I’m a reporter, and I live in a region that has been hit by an unmerciful terrorist group during decades. The risk was part of my life if I wanted to do my job honestly.
Once, many years ago, I found myself by chance in the middle of a police anti-terrorist operation in the streets of my city. I followed the situation to write the news for my newspaper, and I ended with more reporters in front of a warehouse the anti-terrorist forces were about to assault because they thought there was a hiding place for a cell they are in the process of dismantling.
They used small explosive charges to open the entrance and stormed in. Some of them were dressed as civils, and most of them in uniform. With automatic weapons, full protective gear and all. We, the reporters, were at some prudent distance, in two separate groups, observing. We heard screams, some loud noises, but no gunshots.
At some point, the special forces brought a man handcuffed and made him enter the warehouse. It was one of the terrorists arrested during the operation.
Almost immediately, the chief of the police went to the other group of journalists, said something to them, and came to our group, followed only by the photographer of my newspaper. When they arrived at my group, he asked. Who wants to enter with us to see what is going on in the warehouse? I Immediately jumped and said: Me!
I thought that all of us would be fighting to go in with the police, but to my surprise, I was the only one to volunteer. It was dangerous, but I knew I couldn’t lose the exclusive. My photographer had done the same as me at the other group of reporters.
When we enter the building, I saw some civilians waiting and many uniformed agents searching the place. I knew that one of the civilians was the terrorist arrested. But with the tension of the moment, I couldn’t tell who of them was.
The warehouse had a very dark basement, and we all went there. It was empty and had a cement sink in one corner. Under the sink, they had found a small metal door with a wire. The wall around sounded hollow, so the anti-terrorist force was convinced that there was a hiding place behind.
The Commandant began to ask the terrorist, who was the owner of the place, how to open that door. He began to deny everything. Said that had rented the basement to a couple, and didn’t know what they had done inside. He was so frightened that when the officers weren’t holding him, his legs didn’t support him and fall down screaming in anguish. When the police officers assured him that two members of the cell were arrested, he opened the door.
It was an armored block of steel that had a hydraulic system to remove it and clear the pass. We didn’t know if inside there was somebody. The tension was high. All the officers were with their weapons ready just in case. A volunteer entered first, armed, crawling because the hole was pretty small, saying aloud what was seeing:
-A small room, a refrigerator, a kitchen… a larger room at my left…
– Do you see tubes? the Commandant asked
– No tubes… Wait! Here they are, at least two tubes
-Yes! Triumph in the basement. The “tubes” were rocket launchers.
They were after a big weapons arsenal, and they had found it.
The basement was packed, and to let the special forces do their job, my photographer and me ended in a corner close to the prisoner who was under the vigilance of one officer. The terrorist then began to threaten us, telling us that our families and we would pay with our lives for being there.
Some officers began to pass through the little hole to the hiding place to search. There was an explosive expert, a weapons expert, the Commandant, and two others who were doing the inventory. My coworker and I entered too to do our job as reporters.
Inside there was a small room to hold a kidnapped person, and food stored to survive for several months.
The place for the hostage was oppressive. The length was exactly the size of a regular mattress, the width only enough to stretch my arms.
In their arsenal, they had 16 rocket launchers, and I don’t remember how many propel grenades, a lot of automatic rifles, munition, eight bombs already prepared stored in one shelf, and a big box full of C4 and another explosive even more powerful.
Plus, they had documentation about many targets in our city with elaborated data about their habits and schedules with plans of assassinations.
The worst was when the expert in explosives found the C4 because it was in bad condition, and it was dangerous to handle. We spent three hours inside that hole.
We learned that we had witnessed part of the dismantling of the cell who had terrorized our city for the last 16 years and had killed more than 18 people.
When we finally emerged, it was almost midnight. The street was dark and empty, and the only car in the middle of the road was my coworker’s. He was older than me and more seasoned, so I asked him:
-George, Are we OK? What have we done?
-Don’t ask me. I’m scared to death!.
When we arrived in the newsroom, everybody was waiting for us. I had a typewriter ready with the sheet of paper in, and I began to write as fast as I could. My boss was next to me to proofreading and send the text to the machines.
I took the risk. My friend George too. And we together got a big exclusive for our newspaper on the verge of the deadline.
(In the background picture, me as a reporter interviewing a lawyer in another story completely different)