Mahmoud had a job fixing photocopy machines. He was paid 50 dollars a month for this work, and at night he shared a room with ten other men. One day Mahmoud intervened when he saw a gang of boys bullying a kid on the streets. A man approached him and congratulated him on his bravery and asked him out for a drink. “For the next eighteen months, this guy showed me a good time–we went to bars, we met women, he gave me money, and I didn’t have to do anything. It was great–I was young, fit, good-looking, and this was what I had come to Bombay for!”. But the mentor worked for an organized crime outfit, and eventually he offered Mahmoud the chance to join full-time. “The thought of returning to a fifty-dollar job in that hovel meant there was no real choice–I was in.”
Mahmoud made a good hit-man – he studied his target’s habits, and planned his hits well. Often he and his teams carried out the hits in a busy crossroads in the afternoon at rush hour. They would get a car to block the road by the traffic lights. The target might be driving a car, and he couldn’t go forward because of the obstacle, and he couldn’t go back because of the traffic. One team would break his windshield, and then Mahmoud went in and “boom – straight at the head. It was always straight at the head because you only got one shot at it.”
Misha Glenny, who interviewed Mahmoud, asked him a final question: “How did you feel at the moment that you executed a hit?”
Like so many Indians, he chose a cricketing metaphor to answer, referring to the West Indies’ magnificent batsman and captain:
“Like Brian Lara when he hits the ball for six!”
The mystery to me here is how a man who defends a kids against bullies becomes a man who kills people who did him no harm. Another mystery is whether he disliked his targets, or it was whether it was nothing personal against the victim. Some hitmen do dislike their targets – I vaguely remember reading of an Iranian hit man who entered the targets’ meeting place, shouted “whores!” and shot his targets. But perhaps others simply suppress any moral inhibitions they might have and look at it as a business or sporting proposition to kill.
My mother attended a civil courage prize in New York for Anna Politkovskaya – a journalist from Russia who often criticized her government. One thing that Anna said at the ceremony stuck in my head – she said that such events in America made her safer. But ultimately they didn’t – she got shot in the head in the elevator of her apartment house in Russia by a hitman.
Whoever shot her may have thought he was shooting a traitor.
A week after the assassination, Alexander Litvinenko, a dissident living in England, accused Putin of sanctioning the murder. Two weeks after this statement, Litvinenko was poisoned by radioactive polonium by a Russian hitman. Two days before his death on November 24, 2006, he wrote a statement, in case he “does not make it”. He said:
“Name the bastard. Anna Politkovskaya did not do it, so I will, for both of us. You may succeed in silencing one man but the howl of protest from around the world will reverberate, Mr Putin, in your ears for the rest of your life. May God forgive you for what you have done, not only to me but to beloved Russia and its people”.
There is a video game called “hitman”, and I think that illustrates the fun of planning and tracking down a victim and then letting them have it. Just a few moral scruples have to be removed in real life.
McMafia – by Misha Glenny (for the interview with Mahmoud)