30 Dead in Pakistan Military Blast
October 25, 2007
A blast tore through a truck carrying paramilitary soldiers in restive northwest Pakistan on Thursday, killing 30 people and wounding at least a dozen more, a senior security official said.
The vehicle, which was packed with ammunition, was travelling outside Mingora, the main city in the scenic Swat valley in North West Frontier Province, when the explosion occurred, the official said.
'Thirty people were killed in the explosion including 17 paramilitary soldiers. The damage was high because the truck was packed with ammunition,' the official, who asked not to be named, told AFP.
A doctor at a local hospital said 10 bodies had been brought in so far.
'Ten dead bodies were brought to Saidu Sharif hospital, and 35 wounded people. Some of the bodies are charred,' doctor Nisar Khan told AFP.
Security sources said a suicide bomber detonated his explosives near the truck, but the government said the truck's cargo could have triggered the explosion.
'The nature of the blast is not clear and it is being ascertained. There was ammunition in the truck which caused the damage,' interior ministry spokesman Javed Cheema told AFP.
The explosion comes just one day after Pakistan deployed more than 2,000 troops to the scenic Swat valley to bolster efforts to stem rising violence linked to pro-Taliban militants.
The district was once one of Pakistan's premier tourist attractions, but the area in conservative North West Frontier Province, bordering Afghanistan, has become a stronghold of banned group Tahreek Nifaz-e-Shariat Mohammadi (TNSM).
The radical group has close ties to Taliban fighters who have been mounting attacks on government officials and security forces in the area.
No one immediately claimed responsibility for Thursday's attack.
Hundreds of Taliban militants fled over the Afghan border into Pakistan's nearby tribal areas after the fall of the Taliban in a US-led invasion in 2001.
Pakistan's military has suffered a string of deadly attacks since government troops stormed the al-Qaeda-linked Red Mosque in Islamabad in July.
Most of those attacks have been suicide blasts that have killed about 400 people since July, according to an AFP tally.
The military said Wednesday that the deployment of troops into Swat was aimed at improving law and order in the troubled region.
Denmark: Four Protesters Against Islam Beaten With Iron Bars
October 25, 2007
As I mentioned earlier a campaign has been mounted in Europe called Stop Islamisation of Europe. This group's aim is self-evident - to oppose multicultural policies which have allowed Islamists to wield political influence, and the encroachment of Islam in Europe.
They regard this spread of a potentially violent religion/ideology as a threat to the values which built Europe. They are not racist - their slogan is 'Racism is the lowest form of human stupidity, but Islamophobia is the height of common sense.'
On the sixth anniversary of 9/11 this year, members of the group had tried to protest in Brussels. The politically correct mayor, Freddy Thielemans, was opposed to any event which could have inflamed Muslims in his city - a tacit admission that demonstrations of free speech - a basic European right - would be met with violence by the same Muslims he supports.
He banned the demonstration. Several people still turned up, hoping to make their protest, but 154 people were arrested.
Now, news comes that an attempt by SIOE to make a demonstration in Denmark was met with extreme violence in which four people, including the leader of the Danish branch of SIOE, were injured.
The incident is reported - with pictures - on SIOE's website. On Sunday, October 21, a demonstration by SIOE had been planned in Copenhagen. Anders Gravers was in one of two cars driving to a cellar before the meeting.
When he stopped the car to get through the security gate, his vehicle was attacked by four men. Two of these smashed the car's side windows with iron bars. One of Anders Gravers' passengers was struck by the bars. The attackers were calling 'Get him out! Get him out!'
Another person who was in the front of the car between Gravers and the other injured passenger, was also injured. A filled bottle of soda was thrown at her, breaking on the back of her head (above right). The attackers eventually ran off.
Gravers fought back as one of the men tried to lean into the car and unlock the door. It later was found that Gravers' shirt and jacket had holes, corresponding to stab marks. At the time, no-one was aware that the assailants had knives. Anders Gravers had been wearing a protective vest under his shirt. He suffered the least injuries of those attacked, having bruises on his arm and body.
An elderly woman passenger in Anders Gravers' car had managed to escape from the vehicle, but she was hit with iron bars by two of the assailants (above left). Another individual (top photo) was hit in the head at least four times with iron bars as he lay in the road.
The four attackers ran off, and the injured individuals took refuge in the cellar venue they had intended to meet at before the demonstration. Phone reception in the basement was poor, but an individual in the building phoned for police and ambulance services. Gravers went ahead and led the demonstration outside Copenhagen's Institute of Human Rights.
A Hero's Humanity
October 23, 2007
America paid tribute yesterday to Navy S.E.A.L. Lt. Michael Murphy, to whom President Bush posthumously awarded the nation's highest military decoration for valor - the Medal of Honor - in a White House ceremony.
No one could be more deserving of the honor. The Long Island native was recognized most of all for his singular bravery, but equally remarkable is the way he upheld his commitment to American ideals - even in the most harrowing moments of his mission.
While tracking a Taliban warlord in the mountains of eastern Afghanistan two years ago, Murphy's team came upon three wandering goatherds.
The dilemma for the SEALs was dire and immediate: Their mission depended on secrecy, and they had no way of knowing whether these seeming civilians were Taliban sympathizers - or perhaps even Taliban scouts. What should they do?
Letting the goatherds pass, they saw, could cost them their lives. Indeed, for everyone but Petty Officer Marcus Luttrell - who tells the story in his book, 'The Lone Survivor' - it ultimately did: The team was ambushed an hour later by nearly 100 Taliban fighters.
Murphy was killed in the ensuing gunfight, but not before braving open fire to signal for help.
Leaving the goatherds free was an act with foreseeable risks. But the alternative was to execute what might have been three completely innocent civilians - and this Murphy and his SEALs could not abide.
They did the right thing and took the consequences - an essentially American act of courage that matches any display of valor in battle.
It's also a striking illustration of precisely what separates America from its enemies, who regularly target civilians as a political tactic - when they're not hiding among them.
Murphy's courage and decency may come as a surprise to those who throw around names like Abu Ghraib as handy stand-ins for everything they dislike about the War on Terror.
Hard decisions like the one the SEALs made in the mountains of Afghanistan are the natural consequence of a struggle in which the enemy wears no uniform and respects no laws of war.
But the men and women of the U.S. armed forces continue to face them with humanity and valor - and, one can hope, with the admiration of a grateful nation.
