al-Sariya mosque.
Khattak felt the shock of memory. The attack on Sunni worshippers had followed the bombing of Shia neighborhoods and sites of worship, in a cycle of sectarian violence that had spread throughout the country.
His fingers held up a document. Ashkouri’s parents and brothers had been killed in the al-Sariya attack. He had never been married, he had no children. Immediately after the attack, his immigration to Canada had been approved.
But there was nothing that connected Ashkouri to Ruksh. Frustrated, he tried Gavin’s desk drawer, convinced that his ex-colleague had walked him to the elevator for a reason.
On the top of a pile was a blue folder similar to the one Martine Killiam had given Khattak. He flicked it open.
It was the same collection of photographs that were in the file in his possession.
Members of the training camp were cross-referenced with congregants at the mosque.
He was about to close the folder when he noticed a discrepancy.
He paged through the numbered photographs again.
Buried at the back were two additional photographs.
One was of himself. The other was a photograph of his sister.
Paper-clipped to the back of the folder was a typed list of names associated with the numbered photos. And beside the names a provisional status: Cell 1, Cell 2.
The space beside Khattak’s name was blank.
But under his name was his sister’s.
Rukshanda Khattak: Cell 1.
He closed the door to Gavin Chan’s cubicle, heading for the stairs.
Laine Stoicheva was at the elevator as he turned.
She looked from Esa to Gavin’s door, her eyebrows drawn together. The elevator doors opened and Gavin stepped out, holding a cup of coffee.
There was no time for Esa to warn him.
None of the three moved.
Then Laine stepped into the elevator, turning her face away.
The doors closed on anything Khattak might have said.
Wow! Imagine being a police officer and finding out that your sister may be linked to a terrorist cell! If you want to read more you can buy the book here.
Ausma Zehnant Khan holds a PhD in International Human Rights Law with a specialisation in military intervention and war crimes in the Balkans. She has practised immigration law and taught human rights law at Northwestern University and York University. Formerly, she served as Editor in Chief of Muslim Girl magazine. The first magazine to address a target audience of young Muslim women, Muslim Girl re-shaped the conversation about Muslim women in North America. She is a long-time community activist and writer. Born in Britain, Ausma lived in Canada for many years before recently becoming an American citizen. She lives in Colorado with her husband. The Language of Secrets is the second Esa Khattak and Rachel Getty mystery following The Unquiet Dead. it will be followed by Among the Ruins.