How I Captured Osama
It was my first opportunity to spend any reasonable length of time in an Arabic speaking country, but the Lord had definitely planted a desire in my heart to reach out to Muslims. Six months earlier, before I even knew that I would be traveling to Egypt, I had obeyed a prompt by the Holy Spirit to begin to learn Egyptian Arabic. The little that I learned came in very useful and helped me to develop and instant rapport with complete strangers who were both very surprised and delighted (and sometimes amused) to hear a foreigner attempt to speak to them in their own language. Whilst I was in Egypt I met two very key people... one was a lovely Christian woman by the name of Hanan, whom I met by providence at the library in Alexandria. She and I became instant friends. The other was a thief... a one-armed man by the name of Osama.
I had travelled to this ancient city of Alexandria - a city dating back to the time of Alexander the Great, rich in Greek, Roman, Egyptian, Christian and Muslim history - as a result of another prompting by the Spirit during my recent trip to East Africa. I did not know why, but I felt God calling me to leave my good friends in Uganda and to travel to Egypt and then to head as far north as possible. I met Osama while walking on "the Corniche" - the picturesque beach road that rings the beautiful bay of Alexandria. He was a friendly and likable young man who introduced himself to me and offered to be my unofficial guide during the time of my stay in Alexandria. After initially trying to politely get away from him I was then quickly convicted that maybe he was the reason why God has brought me so far and I berated myself for the attempt. He also spoke both English and Arabic and I reasoned that he might prove useful as a translator if I had opportunity to interact with the locals. I also pitied him because I was reasonably sure that a young man with a disability would have limited career opportunities in this economically challenged country. Osama tenaciously stuck to me like glue and was eager to show me the tourist attractions of Alexandria, including the beach road cafes, the back street markets and guide me to where I could find an Internet Cafe. In return he enjoyed Turkish coffee, a few meals and smoked 'shisha' at my expense, which is the custom among most men in Egypt.
I first began to have doubts about Osama when he developed a pattern of speaking to all the store owners and taxi drivers we met in hushed tones. Then I would often be charged five times the usual price and I suspected that Osama was privately negotiating kick-backs in return for bringing along a gullible tourist. There was also the event at the Internet Cafe: Whilst I was intently reading my emails I had placed my cell phone on the table beside the computer. Osama very smoothly and quietly reached out and lifted my phone from the table, but I saw it in my peripheral vision. When I turned and looked at him he was blank faced and expressionless. I held out my hand and he broke into a smile as if it was all a joke and returned my phone. I was not convinced that it had been a joke and I watched him more carefully after that.
Later that evening Osama's real character immerged when he asked me if I wanted to meet some girls. I told him no, I was not interested in meeting prostitutes, if that is what he meant, but I told him that if he knew where I could meet ordinary local people for innocent conversation then that would be preferable from spending my evenings alone at my hotel. I also thought it might be an opportunity to share the gospel using Osama as a translator. Osama led me to believe that we would go to a local cafe where he would introduce me to some of his friends, so we met at the arranged time and boarded a taxi. Osama again began to whisper in hushed tones to the driver and when I asked him what he was saying he dodged the question and told me "Mr Allan, I told some girls that you are a rich and famous businessman from Australia and they have paid me money to introduce you to them". I was furious - not only because I had been deceived, but because Osama had apparently also lied to these girls and extracted money from them. I also began to wonder what kind of girls I was going to meet! I stayed in the taxi only because I felt obligated to expose Osama's lie and attempt to get their money back. Not surprisingly, when the taxi stopped we were charged 30 Egyptian Pounds for what should have been a 10 Pound trip, and the fact that we had arrived at what looked like a strip club was more than I could endure. At this point I lost my patience and told Osama that he was a liar and to stay away from me. I walked away from him in disgust and started to make my way back to the hotel alone, but he followed after me profusely apologising. After walking for 5 minutes with Osama on my heels I turned and said to him "Osama, listen to me... I am a godly man... I do not use women. I do not lie to women. I do not exploit women... I regard them as my equals and I treat them with respect. Do you understand?". Osama bowed his head in shame.
I then continued to walk and Osama followed. I hailed another taxi and this time I got into the front and I told Osama to shut up and sit in the back. Not surprisingly our trip back cost only 10 Pounds. When we got out of the taxi I told Osama firmly, "Now go home!" but he followed me back to the hotel looking like a man genuinely under conviction and seeking redemption. I even thought I saw some tears. "Mr Allan, forgive me."