Iran War: Closer to Reality
October 25, 2007
Washington society has been chattering about the risk of war with Tehran. It's an open secret that Vice President Dick Cheney has made bombing plans, but even high-ranking military experts think an attack would lead to world economic chaos, or even what George W. Bush calls 'World War III.'
US Vice President Dick Cheney -- the power behind the throne, the eminence grise, the man with the (very) occasional grandfatherly smile -- is notorious for his propensity for secretiveness and behind-the-scenes manipulation. He's capable of anything, say friends as well as enemies. Given this reputation, it's no big surprise that Cheney has already asked for a backroom analysis of how a war with Iran might begin.
In the scenario concocted by Cheney's strategists, Washington's first step would be to convince Israel to fire missiles at Iran's uranium enrichment plant in Natanz. Tehran would retaliate with its own strike, providing the US with an excuse to attack military targets and nuclear facilities in Iran.
This information was leaked by an official close to the vice president. Cheney himself hasn't denied engaging in such war games. For years, in fact, he's been open about his opinion that an attack on Iran, a member of US President George W. Bush's 'Axis of Evil,' is inevitable.
Given these not-too-secret designs, Democrats and Republicans alike have wondered what to make of the still mysterious Israeli bombing run in Syria on September 6. Was it part of an existing war plan? A test run, perhaps? For days after the attack, one question dominated conversation at Washington receptions: How great is the risk of war, really?
Grandiose Plans, East and West
In the September strike, Israeli bombers were likely targeting a nuclear reactor under construction, parts of which are alleged to have come from North Korea. It is possible that key secretaries in the Bush cabinet even tried to stop Israel. To this day, the administration has neither confirmed nor commented on the attack.
Nevertheless, in Washington, Israel's strike against Syria has revived the specter of war with Iran. For the neoconservatives it could represent a glimmer of hope that the grandiose dream of a democratic Middle East has not yet been buried in the ashes of Iraq. But for realists in the corridors of the State Department and the Pentagon, military action against Iran is a nightmare they have sought to avert by asking a simple question: 'What then?'
The Israeli strike, or something like it, could easily mark the beginning of the 'World War III,' which President Bush warned against last week. With his usual apocalyptic rhetoric, he said Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad could lead the region to a new world war if his nation builds a nuclear bomb.
Conditions do look ripe for disaster. Iran continues to acquire and develop the fundamental prerequisites for a nuclear weapon. The mullah regime receives support -- at least moral support, if not technology -- from a newly strengthened Russia, which these days reaches for every chance to provoke the United States.
President Vladimir Putin's own (self-described) 'grandiose plan' to restore Russia's armed forces includes a nuclear buildup. The war in Iraq continues to drag on without an end in sight or even an opportunity for US troops to withdraw in a way that doesn't smack of retreat. In Afghanistan, NATO troops are struggling to prevent a return of the Taliban and al-Qaeda terrorists. The Palestinian conflict could still reignite on any front.
In Washington, Bush has 15 months left in office. He may have few successes to show for himself, but he's already thinking of his legacy. Bush says he wants diplomacy to settle the nuclear dispute with Tehran, and hopes international pressure will finally convince Ahmadinejad to come to his senses. Nevertheless, the way pressure has been building in Washington, preparations for war could be underway.
In late September, the US Senate voted to declare the 125,000-man Iranian Revolutionary Guard a terrorist organization. High-ranking US generals have accused Iran of waging a 'proxy war' against the United States through its support of Shiite militias in Iraq. And strategists at the Pentagon, apparently at Cheney's request, have developed detailed plans for an attack against Tehran.
Instead of the previous scenario of a large-scale bombardment of the country's many nuclear facilities, the current emphasis is, once again, on so-called surgical strikes, primarily against the quarters of the Revolutionary Guards. This sort of attack would be less massive than a major strike against Iran's nuclear facilities.
Conservative think tanks and pundits who sense this could be their last chance to implement their agenda in the Middle East have supported and disseminated such plans in the press.
Despite America's many failures in Iraq, these hawks have urged the weakened president to act now, accusing him of having lost sight of his principal agenda and no longer daring to apply his own doctrine of pre-emptive strikes.
The notion of war with Iran has spilled over into other circles, too.
Last Monday Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic Speaker of the US House of Representatives, made it clear that the president would first need Congressional approval to launch an attack.
Meanwhile, Republican candidates for the White House have debated whether they would even allow such details to get in their way. Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney said he would consult his attorneys to determine whether the US Constitution does, in fact, require a president to ask for Congressional approval before going to war.
Vietnam veteran John McCain said war with Iran was 'maybe closer to reality than we are discussing tonight.'
Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton has also adopted a hawkish stance, voting in favor of the Senate measure to classify the Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist organization. Her rivals criticized Clinton for giving the administration a blank check to go to war.
The US military is building a base in Iraq less than 10 kilometers (about six miles) from Iran's border. The facility, known as Combat Outpost Shocker, is meant for American soldiers preventing Iranian weapons from being smuggled into Iraq.
But it's also rumored that Bush authorized US intelligence agencies in April to run sabotage missions against the mullah regime on Iranian soil.
Gary Sick is an expert on Iran who served as a military adviser under three presidents. He believes that such preparations mark a significant shift in the government's strategy. 'Since August,' says Sick, 'the emphasis is no longer on the Iranian nuclear threat,' but on Iran's support for terrorism in Iraq. 'This is a complete change and is potentially dangerous.'
It would be relatively easy for Bush to prove that Tehran, by supporting insurgents in Iraq, is responsible for the deaths of American soldiers. It might be harder to prove that Iran's nuclear plans pose an immediate threat to the world.
Besides, the nuclear argument is reminiscent of an embarrassing precedent, when the Bush administration used the claim that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction -- which he didn't -- as a reason to invade Iraq. Even if the evidence against Tehran proves to be more damning, the American public will find it difficult to swallow this argument again.
The forces urging a diplomatic resolution also look stronger than they were before Iraq. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice wants the next step to be a third round of even tighter sanctions against Iran in the UN Security Council. Rice has powerful allies at the Pentagon: Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Admiral William Fallon, head of US Central Command, which is responsible for American forces throughout the region.
Rice and her cohorts all favor diplomacy, partly because they know the military is under strain. After four years in Iraq and Afghanistan, the US lacks manpower for another major war, especially one against a relatively well-prepared adversary. 'For many senior people at the Pentagon, the CIA and the State Department, a war would be sheer lunacy,' says security expert Sick.
Bruce Riedel, a former CIA officer and now a Middle East expert at the Brookings Institution, agrees. A war against Tehran would be 'a disaster for the entire world,' says Riedel, who worries about a 'battlefield extending from the Mediterranean to the Indian subcontinent.'
