The Fifth Horseman (novel)
The Fifth Horseman is a 1980 novel written by Larry Collins and Dominique Lapierre. In a suspenseful novel of terrorist threat, Libyan leader Gaddafi holds New York City hostage with the threat of setting off a hidden nuclear bomb. The book had such a shocking effect that the French President cancelled the sale of nuclear reactors to Libya, even though it was meant for peaceful purposes. Paramount Pictures, which was planning to make a film based on the book, dropped the idea in the fear that some fanatics would try to emulate the scenario in real life. However the authors indicate that the events could eventually happen.
A related book, with much the same plot and even the same jokes, "Is New York Burning?" examines the same scenario, except exchange George W. Bush for Jimmy Carter, exchange Osama bin Laden for Muammar al-Gaddafi, and 2005 for 1980.
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The bomb and Kamal Dajani arrive in New York City by freighter. The bomb was built by his brother Whalid, a nuclear scientist, in Libya. Although Whalid and Kamal made a Muslim vow on pain of death to avenge their father's loss of their West Bank home, Whalid had originally dedicated his life to peaceful nuclear energy at Cadarache. That was until Kamal was ready to enforce the vow. French police subsequently arrested Kamal, Whalid, and their sister Laila and deported them to Beirut so as not to jeopardize politics of nuclear energy. When the police questioned Whalid's French wife, she committed suicide. Kamal and their mother exploited the event for Whalid and she bid them to help Gaddafi in Libya.
Laila, in disguise, personally delivers the written threat by Gaddafi to the White House, with instructions on how to retrieve technical designs as proof from an airport locker. The President (resembling Jimmy Carter in age, religiosity, Navy service, etc.) and his team agonize over the bomb design and the threat to the final assessment by the Department of Energy that it is a three megaton H-bomb.
The nuclear search team NEST is activated, travelling on Starlifter cargo plane from Nevada to McGuire Air Force Base, New Jersey. Meanwhile, combined teams of New York City police and FBI, including New York police detective Angelo Rocchia and FBI agent Mike Rand, conduct shoe-leather field research on the incoming shipment, the false and stolen documents, and the three terrorists, moving ever closer to the truth in a logical progression, to look for "a barrel of chlorine gas."
It looks bleak for NEST. Its equipment can only look so far down from the air and only so far up from the street. Even a water bed could neutralize the radioactive emissions of the bomb. Also, other terrorists help to confuse NEST, by attaching plutonium pellets to the legs of pigeons and setting them loose.
It also looks bleak for New York City, whose mayor, Abe Stern, was summoned to the White House under false pretenses and told face-to-face by the President of the nuclear threat. Not only is evacuation ruled out by Gaddafi, but some fallout shelters are loaded with junk, susceptible to flooding, or badly stocked with no supplies or rotten supplies. New York City's air raid sirens were literally falling down. New York City did have a good radio-TV public address system for the mayor, but it was unmistakably clear that up to eight million people in and around the city would die of burns, blast, flying debris, or radiation, and New England would get the fallout immediately after. New York City officials contemplate evacuation plans but scrap them because few people have cars and train operators cannot be counted on to work in a crisis.
Israel's military leaders do not trust the President during this crisis. Israel almost successfully launches its own nuclear strike against Libya, using F4 Phantoms and their plutonium atom bombs, and an electronic countermeasures plane, until the French ambassador warns Israel that the Soviets will launch a nuclear strike against Israel unless they desist. Begin horrifically deduces that the President asked the Soviets to keep Israel in line, and backs down. Begin will not vacate the West Bank settlements as demanded by Gaddafi: in fact, the Israeli Army could mutiny if ordered to vacate the settlements.
Rand and Rocchia make progress: first, checking bills of lading from the harbor, and questioning longshoremen about unusual activity. Further checking determines a discrepancy between what was listed on the manifest and what actually made it to the destination. Rand and Rocchia check the rental vehicle involved and discover it was rented with a stolen driver's license. The pickpocketing victim, Mr. Gerald Putman, reviewing photographs, identifies Carmen, a Colombian whose large breasts help distract her victims. Rocchia makes up a criminal incident to get an Italian woman to tell her where Carmen lives. Capturing her and her associate Pedro Torres leads them to a Jewish document forger, Benny Muscowitz. Rocchia's aggressive manner makes Benny finally invoke his right against self-incrimination, but Rand is able, without giving too many details about the Israeli crisis, to encourage Benny to talk. A French nuclear scientist who worked in Libya, Paul-Henri de Serre, turned out to be an art thief whom the Libyans set up. Paul-Henri identifies Whalid and Kamal and the French fax the records of Whalid, Kamal, and Laila to the CIA. A short time later, Rand and Rocchia arrest Nabil Suleiman, who was wanted by Israel for a terrorist attack, and threaten to deport him, for lack of a U.S. visa, directly into the custody of a Mossad agent waiting outside, unless he becomes a witness in the case. Nabil is able to identify Laila and Kamal based on the French photos. Further questioning of New York citizens establishes that the same rental truck was in the location in question at the time in question.