Now perhaps a more discerning man would never have got himself into this situation at all, but being the naive and gullible man that I am, I was convinced that Osama's penitence was genuine. "Mr Allan, you see my heart. Here in Egypt people have dark hearts, and in Islam there is no love". I had made earlier attempts to witness to Osama but did not see any signs of real interest until now. "Mr Allan, you have a good heart".
"Osama, if you want a good heart then you need to go home, get on your knees before God and repent, ask for forgiveness and ask Isa (Jesus) into your life. Isa can give you a new life and change your dark heart, but you must believe that He is the Son of God and be prepared to follow Him... are you ready to do that?"
"Yes Mr Allan"
What followed was a discussion about the basic truths of the gospel and how Christian belief differs from Islam. I also explained to Osama the chance of him being persecuted by his family for becoming a Christian. He nodded in agreement and when he clearly expressed a desire to be saved we prayed together. He then asked me if I would come to his house a couple of days later to talk to his family and I agreed. But what I did not realise at the time was that this was all a part of a well rehearsed act and a plan to get closer to me and to introduce me into his wider world of thieves and con artists. The following day I met his brother - a very shifty character who was also happy to drink Turkish coffee and smoke shisha at my expense. Whilst I was cautious, I did not have any firm evidence upon which to doubt the genuineness of Osama's conversion, and so when that evening Osama intercepted me on the street as I was headed out to eat I invited him to join me at the Pizza Hut. If he was a new believer then I wanted to use every opportunity to get to know him and give him some basic lessons in discipleship.
Whilst eating I placed my cell phone on the table and on two occasions during the meal my attention was diverted. On the way back Osama seemed unusually happy and stopped on the street and began to pray in Arabic. "What are you praying for Osama?" I asked. He replied that he was thanking Allah for making me his spiritual father, but it was just then that I realised my phone was missing! Osama looked surprised, but not very convincingly. I asked him if he had taken it, which he denied, so we retraced our steps back to the restaurant to see if I had left the phone on the table. The manager and staff were very helpful but adamant that the phone was not on the table when they cleared it. We tried calling the number but the phone was switched off. Suspecting Osama but not wanting to accuse this new believer without evidence, I asked the manager to call the police. I also asked Osama to retrace our steps to see if I had dropped the phone somewhere. I knew that I hadn't dropped it but I wanted to give Osama every opportunity to repent and to "find" the phone before the police arrived. It would also confirm him as a definite suspect if he chose that moment to flee the scene. The manager, who also suspected Osama, knew exactly what I was doing and gave me an approving smile as Osama left. But Osama came back without the phone and accompanied me to the police station to help me file the report, which I would need to make an insurance claim.
God gave me favour with the police and I was able to establish a friendly rapport with them with the little Arabic that I knew. After I made my report Osama and I left the Police Station and I decided to bait him to see if I could establish the truth of what really happened. "Osama, my phone is very expensive but my travel insurance will pay for it. But what hurts me most is that I have very valuable information on the SIM card and memory card that I cannot afford to lose." This was actually true, but I overstated it for effect. I thought if greed was the motivation for the theft of my phone, greed might also be the means by which I might get it back, although I was not very hopeful. Osama took the bait. "Mr Allan, my brother knows many thieves in Alexandria and if you are prepared to pay him then I think I can get your SIM card back... how much are you prepared to pay?"
Osama was cunning, but obviously not very smart. Not only had he stolen my $780 phone in a place where there were few other potential suspects, but he was now wanting me to believe that his brother had reliable connections with every thief in Alexandria who might see an opportunity to snatch a phone. I had been very gullible up to this point, but not that gullible! I agreed to pay $500 if I could get my phone back and 150 Egyptian pounds for the SIM and memory card. I also promised Osama that he would 'get what he deserved' for helping me... he thought I was talking about a reward.
What followed was like something out of a movie. When Osama and I parted company that evening I followed him at a distance, staying concealed behind lampposts and groups of people as he retraced our movements back toward the restaurant. I was trying to stay out of sight but I suspect that he was returning to the scene of the crime where he had stashed the phone somewhere. I lost track of him in the crowd and returned to my hotel where I spent a sleepless night, grieved that I had lost not just a valuable phone, but what I had believed was a new brother in Christ as well. The next day I returned to the police station with Hanan and filed another report naming Osama as a suspect. The police were very professional and co-operative and together with Hanan and the police we organised a 'sting' where Hanan would contact the police when she got my signal, and they would come and catch Osama with the evidence on him at my hotel. I arranged to meet with Osama at 3pm that afternoon, but I spent the afternoon enjoying the sights of Alexandria with Hanan and deliberately left Osama waiting at my hotel for 4 hours. When I finally returned I found Osama agitated, impatient and nervous... just the way I expected to find him.