Nevertheless, he believes there is a 'realistic risk of a military conflict,' because both sides look willing to carry things to the brink.
On the one hand, says Riedel, Iran is playing with fire, challenging the West by sending weapons to Shiite insurgents in Iraq. On the other hand, hotheads in Washington are by no means powerless.
Although many neoconservative hawks have left the Bush administration, Cheney remains their reliable partner. 'The vice president is the closest adviser to the president, and a dominant figure,' says Riedel. 'One shouldn't underestimate how much power he still wields.'
'Is it 1938 Again?'
Russian President Vladimir Putin's visit to Tehran last week also played into the hands of hardliners in Washington, who read it as proof that Putin isn't serious about joining the West's effort to convince Tehran to abandon its drive for a nuclear weapon.
Moreover, the countries bordering the Caspian Sea, including Central Asian nations Washington has courted energetically in recent years, have said they would not allow a war against Tehran to be launched from their territory.
Cheney derives much of his support from hawks outside the administration who fear their days are as numbered as the President's. 'The neocons see Iran as their last chance to prove something,' says analyst Riedel. This aim is reflected in their tone. Conservative columnist Norman Podhoretz, for example -- a father figure to all neocons -- wrote in the Wall Street Journal that he 'hopes and prays' that Bush will finally bomb Iran.
Podhoretz sees the United States engaged in a global war against 'Islamofascism,' a conflict he defines as World War IV, and he likens Iran to Nazi Germany. 'Is it 1938 again?' he asks in a speech he repeats regularly at conferences.
Podhoretz is by no means an eccentric outsider. He now serves as a senior foreign-policy adviser to Republican presidential candidate Rudolph Giuliani. President Bush has also met with Podhoretz at the White House to hear his opinions.
Nevertheless, most experts in Washington warn against attacking Tehran. They assume the Iranians would retaliate. 'It would be foolish to believe surgical strikes will be enough,' says Riedel, who believes that precision attacks would quickly escalate to war.
Former presidential adviser Sick thinks Iran would strike back with terrorist attacks. 'The generals of the Revolutionary Guard have had several years to think about asymmetrical warfare,' says Sick. 'They probably have a few rather interesting ideas.'
According to Sick, detonating well-placed bombs at oil terminals in the Persian Gulf would be enough to wreak havoc. 'Insurance costs would skyrocket, causing oil prices to triple and triggering a global recession,' Sick warns. 'The economic consequences would be enormous, far greater than anything we have experienced with Iraq so far.'
Because the catastrophic consequences of an attack on Iran are obvious, many in Washington have a fairly benign take on the current round of saber rattling. They believe the sheer dread of war is being used to bolster diplomatic efforts to solve the crisis and encourage hesitant members of the United Nations Security Council to take more decisive action. The Security Council, this argument goes, will be more likely to approve tighter sanctions if it believes that war is the only alternative.
Iraqis, Coalition Forces Capture Key Shia Extremists
October 25, 2007
Shia extremists in Iskandariyah and Haswah are being arrested by Iraqi police and Coalition Forces so fast that militia leaders are in jail before the 'street' knows to stop giving tips on them.
Intelligence generated by operations has outpaced human intelligence, according to Col. Michael Garrett, commander of the 4th Brigade Combat Team (Airborne), 25th Infantry Division. 'This has never happened before,' he said.
A great deal of the benefit comes from the partnership between the Iraqi police and Coalition Soldiers. Whereas once there was concern that Shia extremists had infiltrated the police, in these areas the Iraqi police are hitting the extremists hard. Their cooperation means that once-safe areas, like mosques, now offer no shelter to the militant extremists.
A hand grenade attack on a patrol of paratroopers October 20 demonstrates the change. The grenade exploded near soldiers from the 3rd Battalion, 509th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 4th BCT (Abn.), 25th Inf. Div., while they were patrolling Iskandariyah. Instead of driving them away, the grenade drew their pursuit.
The men of the 509th PIR tracked their attacker to the Iskandariyah Husaniyah Mosque.
Coalition Forces did not enter the mosque, but requested instead that Iraqi police search it. Soon, Iraqi police arrived to conduct the search for the assailant. What they found, not in the mosque but in a nearby house, was the headquarters of a Shia extremist cell.
Inside they found homemade and commercial explosives, and a hoard of military gear.
The stash included night vision gear and rifles, advanced body armor and armor piercing weapons. It also included materials that could be used to make improvised explosive devices and suicide vests, including pounds of ball bearings.
Only days later in Haswah, another joint Iraqi police and 509th PIR patrol came under small arms fire October 23. The Iraqi police with the patrol surrounded the mosque and arrested a man who was one of the most wanted criminals in the area.
They also found Iraqi army and police uniforms. The 509th PIR element of the patrol chased down armed men in a gray Mercedes. When they took them, they captured pistols, Kalashnikov rifles, and incendiaries.
The man behind the effort is Lt. Col. Valery Keaveny, commander of 3rd Battalion, 509th PIR.
'Local citizens and Iraqi Security Forces, tired of the selfishness and brutality of the Shia extremists, have provided volumes of detailed intelligence on the terrorist activities and personalities,' Keaveny said. 'This information and aggressive operations by the ISF and Coalition Forces led to the capture of many Shia terrorist leaders and followers in Iskandariyah and Haswah.'
Meanwhile, the Iraqi police at the mosque finished their search. They turned over a 120mm mortar round converted to an IED, a number of rocket-propelled grenades, six of which were Iranian, launchers, mortars, body armor, grenades and more rifles.
Each of these finds produces more intelligence, driving more operations. On October 2 the battalion arrested their number seven most wanted. On October 12 they got their number one man, and their number eight. On October 15 they took number nine, and two days later, another individual who had just entered the top ten that week. The man arrested in the mosque raid in Haswah was the number two target.
With these relentless offensive operations and diminished presence of extremist threats, the civilians of this area are no longer in hiding and now feel empowered to step forward and help.
'In response to the reduction of the extremist threats, many more citizens have come forward with information and the ISF have increased their operations,' Keaveny said. 'Local Iraqis, Shia and Sunni, welcome the increased security, the promise of a better future, and the hope that they have gained with the obvious loss of control on the part of the Shia extremists.'
New U.S. Alert for Shoe Bombers
October 25, 2007
Following the seizure in Europe of hollowed-out shoes containing blasting caps, U.S. authorities have been told to be on the lookout for thick-soled shoes that could be used to conceal explosives, as infamously was the case with convicted 'shoe bomber' Richard Reid.
