Tuesday, 5 July 2011

This is what happens to cowards

You can see it happening in Libya and to a certain extent in Malaysia.
She surrendered to illegal demands because she feared for her life. In
other words she obeyed her black mailers.
You may escape death temporarily, but the end is so sure as with all
black mailers. You will lose ll your life or whatever property that
you have surrendered.
The best way to handle black mailers is to accept the fact that you
have already lost your life or property. Don't delay the loss because
you will incur more damages on the way. Fight all black mailers. After
all, you will lose your life or whatever possessions that you may
If you fight, at least, your friends and relatives will be saved
sooner or later. For Muslims, if you die fighting for your rights, you
will be guaranteed heaven, so fight to the death. After all, you have
nothing to lose but lots more to gain, on earth and heaven. Remember
that you have already lost your life and property when you cannot
fight a black mailer.
All of must therefore must be prepared to fight with whatever means at
our disposal. Don't bet that just because we are peaceful now, there
are no violent elements around.
'I fell in love with a female assassin'
They met on a train and fell in love. Then Jason P Howe discovered
that his girlfriend Marylin was leading a secret double life – as an
assassin for right-wing death squads in Colombia's brutal civil war.
With their story set to become a major Hollywood film, he recalls an
extraordinary, doomed romance
Thursday, 6 March 2008
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(c) Jason P. Howe 2003
Jason P Howe hugs girlfriend Marylin who was leading a secret double
life as an assassin © Jason P Howe
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There comes a point in every new relationship when your girlfriend
wants to share a secret. Usually it's to do with sex – how many other
partners she's had (with a few conveniently erased) – that sort of
thing. Often, the secret changes the basis of the relationship;
honesty comes with consequences. But what happens if your new
girlfriend has a much darker and more sinister secret than having
slept around a bit?
Sitting naked on the edge of the bed in a cheap, sweltering hotel room
in the heart of a war-torn, drug-producing region of Colombia, I lit a
cigarette and listened as the girl I had just made love with told me a
secret dark enough to shake anyone from their postcoital bliss.
I had been in Colombia for a few months to learn how to become a
photojournalist. Not by attending some theoretical university course,
or taking portraits in a cosy studio, but by pitching myself in at the
deep end.
Times of peace have been rare in the country's history. For the past
40 years or so, a Marxist-inspired rebel group known as the Farc
(Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) have been at war with the
government, funding their growing army by kidnapping and extortion,
and taxing the illegal cocaine trade. Right-wing death squads known as
"self-defence forces" have sprung up as a response to the Farc's
kidnapping of wealthy landowners and drug-lords. Under the umbrella of
an organisation called the AUC (Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia) these
private militias, or paramilitaries (known locally as "paras"), are
secretly supported by those high in the government and military, who
back their dirty war against the Farc rebels.
This triangular conflict has exacted, and continues to exact, a hefty
price from the Colombian people. During the past four decades, over
200,000 have lost their lives and more than three million have been
forced from their homes by violence or intimidation. This week,
following an incursion by government forces to kill Farc rebels in
Ecuador, the conflict was at the centre of a diplomatic crisis
involving both nations, together with Hugo Chavez's Venezuela.
To dismiss all this brutality as a simple war over drugs does the
Colombian people a gross injustice. Its roots are buried in the
economic and social imbalance that permeates the country, a huge
working class living in poverty, lining the pockets of a tiny, wealthy
upper class who own more than 90 per cent of the land, industry and
business. My goal, therefore, was to meet and photograph members of
each of the groups involved, and to attempt explain Latin America's 40-
year conflict.
I began by travelling to a part of the country with a strong Farc
presence, and, after much perseverance, persuaded the rebels to let me
live in one of their camps. After documenting their daily lives and
being alongside them in a firefight against government troops, it was
time to go off in search of their sworn enemies, the paras.
I headed towards the Putumayo, one of the narco-trafficking centres
and scene of ongoing skirmishes between Farc and the paras in southern
Colombia on the border with Ecuador. It took a couple of days
travelling on a local bus to get to the capital, Puerto Asis.
En route, I began talking with a fellow passenger, a beautiful
Colombian girl called Marylin who told me she was returning from a
clothes-buying trip in one of the big cities. I explained my purpose
in visiting the region, and Marylin told me she had friends in both
the paramilitaries and the military, so would be able to help. She
invited me to stay with her family, who had a roadside store and bar
on the outskirts of town. I was attracted to Marylin, but had no idea
how close we would become and how our future would unfold.
