“Mogadishu is the most dangerous city on the planet,” says former U.S. Army Ranger, Jeff Struecker.
Lawlessness and terrorism defy normalcy in the city, displayed most recently in the deadly bomb blasts on September 7.
Keni Thomas and Jeff, both former Army Rangers, had the opportunity to return to Mogadishu, Somalia, 20 years after the combat portrayed in Black Hawk Down.
“Keni called me out of the blue and asked if I’d go back to Mogadishu,” Jeff remembers. “I said, ‘Absolutely not. That’s stupid and dangerous.’”
Keni paused. “If you go, I’ll go.”
Jeff had been working on a documentary, produced by Cru staff member Mary Beth Minnis, associated with the evangelistic booklet, Bullet Proof Faith. Filming in Mogadishu would bring a visceral reality to his words, and alter the project completely.
“I was a bit concerned using my passport and real identity,” Jeff says. “It’s not that I feared retribution 20 years later. But if you’re a Somali pirate and you’re looking to make some money on a kidnapping, [a Ranger] would get media attention around the world.”
The men traveled to Mogadishu in March 2013, the same month that a suicide car bombing killed 8 people, littering the city streets with human flesh and blood.
The Somali police were suspicious the minute these white men walked off the plane with cameras blazing. Flagged wrongly as journalists, they were told that they would be thrown in prison if they exited the airport compound.
Undeterred, they got into armored vehicles with a security company who had experience driving VIPs around town.
They were shooting film of buildings covered with bullet holes before the police knew they’d left.
Retracing the path Jeff had driven 20 years earlier, he remembers, “My heart was racing like I was being shot at again.”
The drivers took a wrong turn through the maze of narrow streets. And they found themselves in the Bakara Market, where even armored vehicles are not secure.
“Keni and I sensed the strong presence of al-Shabab, the terrorist network. We could both see it and feel it all around us,” Jeff says.
The vehicles stopped dead. The street was wall-to-wall with people. Every eye in the crowd seemed to burn a hole through the tinted glass.
“[Jeff and I] are targets,” Keni says. “We are worth a lot of money.”
“The crowd started to close in on us, and it got really, really intense for me personally – that was the exact scenario when the guys were getting killed around me,” Jeff says.
They knew how easy it’d be for gunmen to pick off stranded Americans.
Jeff told the driver to drive; the people would move. He called out street names from memory. The driver obeyed.
“I thought I was going back to Mogadishu to support Jeff,” Keni says. “Yet when I got there, I realized this story is bigger than us – and the documentary.”
“What on earth would cause two guys in their right minds to go back to Mogadishu?” Jeff wonders aloud. “Guys will watch this movie because we went back; not because of the events of 1993.”
Return to Mogadishu: Remembering Black Hawk Down is a 9-minute film that premieres September 13, 2013 online.
View the trailer below:
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