According to a Department of Homeland Security-FBI bulletin issued Wednesday, October 24, European authorities in September 2007 discovered a pair of shoes that were used to smuggle electric blasting caps across international borders for use in a terrorist attack.
'A recent terrorist incident involving the international smuggling of electric blasting caps highlights the continuing use of modified footwear as a concealment method for explosive devices,' stated the DHS-FBI Bulletin 'Terrorist Use of Modified Footwear to Conceal Explosive Devices.'
'The shoes were modified in a manner that would make it difficult for security personnel to distinguish them from normal shoes visually.' They were not worn, the bulletin said, but transported by bus concealed in luggage.
'The shoes -- made of leather with thick rubber soles -- were modified so that the insole of each shoe could be removed for access to the hollow interior of the rubber sole,' according to the bulletin.
'Electric blasting caps were placed inside the hollow rubber sole, and the insole was glued to the rubber sole to appear as if the shoe was never modified,' it continued. 'The blasting caps -- each measuring about two inches in length -- were individually wrapped in paper, possibly to protect them from the glue used when the shoes were reassembled.'
The FBI told the Blotter on ABCNews.com that the bulletin was sent out as part of the routine information sharing between various members of the law enforcement and intelligence communities.
'The FBI and DHS routinely send out these bulletins to our law enforcement and intelligence community partners to share information,' said Senior Special Agent Richard J. Kolko, chief of the National Press Office. 'It is not related to a threat, but is provided in order to allow officers on the streets to be alert to items that appear routine but may not be, as they go about their daily duties.'
The bulletin itself noted there was no 'specific, credible' current threat information indicating 'that terrorists plan to use this concealment method in the homeland.' But it also noted the incident 'highlights the continuing use of modified footwear as a concealment method for explosive devices.'
As such, the attempt to smuggle blasting caps is but the latest in a series of attempts by terrorists, whether autonomous or al-Qaeda, to either smuggle explosive components in shoes, socks, gel bras and other items of clothing, or conceal complete improvised explosive devices in their clothing.
The most infamous in recent years occurred on December 22, 2001. On that day, Richard Reid boarded a Paris-to-Miami flight wearing a pair of dark-colored, high-topped shoes.
Into the waffle-style soles, he had woven a high explosive and a length of detonator cord. He linked his device to a paper-wrapped, homemade, high explosive initiator. Alert passengers and crew members spotted him bending over in an attempt to ignite a fuse and subdued him.
On December 4, 2003, Reid was convicted in Boston federal court of attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction against U.S. citizens as well as on other charges.
Reid, a 29-year-old British citizen, was sentenced in January 2003 to life in prison on three counts: one of attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction against U.S. nationals outside the United States and two of interference with flight crew and attendants using a dangerous weapon.
He was also ordered to pay a $2 million fine and sentenced to consecutive 20-year terms on four other counts and a 30-year term on an eighth count.
Since Reid's attempt, airports in the United States have implemented a 100 percent X-ray inspection policy for footwear. The bulletin noted that some foreign airports do not, however, check all passengers' shoes. In addition, terrorists have continued to refine their attempts to use footwear.
But by the close of 2003, U.S. authorities issued another alert, one that was broadcast by ABC News TV and radio and published on ABCNews.com. That alert warned of terrorists using socks soaked in explosives and hung from a cord around a terrorist's neck as a way to avoid bomb sniffing dogs and conceal the explosive from airport authorities.
The bulletin featured a pair of blue socks it said were found by British anti-terror police in November of that year. They were discovered during a series of raids. Forensic tests on the socks allegedly found they had been laced with several explosives, including TNT, PETN (similar to Semtex) and RDX.
'While it is not clear exactly in what capacity the individual may have been using the socks, it is possible the suspect may have been suspending the socks from around his/her neck or under outer garments in an effort to conceal explosives carried in them,' said the bulletin. 'It also cannot be discounted that these tethered socks were components of an improvised explosive device in the making. '
At the same time the alert on the explosive soaked socks was issued, the FBI weekly circular to law enforcement warned that recent intelligence 'indicates that terrorists continue to develop plans to hijack aircraft and use them as weapons' despite improved security and vigilance since the September 11, 2001, attacks.
In August 2006, a cell of al-Qaeda-inspired and linked alleged British terrorists were stopped in the final stages of a plot to board a series of U.S. airliners bound from Heathrow to the U.S. and ignite their bombs in flight. Elements of the devices they planned to use were concealed in the bottoms of sports drink containers they intended to smuggle aboard.
Few Labs can Test 'Dirty Bomb' Exposure
October 25, 2007
The U.S. has a shortage of laboratories to test the thousands of people who might be exposed to radiation if a ‘dirty bomb’ detonated in a major city, according to a recent congressional investigation.
The federal government established 15 disaster scenarios for federal, state and local officials to plan for, including one in which a dirty bomb goes off in a major downtown area and potentially exposes 100,000 people to radioactive materials.
A dirty bomb would contain some radioactive material that could cause contamination over a limited area but not create actual nuclear explosions.
Should this happen in real life, the nation would not be able to quickly conduct tests for these people, because there are few labs capable of doing so in the country; and the tests available only address six of the 13 radiological isotopes that would likely be used in a dirty bomb, according to the report prepared for the House Committee on Science and Technology.
Instead, it would take four years to complete all these tests, according to the report to be released Thursday.
‘I had hoped since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, that our government had smart people lying awake at 3 o'clock in the morning, trying to think through everything that terrorists could be dreaming of, every kind of attack they could be dreaming of, and trying to think of ways to prevent it and to respond to it if it does happen,’ said Rep. Brad Miller, D-N.C.
‘Learning how poorly prepared we are for a dirty bomb, a radiological attack, makes me think that that's not happened.’
Miller is chairman of the subcommittee holding a hearing on the report's findings.
The report acknowledges that this type of dirty-bomb scenario would probably not cause massive casualties, but Miller said four years is too long to wait for results of whether people are contaminated.
‘I can't imagine a parent, who is told that their child can be tested for cesium in two-and-a-half more years, is going to be reassured to hear that their child probably won't die,’ Miller said.
The report on radioactive testing offered this example of the deficient lab capabilities in the U.S.:
When a former Russian KGB agent was poisoned with polonium-210 last year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention identified 160 U.S. citizens who were staying at the same hotel where the Russian was poisoned or eating at the same restaurant and were potentially exposed.