I spent the next few weeks living with her family, making trips out
into the countryside to photograph the coca fields and to meet the
paramilitaries. Marylin and I spent long afternoons lying together in
a hammock. We held hands and kissed occasionally, but it went no
further. Eventually, my time and funds ran out and I had to return to
England. As I said goodbye, I promised to do my best to return and
Marylin told me I was now "part of the family".
Six months later, I was back, determined to explore this conflict
fully, learn as much as I could and maybe publish a book. I made my
way back to Puerto Asis with the intention of spending some time with
Marylin and her family. But I was in for some surprises: Marylin told
me that she had joined the AUC and had been active in combat in the
nearby village of El Tigre. Another female friend who had been
fighting at her side had been killed, along with 25 other paramilitary
fighters and at least 15 rebels. When the combat ceased, the entire
population of the village fled. Marylin's brother was now working on a
coca plantation and carried a pistol that he slept with under his
pillow. I didn't find it particularly shocking. This was, after all, a
country torn apart by every type of violence. Only luck, or lack of
it, dictated which side you were on.
Months passed. I travelled around the country developing my project.
The results received positive attention, including a prize in an
international competition, and it was suggested that I go to Iraq to
document the war there. And so I did. But, after six months living
with the daily car bombings and rocket attacks in Baghdad, I was
hankering to return to Colombia.
A year after our first meeting, I arrived back at Marylin's home in a
battered taxi. I sat and drank an ice-cold beer with her father while
waiting for her to return from an "errand". I then walked hand-in-hand
with her and her four-year-old daughter, Natalie, down the rutted cart
track to a tree-shaded river behind her house. With her daughter
splashing around near the bank we waded, arm in arm, into the deeper,
cooler water. I felt there was a change in the atmosphere, but I
couldn't exactly put my finger on what I was sensing.
I asked Marylin if things would be different between us if I stayed at
a hotel in the town rather than with her family. She agreed that it
might make it easier for us to be together, so I found myself a room.
That evening, she came for dinner. We ate on the balcony and, as we
shared a bottle of wine and listened to the chorus of insects, I began
to think that the year of groundwork I had put in was about to pay
off. Marylin stayed the night.
Puerto Asis, Marylin's home town sits a degree or two above the
equator. Air-conditioning was an expensive extra and I was broke. The
tiny hotel room was stifling, and, as we lay curled in the sweat-
soaked sheets, with the shouts of street vendors and the rumble of
early morning traffic drifting in though the balcony window, Marylin
said she had something to tell me.
She then hit me with a confession that would both thrill and confuse
me. She explained that in the months that I had been away in Iraq her
role within the AUC had changed; she had joined the urban militia and
become an assassin. Her job was now to eliminate informers and
traitors. So far, she told me, she had killed at least 10 people in
the area. I lit a cigarette and inhaled deeply, Marylin looked at me
through the smoke as I exhaled, waiting to see how I would respond to
what she had just told me.
Strangely, her confession did not have the impact one would expect; I
did not recoil in horror. The months I had spent in Colombia and in
Iraq surrounded by violence had altered my perspective. I don't think
that I had become immune to death or suffering but I had certainly
become less easily shocked. The difference between victim and victor,
rebel and refugee, often felt like only a matter of perspective.
I had always enjoyed the company of the "doers", the rebels and the
soldiers who were out risking their lives for causes I supposed they
believed in. I was left cold by the wealthy, well-dressed beauty
queens who inhabited the upmarket clubs of Bogota. Although I would
later feel very differently, my initial reaction to Marylin's words
were an acceptance that may even have bordered on approval. I guess I
felt that as war-zone lovers go, she was pretty "cool".
In the beginning, her visits to my hotel room – usually armed with a
pistol – did not disturb me greatly. At first, I don't think the real
implications of what Marylin was doing had filtered through the
surreal haze. I was young and living out a great adventure. This was
surely the closest I would ever get to someone who was truly and
totally involved and immersed in this conflict. The woman I had only
recently begun sleeping with was a hired killer and there was a gun on
my bedside table.
Watching her take the pistol from her belt, unbutton her jeans and
slip into bed I somehow couldn't quite equate the woman in my arms
with the bodies I had seen in the local morgue, their heads shattered
by gunshots at close range, murders she confessed to having committed.