Osama told me his brother had found my phone and he wanted me to immediately accompany him to a cafe where the cash transaction would take place but I refused. "Osama, I know you are a good man, but these men who stole my phone, they are rats and thieves" I said, looking him straight in the eye, inwardly savoring the moment. "Osama, these men cannot be trusted. If I go with you they might attack me, steal my money and even harm you. No Osama, if there is going to be a deal it has to take place here in the hotel lounge. If my phone or SIM card have been damaged I will not pay anything. I need to see them and test them before any money changes hands."
Osama was now visibly squirming. Having waited with heightened greed-driven anticipation for me for more than fours hours, he was now facing an immovable obstacle to his plan. He pleaded with me but I was adamant that I would not leave the building. In frustration he reached into his shirt and then opened his hand to reveal the MiniSD card which I recognised as being from my phone. When I went to take it he pulled his hand away and refused to let me inspect it. Hanan then called me (I had since bought a replacement phone) and now that I had seen the physical evidence I gave her the pre-arranged signal to call the police. The next few minutes were tense as Osama tried to persuade me to leave and I refused to go. He became more and more agitated and paced back and forth. The hotel staff had been watching Osama cautiously all this time and began to confront him in Arabic. I did not understand what was being said. I tried to smooth things over and whispered to the manager that the police were on their way, to which he nodded and backed off. Whilst I was talking to Osama he casually went to the door and locked it, blocking off any avenue for Osama's escape. Osama was trapped and the police were just minutes away.
When the police swooped in there was one uniform and four plain clothes detectives. They grabbed Osama and I informed them that he had my property on him somewhere. A full search revealed nothing until one of the police went to search under the stump of his missing arm and he resisted. Some reasonable force was applied to ensure his co-operation and my SIM and memory cards fell out onto the floor. That was enough... Osama was under arrest and now he would either have to provide details of his fictitious criminal connections or face charges for the theft of my phone. The senior detective sent me under guard back to the police station and asked me to wait there while they took Osama to his house and searched it. An hour later a very happy looking detective returned with my phone in hand and informed me that it had been found in Osama's house. It was here that I began to see God's bigger plan. In the office where I had been waiting was a large poster of the Hajj Pilgrimage at Mecca. While the detective filled out the paperwork I asked him if he was a Muslim, to which he replied "Yes, are you a Muslim?" to which I answered no. This naturally led to a discussion about my work in Africa and how I had seen many people in Uganda healed as a result of prayer in the name of Isa (Jesus). I told him that if he had an relatives who were sick I would be happy to pray for them, at which time he eagerly told me about a few ailments of his own. Right there under the poster of Mecca I prayed for him in the name of Jesus as his fellow police officers went in and out of his office. God gave me such favour that all the police were talking about the Australian and the stolen cell phone.
The next day I had to appear at the District Attorney's office and spent the whole day waiting and then being questioned and answering questions about the case... mostly waiting. It was a fascinating insight into the criminal justice system in Egypt, and I have to say that the men I dealt with were very professional, polite and efficient. The District Attorney requested that Hanan return to help with translation and there was a lengthy time when I was questioned about some false allegations that Osama had made about me in his efforts to deflect his own guilt. It was fortunate for me that Osama was such a prolific liar and kept changing his story each time he was questioned, otherwise I could have been in serious trouble. Eventually Osama was brought in and interrogated in my presence. During this time Osama swore on the Koran that his statements were true and accused both me and the police of fabricating evidence against him. This drew an angry response from the prosecutors, "Swear if you like, but not on the Koran because we know you are a liar!" They even offered him more lenient treatment if he would confess and co-operate, and I would even have been happy to drop the charges if I had seen any sign or remorse. But sadly Osama persisted with his lies and it was here that I learned that he had a past criminal record. When given a chance to pardon him I spoke directly to him and said, "Osama, I feel sorry for you - I really do, but I feel more sorry for your victims. You have shown no signs of remorse and you have fabricated even more lies about me. I think you need to go to prison and use that time to think about the direction of your life". My response seemed to please the prosecutors who then returned my phone and after some friendly discussion told me that I was free to go. Osama would face court and based on the overwhelming weight of evidence against him he would probably serve between 4 and 6 months in prison.
As Hanan and I walked out onto the street I heard a voice behind me, "Mr Allan". I turned to see who was calling me and saw Osama handcuffed being led back to the police lockup. As I watched him being led away he turned and said "Sorry". Perhaps that was the first truly honest thing that Osama had said to me. I nodded and waved and resolved to pray for Osama throughout the term of his incarceration. Maybe our meeting was this beginning of his redemption afterall... that is certainly my prayer.
Publisher, Worldview Interactive
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