But the CDC found only one laboratory in the U.S. that was qualified and able to conduct analysis for exposure to the radioactive material.
Ultimately, 31 samples were tested, and it took seven days to test each one. The Energy Department has labs capable of doing a polonium analysis, but those labs do not meet legal standards for testing set by CDC.
According to the report: ‘The public outcry for detailed clinical health assessments confirming their lack of radiological contamination is likely to be tremendous.’
Similarly, officials recently said the nation is ill-equipped to quickly track down the make and origin of nuclear materials.
If terrorists use such a radioactive device to attack the U.S., people would immediately want to know who is responsible, and it could take months to analyze and identify nuclear material, counterproliferation officials said earlier this month.
Chronology-Bird Flu Developments
October 8, 2007
An Indonesian woman died of bird flu, the World Health Organisation confirmed on its Web site on Monday. At least 202 people have died of H5N1 since 2003. Here is a chronology of major recent bird flu developments:
February 8, 2006 - First African cases of the deadly H5N1 strain are detected in poultry in northern Nigeria.February 18 - India announces its first cases of H5N1, finding the virus in poultry in a western state.February 25 -
France confirms H5N1 at a farm where thousands of turkeys died, the first case of the virus in domestic farm birds in the European Union. September 28 - China shares long-sought-after samples of H5N1 in what many scientists view as a breakthrough in cooperation.
February 3, 2007 - WHO confirms bird flu killed a 22-year-old Nigerian woman, its first known human fatality in sub-Saharan Africa.February 27 - Laos confirms its first human case of bird flu. The patient dies on March 7.April 17 - The first bird flu vaccine for people wins U.S. approval. May 22 - WHO agrees to demands from developing countries to revamp its system for sharing flu virus samples.
It also says it will work to ensure fair distribution of affordable vaccines. June 16 - Vietnam says bird flu killed a 20-year-old man, the first death in the country from H5N1 since late 2005. July 26 - India confirms latest outbreak of bird flu in poultry in Manipur state in the remote northeast, is the H5N1 strain.
It is the first case reported in India in a year. October 4 - A study by the University of Wisconsin-Madison says that H5N1 has mutated to infect people more easily, although it still has not transformed into a pandemic strain.October 8 - WHO says a 44-year old woman from Sumatra island died from bird flu. Indonesia has had 108 confirmed cases, of which 87 have been fatal, the highest for any country.
Programs to Counter the Shoulder-fired Missile Threat
October 25, 2007
In response to a Freedom of Information Act request filed by the FAS, the Department of Homeland Security has released a December 2005 report to Congress on the status of DHS's efforts to counter the threat from man-portable air defense systems (MANPADS) to commercial airliners.
The report, which Congress required as part of the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004, sheds new light on several key DHS counter-MANPADS efforts, including airport vulnerability assessments, contingency plans for MANPADS attacks, and intelligence sharing and law enforcement training. These efforts are part of a multi-faceted U.S. campaign to deprive terrorists of access to these weapons and mitigate the threat from missiles that are already in terrorist arsenals.
The current U.S. counter-MANPADS campaign was launched in late 2002 after al-Qaeda-affiliated terrorists fired two Soviet-era SA-7 missiles at an Israeli airliner as it was departing from Mombassa, Kenya. Even though the missiles missed the plane, the attack had a profound effect on the international community and the United States in particular, transforming its nascent and modest efforts to address the MANPADS threat into a full-fledged campaign. Within weeks of the attack, the US government had established an inter-agency task force and 'a systematic, end-to-end countermeasures strategy' focused on three main areas:
(1) proliferation control and threat reduction,
(2) tactical measures and recovery, and
(3) technical countermeasures (i.e. anti-missile systems).
While much has been written here and elsewhere about the first and third areas, comparatively little is known about the second area (tactical measures and recovery), which includes vulnerability assessments of airports, contingency planning for manpads attacks, and information sharing and law enforcement training. The DHS report fills in some of these gaps.
The report provides a good general overview of DHS efforts to assess the vulnerability of U.S. and foreign airports to missile attacks. As of December 2005, the US government had conducted initial MANPADS vulnerability assessments at all 443 US commercial airports and several airports abroad, annual follow-up assessments at the largest 25 or so airports, and special assessments 'to support several National Security Special Events,' including the 2004 Democratic and Republican National Conventions, the 2005 Presidential Inauguration, and the 2004 G8 summit. In addition, the Transporation Security Administration (TSA) has helped foreign governments develop the capacity to conduct their own assessments by training foreign officials and by providing an assessment methodology to the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), which has made it available to all 190 of its contracting (member) states via a secure Internet link.
Very little information on what the vulnerability assessments entail or the type and extent of security improvements made by airports in response to the assessments is provided in the report, however.
The report also provides some additional information about contingency planning for MANPADS attacks, although not enough to evaluate their rigor, implementation, and effectiveness. After completing a vulnerability assessment, each airport developes a MANPADS mitigation plan that is tested via tabletop exercises and revised to address any weaknesses.
Copies of the plans are then sent to TSA headquarters, which, as of December 2005, had received 400 such plans. The report also touches briefly on intelligence sharing and MANPADS awareness training, which has been provided to DHS employees, U.S. Capitol and Park Police, and thousands of officers who receive training at the DHS Federal Law Enforcement Center. DHS has also distributed CD-ROMs with training material to state, local and tribal law enforcement agencies.
Also worth mentioning is the section on public education and neighborhood watch programs, which DHS ultimately decided not to pursue. Interestingly, one of the arguments against the programs is that MANPADS are not a 'high risk threat to aircraft within the United States,' which raises the question of why DHS is now spending tens of millions of dollars on programs to assess and develop ground- and UAV-based anti-missile systems for US airports on top of the tens of millions of dollars it has already spent on the development of aircraft-mounted systems.
Bali Three Set for Execution
October 25, 2007
As is tradition, there was a huge population shift last week as urban Indonesians crossed the country to return to their home villages for the Lebaran holiday. The flow was reversed over the weekend, with most city-dwellers back at work by 22 October.
Security forces were on alert throughout, not only for increases in petty crime (to be expected given the spike in travelers), but also for potential acts of terrorism. In hindsight, 2007’s Ramadhan fast and Lebaran will probably go down as one of the most peaceful in recent memory. Not only were there no acts of terrorism, but the number of raids by hard-line Muslim vigilante groups against entertainment venues—which were commonplace around 1999—were few and far between.