High on a combination of the heady tropical climate, local rum, grade
A cocaine and in the arms of nubile 22-year-old, fantasy and reality
became blurred. It felt like I was living in a Quentin Tarantino
One morning, Marylin told me that the previous night she had persuaded
a friend to help her decapitate and dismember a woman she had been
contracted to kill. This was no informer, but, rather, a friend of
hers who paid her to kill her boyfriend's other girlfriend. She
described so graphically what had happened, with so little feeling,
that at last reality kicked in. I found my feelings about her
changing. The romantic light started to fade fast. She no longer
seemed to be a legitimate part of a civil conflict but had evolved
into a freelance killer, taking life in exchange for money – no more,
no less.
Although I still found her sexually attractive and wanted to be with
her, something else was ricocheting around in my brain. Some of the
thoughts that would have occurred to anyone else much earlier were,
now, at last, beginning to filter through.
Over the past year, I had photographed her swimming in the river with
her daughter and reading bedtime stories. Now, the images I was
recording concentrated almost entirely on the other side of her life.
I was, with thoughts of self-preservation in mind, reducing her to
I asked Marylin if she would be prepared to let me interview her about
her life and what she had become involved in. Wearing a balaclava and
brandishing a pistol, she permitted me to video our conversation.
I began by asking her how she had first become involved with the
paramilitaries and why she decided to join them. How she had been
persuaded to kill her first victim and how she felt about it. She
started hesitantly, but gathered confidence as her story unfolded.
"When I killed the first person, I was afraid, I was scared. I killed
the first person just to see if I could. But there is an obligation to
kill. If you don't, they kill you. That's why the first was very hard,
because the person I killed was kneeling down begging, crying and
saying, 'Don't kill me. I have children.' That's why it was difficult
and sad. But if you don't kill that person, someone else from the AUC
will kill you. After the killing, you keep trembling. You can't eat or
talk to anyone. I was at home, but I kept imagining the person begging
not to be killed. I shut myself inside, but with time I forgot
everything. The superiors always say, 'Don't worry, that was just the
first time. When you kill the second one, it will all be OK.' But you
keep trembling.
"The second time is only a bit easier, but as they say here, 'If you
can kill one, you can kill many more.'
"You have to lose the fear. Now I am still killing and nothing
happens. I feel normal. Before, I had an obligation to kill, I was
sent to kill. But once I left the organisation, I was not obligated. I
now only do the job for money.
"Yes [I killed one of my friends], because they were going to kill me.
They told me to take care because they worked for the other side and
had connections with the guerrillas. And so it was my life or theirs.
So I asked permission to do it, which [the AUC] gave me. [The AUC]
investigated and it came out positive that [my friends] worked for the
guerrillas, so I killed them. It was very painful for me. I was at the
burial and at the vigil. It hurt me to see his mother crying, knowing
I was the one guilty of having caused that. But it's your life and
you're taught in the [AUC] school: First you, then the others. In
total, I have killed 23 people."
An incredible sadness washed over me as I listened to this intelligent
young woman, who I had become so close to, talk of her life. Marylin
was an extreme victim of circumstance. Her boredom and quest for
excitement had brought her into contact with the paramilitaries, who
had brainwashed her and left her with no respect for human life. Not
her own, not even her family's.
But her excuses, or lack of them, riled me and I told her she
represented everything that was wrong with the country. From my
privileged and ultimately unqualified position as an outsider I found
it impossible to identify with her, only to be angry, upset and
Reducing her to a "subject" had not worked, I did not seem able to be
detached and objective or able to put my own feelings aside. I had
travelled too far beyond that point. While on one level I relished the
intensity of what I was experiencing, there was a price to be paid for
getting in so deep and it was high. I realised that the things I had
seen and heard in the last couple of months were incredible. Through
them, my passion for Colombia had grown and my understanding of what
was happening in this much misunderstood country had broadened. But I
felt that I had lost something and been damaged by them, too.
I returned to Iraq and then moved on to covering the war in
Afghanistan. Over the course of a year, Marylin and I exchanged emails
periodically. They mainly involved her asking me where I was and
asking me not to forget her. She told me that the things I had said to
her after her interview had had a big impact. No one had spoken to her
like that, really questioned her about what she was doing with her
life. She told me that she did want to make a new beginning, but that
she knew the AUC do not let their members leave, at least not alive.
After a long period of silence, I began to fear something had
happened. So I decided that I would return to Puerto Asis to learn the
It took me some time to pluck up the courage to drive out to her home
to see if she and her family were still around. I wondered if she had
perhaps made the break and left to begin a new life or whether, more
likely, her past had caught up with her. Given the dreadful things
that I already knew she had been involved in, I was at least somewhat
prepared for bad news. What I was not ready for was how confusing it
was going to be to hear it.
