INQUIRER STAFF WRITER
November 24, 1997
ON THE CROWDED STREETS people surged with anger around Mike Durant's crashed Blackhawk. They wanted to kill these Americans who had fallen from the sky and opened fire on their friends and neighbors. And despite furious gunfire from the soldiers around the downed helicopter, people continued to move in that direction.
In the months since the Rangers came, they had been swooping over the city at all hours of the night and day, blowing the tin roofs off houses and roping in to shoot and arrest Habr Gidr clan leaders. It was an insult to Somalia. On this day all the hatred had come to a boil, and many were already dead.
At the wreck site, Delta Sgt. First Class Randy Shughart and Master Sgt. Gary Gordon were fending off the crowd, waiting for the promised rescue convoy of ground troops. Yousuf Dahir Mo'Alim, the neighborhood militia leader, had been trying to keep the angry crowd back. Now he didn't have to work as hard. The Somalian bodies strewn around the clearing and the deadly accurate fire from the Americans did that.
Mo'Alim stayed back himself. There was time. The Americans were surrounded. He waited until about a dozen of his men joined him, and then they fanned out to find good positions for a coordinated assault.
On the side of the helicopter he could see, there were two soldiers and a pilot who were firing. Another American lay dead or badly wounded. At Mo'Alim's signal, his men opened fire all at once on the Americans. After a furious exchange of fire that lasted at least two minutes, the Americans stopped firing. The crowd followed Mo'Alim and his men into the clearing.
The mob descended on the Americans. Only one was still alive. He shouted and waved his arms as the mob grabbed him by the legs and pulled him away, tearing at his clothes. People with knives hacked at the bodies of the dead Americans. Others in the crowd pulled and tore at the dead men's limbs. Soon people were running, shouting and cackling, parading with parts of the Americans' bodies.
When Mo'Alim ran around the tail of the helicopter, he was startled to find two other Americans. One, stretched on the ground, looked badly wounded or dead. The other, a pilot, was still alive. The man did not shoot. He set his weapon on his chest and folded his hands over it.
One of his men struck the pilot hard in the face with his rifle butt, and Mo'Alim pushed him back. The pilot was at their mercy. It occurred to Mo'Alim that this American was more valuable alive than dead. The Rangers had spent months capturing Somalis and holding them prisoner. They would be willing to trade them, perhaps all of them, for one of their own.
Mo'Alim and some of his men formed a ring around the pilot to protect him from the mob, which sought only revenge. Several of Mo'Alim's fighters tore off Durant's clothing. The pilot had a pistol strapped to his side, and a knife, and the Somalis were afraid he had other hidden weapons. They knew the American pilots also wore beacons in their clothing so that the helicopters could track them, so they stripped him.
Durant kept his eyes on the sky. The Somalis were screaming things he couldn't understand. His nose was broken, and the bone around his eyes was shattered from the blow to his face.
When they started pulling off his clothes, they were unfamiliar with the plastic snaps on his gear, so Durant reached down and squeezed them open. His boots were yanked off, then his survival vest and his shirt. A man started unzipping his pants, but when he saw that the pilot wore no underwear (for comfort in the equatorial heat) he zipped the trousers back up. They also left on his brown T-shirt. All the while he was being kicked and hit.
He was buffeted from all sides, kicked, hit with fists, rifle butts. He could not see where they were taking him. He was engulfed in a great chorus of hate and anger. Someone, he thought a woman, grabbed his penis and testicles and yanked at them.
And in this agony of fright, Durant suddenly left his body. He was no longer at the center of the crowd. He was in it, or above it, perhaps. He was observing the crowd attacking him, apart somehow. He felt no pain. The fear lessened, and he passed out.
Chapter 10: Rangers at the base are shaken by the fight.