The only exception took place on the early morning hours of 21 October, when a small bomb went off behind the house of a retired army colonel in Salatiga, Central Java. There were no casualties, though the residence sustained minor damage. The device appeared to consist of black powder packed inside a bamboo tube—more of a large firecracker than a bomb. The authorities are still at a loss to explain motive.
Looking ahead, the three Bali bombers on death row—Imam Samudra, Ali Gufron, and his younger brother Amrozi—had their visitation rights restricted this past week. With their execution apparently set to take place in the near future (all three waved their right to seek a presidential appeal), the police are concerned about who might seek an audience with the trio during their final days.
The police counter-terrorist unit, Special Detachment 88, will vet all those requesting a visit. In addition, physical contact will only be permitted to blood relatives.
The authorities are correctly concerned about reprisals by Muslim hard-liners if and when the three go in front of a firing squad. Last year, after all, there were outbreaks of communal violence among Christian communities in East Indonesia following the execution of three Christian extremists linked to violence in Central Sulawesi.
TERROR ON TRIAL
Manhattan: Terror Charges Stand
October 26, 2007
A judge refused yesterday to drop charges against a Staten Island man accused of providing material support to a terrorist organization by broadcasting al-Manar, a television network that prosecutors said was supported by Hizballah, the defendant's lawyer said. The judge, Richard Berman of Federal District Court, denied a motion to dismiss the charges against the man, Javed Iqbal, said his lawyer, Joshua L. Dratel. The judge also denied a motion to suppress statements by Mr. Iqbal and evidence found during a search.
www.nytimes.com/2007/10/26/nyregion/26mbrfs-TERROR.html?_r =1&oref=slogin&adxnnlx=1193373114-Q7fd8WzglckW6o8oO%20asn A&pagewanted=print
POLICE AND CRIME ISSUES
Suspicious Activity At California Fire Stations
September 20, 2007
During the last week of July, fire officials in the Bay Area city of Campbell reported that two men had been seen videotaping routine activities at a fire station.
The men were reportedly in their 20s or early 30s, and one was using a sophisticated news media-style camera.
When firefighters attempted to talk with the men, they reportedly jumped into a waiting car and sped off.
The incident prompted the Sacramento Regional Terrorism Threat Assessment Center to send out a request for Northern California fire stations to watch for similar incidents, and report them immediately.
The day the request went out, September 6, a second, similar incident was reported at a fire station in Yuba City.
According to officials, a fire captain encountered two men parked outside the city's main fire station. One of the men got out and allegedly began taking pictures of the fire station's administration building. When the captain approached the men, to tell them they were in a no-parking zone, the photographer jumped in the vehicle and the men left.
The man who took the photos was described as being between 30 and 40 years of age.
On September 12, Fresno Fire Department officials spotted two men in a vehicle allegedly observing activities at a fire training center. When questioned, the driver reportedly said they were just checking things out, then left immediately.
Two days later, on September 14, personnel from the Sacramento Metro Fire Department noticed two men taking photos of a fire station. A third man sat in the back of a car, and appeared to be drawing or taking notes. When fire officials walked toward them, the two taking pictures jumped in the vehicle and sped away.
The men allegedly took pictures in front of the station, and in the rear. They ranged in age from late teens to about 60, officials recalled.
Tim Johnstone, a commander with the threat assessment center in Sacramento, said all of the incidents are being investigated, but there is no indication they might be related.
'We aren't considering this a specific threat at this time; we're just asking our public safety partners to be on the watch for suspicious activity,' he said.
He said the threat assessment center was formed to act as a collection point for homeland security intelligence, and disseminate it appropriately.
Jay Alan, deputy director of communication for the Governor's Office of Homeland Security, said Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is concerned about security agencies sharing information, and has made it a top priority.
Local officials said no suspicious incidents involving videotaping or photos have been reported at fire stations.
Fire department personnel are being asked to take note of vehicle descriptions, descriptions of suspicious subjects, and complete license plate numbers. Citizens who witness suspicious activity, near fire stations or elsewhere, should do the same, and report it to their local law enforcement agency.
Citizens should not attempt to contact suspicious individuals.
Feds Join Probe in SoCal Wildfire
October 24, 2007
Federal agents joined the search for evidence Wednesday in brush-covered Orange County hills where an arsonist is believed to have ignited one of the wildfires devastating Southern California.
In San Bernardino County, a man suspected of starting a small fire was arrested and another man was shot to death by police after he fled officers who approached to see if he might be trying to set a fire.
Wildfires, burning in seven counties, had destroyed about 1,500 homes and caused more than a half-million people to flee since the first blaze began late Saturday. At least two _ in Orange and Riverside counties _ have been linked to arson.
Throughout the region, authorities stepped up patrols in hopes of preventing copycat fires and looting. In San Diego County, sheriff's officials have reported scattered instances of looting in fire zones. Two people have been arrested.
Orange County officials converged on a remote area of bone-dry brush where a 19,200-acre wildfire has destroyed nine homes. They were aided by special teams from the FBI and federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. The federal government planned to send more agents from around the country to help with the probe.
Investigators taped off an area they called a crime scene, took photos, collected evidence and recorded map coordinates, according to ATF Special Agent Susan Raichel. Authorities believe the fire had been set because they found three different ignition points within a short distance _ a common sign of arson.
A $70,000 reward was offered for information leading to an arrest in the case.
In San Bernardino County, a motorcyclist who authorities say set a small fire in a rural foothill area of the San Bernardino Mountains has been booked for investigation of arson. Authorities said they didn't know if the man was connected to any of the 16 major wildfires burning in Southern California.
In the city of San Bernardino, police shot and killed a man who fled when officers approached to see if he might be trying to set a fire.
The man, whose name was not released, was shot Tuesday night following a chase that ended when he backed his car into a police cruiser and an officer opened fire, San Bernardino police said.
Outrage: The Mistreatment of Two Border Patrol Agents (back)
October 25, 2007
Do you recognize the names of Ignacio Ramos and Jose Alonso Compean? You should. They are the former U.S. Border Patrol Agents who were convicted and sentenced to eleven and twelve years in federal prison, respectively, for wounding a Mexican drug smuggler who brought 743 pounds of marijuana across the U.S. border.
Representatives Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) and John Culberson (R-Tex.), along with 41 other Members of Congress, including Representative Ralph M. Hall (R-Tex.), who is Chairman of the Board of the Free Congress Foundation, have written to Judge Michael B. Mukasey, President Bush's nominee for Attorney General.