Her family showed their normal surprise at finding me at their front
door. All my fears were confirmed as her father, his eyes welling with
tears, told me that Marylin was dead. She was 25 years and two months
old when she was kidnapped from her home and stoned to death. Her
abductors crushed her head with rocks and then shot her.
The next morning, her now six-year-old daughter, Natalie, awoke as an
orphan, Marylin's parents had lost a third daughter and her brother so
overcome with grief that he was unable to walk, talk, or even feed
himself. Marylin was not killed by some local seeking revenge for one
of the many deaths that had occurred at her hands during her time as
an assassin. She was murdered by her own group in a symbolic stoning
for being a sapo ("frog"), which is what Colombians call informers.
Her most recent boyfriend was a government soldier, convenient enough
when the paramilitaries and the military were working side-by-side in
their war to wrest control of the coca fields of Putumayo from the
Farc, but enough to get her killed when that relationship soured and
her pillow talk continued.
Marylin's death had a special significance for me, because I, too, had
shared some of that pillow talk. We had been friends and then lovers.
Our lives never had much in common; except that Colombia's dirty
little war had both of us locked into its fatal grip. I found it
difficult to speak; I wasn't actually sure what I was feeling.
Was I feeling sorry that a young woman, who had deliberately taken the
lives of other human beings, had received the same kind of street-
corner justice she had been responsible for handing out? Was I
reliving the conversations we had about changing her life and the
emails I received from her thanking me and saying she needed to talk
more about how she could get out of the mess she was in? Was I wishing
I had done more to help her? Was I feeling sorry for her parents and
her beautiful daughter, who one day would want an explanation as to
why her mother was killed and, maybe, discover the horrors that
occurred while she was a sleeping baby? Was I remembering what it was
like to kiss her in those days before I had any clue she was an
assassin? Was I trying to imagine, or perhaps trying not to imagine,
what she looked like after her head had been destroyed with stones and
In truth, I was thinking, feeling and imagining all of these things.
At the same time, though, I knew that whatever pain her family was
feeling, she had caused this same pain to others many times over.
Back in my hotel room I let out the longest of breaths, lit a
cigarette and stared at the ceiling fan. The whirling blades churned
together my memories of the wars I'd been in, my ex-girlfriend and my
current situation.
Early next morning, together with Marylin's mother and Natalie, both
wearing their best dresses and carrying flowers, I went to see where
Marylin body had been laid to rest. Her coffin was in a concrete box,
resting on top of the tomb of her sister, who had also been killed by
the conflict. The number of bodies demanding burial had long ago
outstripped the space available. Alongside lay a much smaller tomb;
the remains of another of her sisters, who'd died of natural causes
aged three months. I could not imagine how Marylin's mother felt
holding the hand of her granddaughter, looking over the graves of all
three of her daughters.
My plan for travelling deeper into Putumayo to photograph the
paramilitaries no longer seemed such a good idea. Marylin had always
pointed me in the right direction and warned me when pushing further
was not a good idea. I wanted to learn more about her life and death,
but didn't want to get killed for asking the wrong questions of the
wrong people.
That night, eating dinner against a background of revving motorbikes
and honking trucks, another local told me more of what had happened to
Marylin. Between mouthfuls of soup, the woman told me that Marylin had
been involved with the AUC a lot longer than she had admitted to me,
and that it was commonly believed in the town that she was involved in
the massacre of 26 villagers in El Tigre. Many of the victims were
decapitated and disembowelled before being thrown into a river. I
booked a seat on the next available flight out.
As I watched Puerto Asis disappear below me, the plane was enveloped
by cloud. On my iPod, someone was singing "this city's made us crazy
and we must get out".
As I sit typing this, nearly 9,000 miles away in a freezing, dark
hotel room in Kabul, Afghanistan, covering yet another never-ending
conflict, I wonder whether it could have ever ended any differently.
Was Marylin really killed because she was an informer or because, as
she indicated in her emails, she did really want to leave the AUC and
start a new life?
This is what I want to believe. I want to believe that she had a
change of heart. I want to believe that she wasn't the cold,
heartless, evil killer she appeared to be. But who am I trying to
This article was originally published in Arena magazine. Jason P Howe
is the author of Colombia: Between the Lines, out later this year. To
order a copy, contact

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