The President has briefed the Rapid Deployment Force, in transit to Lebanon, with options to invade the West Bank.
Rocchia is very upset when he asks a nuclear technician what he is carrying and the technician honestly indicates, "Geiger counter". He feels betrayed that the FBI would be told, but not the New York City police like himself. Rocchia's superior manages to calm him down. Rocchia had delivered good leads, he wants to take his daughter with Down's syndrome far north from the city. Rocchia is free to go, on the condition that he remain silent. He tries to ask the Catholic school for children with disabilities for permission to take her "to see relatives". The nun accedes, but in the meantime, Rocchia has to look at dozens of other children, all with disabilities, who will be incinerated if the bomb goes off. She does not see Rocchia any more when she returns with the daughter and his car is gone.
The President consults his advisors again. One finally says that during the oil embargo and the Iranian hostage crisis, when the Europeans wavered, it was Israel that had stood by the United States. Also simultaneously, a crucial deadline passes and the nuclear bomb does not explode. Now some distance safely away from the bomb, Whalid finally tells his brother Kamal, he did not build the bomb to incinerate New York City residents, he did it to make Libya parallel with Israel, the Soviets, France, China, Britain, and America. Whalid had fed the wrong tape deliberately to the computer while his brother and sister had been working on the antenna on the roof. Whalid, in self defense, tries to shoot his brother and misses, Kamal breaks Whalid's trachea with an expert martial arts maneuver, causing Whalid to slowly suffocate to death. Kamal grabs the detonation checklist and Laila and drives back to the bomb to detonate it manually by himself.
The President makes a decision. He is not merely the President of people in New York City: he is the President of all Americans, and America is being bullied to invade an ally. This is an act of war, not just a crime. Finally, he orders two nuclear submarines to position their SLBMs on Libya, and orders his admiral to launch them unless the bomb is found and defused, or unless Gaddafi extends his latest ultimatum.
Gaddafi reports that the President's acceptance of the original terms is not acceptable. One of Gaddafi's own ministers protests, America has capitulated. Gaddafi replies that the Americans are stalling for time. The President finally levies his nuclear threat. Gaddafi is the only cool head as the minister panics.
Meanwhile, a suspicious neighbor hears the gunshot and calls police, who identify Whalid based on a tattoo. The New York City police and FBI absolutely know who they are looking for. Kamal gets out of the car and tells Laila to drive to Montreal. He then steals an ambulance to finish his drive to the bomb. Rand and Rocchia hear about the ambulance on the radio, see it, and chase it. Rocchia cautiously enters the building where Kamal is with the bomb. "Police! Don't move!" Kamal expertly fires a succession of shots from an automatic pistol. Rocchia drops to the floor, safe, but silently. Rand tries to enter the building, thinking Rocchia is wounded. Rocchia can't warn Rand because he'd betray his position. Rand ultimately becomes Kamal's target, fatally wounded, but Rocchia is able to kill Kamal with two shots.
The nuclear scientists review their options. After determining that the case is safe to open, they choose ultraviolet radiation to burn out the microprocessor, and New York is safe.
That leaves Laila. Not surprisingly, she is eager to get to Canada, she is speeding ever so slightly. A police car gives chase, Laila manages to almost lose the police car, but she hits a stretch of black ice, she loses control, crashes in the opposite lane, and the car's gas tank explodes, burning her alive. "What ever got into her?" the officer asks. "All I had her for was seven miles over the limit."
The French version of "The Fifth Horseman", while it follows the same general plot, differs from the English one; certain scenes are deleted (such as the scene where Carter threatens Libya with nuclear retaliation), others are added in, and not everything happens in the same order.
Most notably, the ending (after the bomb is discovered) is not the same. Gaddafi is never sent the telegram quoting the Quran, nor does the President state that he "will not get away with this". Instead, the crisis is concluded with Carter inviting both Gaddafi and Begin to Camp David in secret to seek a final solution to the Palestinian question. In the last scene, Rocchia is informed of this quietly, and remarks on the absurdity of risking the lives of six million people for this to happen. Furthermore, Laila, instead of being killed, is arrested by the police and sentenced to life imprisonment.
- Collins, Larry and LaPierre, Dominique. The Fifth Horseman. New York City: Simon and Schuster, 1980.
- History Channel. Day After Disaster. Federal response after a 10 kiloton (1/300 the bomb in the book) detonation on the Capitol grounds. 2 hours.
- Collins, Larry and LaPierre, Dominque. Is New York Burning? Pembroke Pines, Florida: Phoenix Books, 2005.