They point out that the two agents were prosecuted by Johnny Sutton, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Texas. Sutton granted immunity to the drug smuggler, provided him free health care and granted unconditional border-crossing cards so he would testify against the agents.
The Congressmen want Mukasey to investigate the situation. In his confirmation hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Mukasey agreed to do so. In arguing for the investigation, these Members of Congress expressed great concern over the treatment of Agents Ramos and Compean.
The conditions, the Congressmen argued, are far worse than those for suspected terrorists held in Guantanamo Bay. Both officers are held in solitary confinement 23 hours a day. Ramos was placed in solitary confinement because he was assaulted in a different facility earlier this year. His assailants never were charged.
The Members of Congress are very concerned about the pattern of prosecutorial overreach by Sutton. Rohrabacher has long been concerned about the close relationship between Sutton, President George W. Bush and former Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales.
The Members of Congress compared the conditions of Ramos and Compean with the imprisoned terrorists at Guantanamo Bay. What they discovered is an outrage.
The men who want to blow up Americans are far better off than these two very decent agents, who are the victims of a vindictive prosecutorial program demanded by the President, reinforced by former Attorney General Gonzales and finally carried out by Sutton. The comparison is as follows:
Ramos and Compean Special Housing Units: Administrative detention is a non-punitive status in which restricted conditions of confinement are required only to ensure the safety of inmates or others. It would appear that Ramos and Compean are abused in this case inasmuch as they are compelled to spend 23 hours in their cells.
Ramos and Compean are not permitted to participate in any recreational activity outside of their exercise cages. Only one hour outdoors is permitted per day. All outdoor recreation is limited to concrete, open air, chain link enclosures with high walls. Ramos is limited to three showers weekly with no shower on the weekends.
The officers receive no special meals or extra food privileges. Ramos has lost more than 30 pounds. All their meals are served alone in their cells. They are not permitted to watch television. They have a limited commissary list and do not enjoy the same privileges as the general population.
After a brutal assault by five inmates Ramos was not taken to a medical facility or a physician for several days. Nor did Ramos receive the proper medication for a previous condition for four months. They are allowed only one 15-minute telephone call every 30 days.
Gitmo detainees in Camp 4:
Camp 4, the only medium security camp at Guantanamo Bay, is the most sought-after camp. It offers detainees the privilege of living in a communal setting which offers more freedoms and perks. Inmates receive up to nine hours of exercise and recreation a day.
Exercise yards attached to the living quarters include covered picnic tables, ping-pong tables, soccer fields and volleyball courts. Showers are available daily after exercise. They receive 4,200 calories a day and have ice cream parties on Sundays and access to Subway.
Their meals are eaten together in cell blocks. They have permission to watch Arabic family television programs and soccer and have personal visits from librarians with books and magazines. They receive the same medical treatment as U.S. military personnel at state-of-the-art medical facilities.
These 43 Members of the House of Representatives are outraged that vicious anti-American prisoners, many of whom leave the prison and return to war against us, live much better than the Border Patrol agents.
They Mukasey will undertake an objective and thorough investigation of this matter if, as is likely, he is confirmed as Attorney General. Let us hope he does.
TERROR MODUS OPERANDI
Suicide Bomb Organizations In Pakistan
October 25, 2007
Suicide bombs are becoming a more popular terrorist weapon in Pakistan. The one last week, that attempted to kill former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, was the deadliest to date, with a record 143 dead. Most of the 56 suicide bombs used in Pakistan over the last five years, killed far fewer. The 55 previous bombs killed an average of ten people. During this period, the deadliest bomb was a 2003 attack in Baluchistan, that left 53 dead.
Over the last two years, al-Qaeda and the Taliban have put an enormous effort into creating a suicide bombing organization. As a result, 52 percent of the last five years bombings have taken place in the first ten months of this year. More people have died from other types of terrorist violence, and there are many other Islamic militant operations in Pakistan. T
he Sunni and Shia groups are particularly violent, as well as Moslem groups that attack Christians, Hindus and other infidels (non-Moslems.) But the suicide bombs get the most attention, which is one reason terrorists prefer them. However, suicide bomber organizations are expensive to operate and take time to set up.
Each suicide bomber attack is supported by a team of ten or more people. The 'technicians' do things like make the bomb, and come up with a costume the bomber can wear and carry the bomb undetected. There are instructors to teach the bomber how to act, and then drill the bomber to make sure he can do it under the stress of moving among alert security personnel looking for him.
There are also several 'minders' who stay with the volunteer bomber to make sure he doesn't un-volunteer. And then there are recruiters, looking for more bombers. There are also administrative personnel, to handle records and cash. A large cash payment (usually several thousand dollars) is paid to the family of the suicide bomber, to insure that the kin don't bad mouth the terrorists, and make it easier to pretend that their dead son was truly a hero.
On the down side, most suicide bombings in Pakistan, as in Iraq, have mainly killed innocent civilians. The Islamic militants try to explain this away by declaring the dead civilians to be involuntary 'martyrs.' That doesn't work when it comes to public attitudes towards the bombings. But al-Qaeda and the Taliban, like many previous terrorist organizations, appear to believe that this backlash won't happen to them. It will. It has, and it's going to get worse.
Current Trends in Jihadi Networks in Europe
October 25, 2007
The terrorist related events that took place during the summer in Europe-the doctors' plot in Great Britain, the dismantling of various cells in Italy, Austria and Spain, and, finally, the September arrests in Germany and Denmark-have confirmed that Europe is a key staging ground for jihadi activities.
Although large differences exist from country to country and within various subgroups in the ever-evolving underworld of jihadi networks in Europe, it is possible to identify some current trends that, in one way or another, are common to the whole continent.
Independent, or Part of a Network
During the last few years, commentators have been fascinated with homegrown networks in Europe and, clearly, small groups of European-born, self-radicalized, violence-prone Islamists have sprung up in most European countries. Yet, the panorama of jihadi networks in Europe is quite complex and, for a more accurate analysis, could be described on a continuum.
At one extreme, one can identify quintessential homegrown groups such as the Hofstad Group in the Netherlands: small domestic clusters of radicals that have developed no ties to external groups and act in complete operational independence.
At the opposite side of the spectrum are cells that respond to the traditional model used by al-Qaeda-affiliated groups in the 1990s: compartmentalized cells inserted in a well-structured network and subjected to a hierarchy whose heads are often outside Europe. That is the model to which various cells of the Algerian GSPC (today al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb) belong.
In between these two extremes, there is a whole spectrum of realities, positioned according to the level of autonomy of the group. The most recurring model seems to be that of the cell dismantled by Danish authorities on September 4, 2007: a small group of young men, most of them born and/or raised in Europe, who knew each other either from the neighborhood or from the mosque.
Their radicalization took place in Europe and only one or two members of the group traveled out of the country (Pakistan, in this case) to link up with foreign-based, well-structured groups ideologically or operationally affiliated with al-Qaeda. The knowledge acquired by the cell after this linkage obviously makes it more dangerous.
Traveling for Jihad: Primary and Secondary Fields
In contrast to the situation before the September 11 attacks, today most European jihadis do not travel out of the continent for training or to fight. Nevertheless, a small but significant number of them still opt for short stints in places where they can join training camps or guerrilla units. Pakistan/Afghanistan and Iraq are the two primary destinations.
The former seems to attract recruits mostly from Northern Europe (Great Britain, in particular), while militants from Spain, Italy and France seem to travel mostly to the latter (El Periodico, May 6; Le Monde, December 16, 2004).
Noteworthy is the presence of European militants in two lesser known fields of jihad: Somalia and Lebanon. A few dozen European volunteers have been arrested by Ethiopian and Somali governmental forces among the Islamic Courts Union's (ICU) fighters since December 2006.
Several of these militants possess Scandinavian passports, and, according to intelligence sources, Sweden is considered the hub for the flow of money from Europe to the ICU (Sveriges Radio, January 30).
Italian authorities have also monitored the visits of several ICU-linked preachers who are traveling to various Italian cities in order to fundraise and recruit among the country's Somali population (L'Espresso, February 5). Reportedly, Swedish and British fighters were killed by U.S. missiles and Somali army operations (BBC News, June 3).
A smaller number of Western volunteers, mostly from Denmark and Australia, have allegedly fought with Fatah al-Islam in the Nahr al-Barid refugee camp in Lebanon (The Australian, September 13).
The Muslim Ghetto Subculture: Jihad and Rap
Europe today is witnessing the growth of a disturbing new subculture that mixes violent urban behaviors, nihilism and Islamic fundamentalism. Many young, often European-born Muslims feel a disturbingly intense sense of detachment from, if not sheer hatred for, their host societies and embrace various antagonistic messages.
While some turn to Salafism, others adopt an indefinite blend of counter-cultures, ranging from hip hop to Islamic fundamentalism. Many youngsters from the Muslim-majority ghettoes of various European cities adopt several behaviors typical of Western street culture, such as dressing like rappers, smoking marijuana and drinking alcohol, yet watching jihadi videos and having pictures of Osama bin Laden on the display of their cell phones.
Any individual who attacks mainstream society becomes a hero to these teens, be it Abu Musab al-Zarqawi or the late American rapper Tupac Shakur.
This hybrid street culture is particularly influenced by African-American gangster culture and music. Bands such as Fun-da-mental and Blakstone in the United Kingdom, Medine in France, and Zanka Flow (Moroccan-based, but hugely popular in the Netherlands) combine radical Islamic concepts with hip hop sounds, jargon and attitudes.
An aspiring star in the jihadi rap underworld is Mohammed Kamel Mostafa, the son of former Finsbury Park imam Abu Hamza, who has recently formed a rap duo called Lionz of Da Dezert. Using the stage name of al-Ansary, Mostafa raps about jihad and killing infidels. 'I was born to be a soldier,' read the lyrics of one of his songs. 'Kalashnikov on my shoulder, peace to Hamas and Hizballah, that's the way of the lord Allah. We're jihad. I defend my religion with the holy sword' (Agence France-Presse, March 1, 2006).
While the phenomenon affects only a minority of European Muslims, its dimensions and repercussions are more than noteworthy. In London, city officials are worried about the growth of an extremely violent gang commonly known as the Muslim Boys.
Operating in the southern areas of the British capital, the gang is composed of several hundreds of members and is active in criminal activities ranging from robberies to drug trafficking. The members of the gang are mostly British-born black youth originally from the Caribbean or Africa who converted to Islam in British penitentiaries and bond over their newfound faith (Evening Standard, February 3, 2005).
Yet, their interpretation of Islam is perverted. The gang members do not respect the most basic tenets of Islam, and their appearance and slang more closely resemble that of American ghetto culture than that of practicing Muslims. Tellingly, a gang member admitted to a reporter from the Evening Standard: 'I pray twice a day: before I do crime and after. I ask Allah for a blessing when I'm out on the streets.
Afterwards, I apologize to Allah for what I done [sic].' The gang is also involved in 'forced conversions,' compelling black youth at gunpoint to convert to Islam and join them; two years ago, they executed a 24-year-old for refusing to convert.
The Expansion to the Countryside
Radical Islam in Europe has traditionally been an urban phenomenon. Muslim immigrants have historically settled in large and mid-size cities and, as a consequence, radical mosques and jihadi activities have also been largely confined to urban settings.
Yet, during the past few years, there has been a noticeable expansion of radical activities to rural areas. The phenomenon is particularly evident in southern European countries, where large numbers of North African immigrants are employed, seasonally or permanently, in agriculture.
Wandering imams, often linked to Tablighi Jamaat and small makeshift mosques run by radicals, have popped up in small country towns and villages in Spain, Italy and France, spreading Salafism among the local Muslim communities. Taking advantage of the absence of other mosques and the limited surveillance of the small local police forces, Salafists have managed to establish a presence in rural areas of Piedmont, Campania, Provence and southern Spain.
In some cases, Salafist networks have taken advantage of the isolation provided by the countryside to create small fundamentalist communes, as in Artigat, a bucolic village of less than 1,000 residents in the French Pyrenees. When French authorities dismantled a Toulouse-based network that was smuggling volunteers to Iraq, they uncovered links to a 60-year-old Syrian man who was leading an Islamist commune in Artigat (Le Parisien, February 15).
Living completely isolated from the outside world, the commune's five families lived under a strict self-imposed Islamic code and preached a radical interpretation of Islam to their children and to the visitors who would come occasionally from the city (mostly Toulouse) to spend time in a 'pure Islamic environment.'
While not already an established trend, there are indications showing that radical Islam is spreading, albeit at a slow pace and with significant differences from country to country, to Eastern Europe. The presence of radical networks in Bosnia, many of them leftovers from the conflict of the 1990s, is well known.
Although less grave, Wahhabi influence, propagated mostly by a wide network of Saudi-sponsored mosques, is on the rise in other areas of the Balkans with significant Muslim populations such as Albania, Kosovo and Serbia's Sandzak region (B92 Radio Serbia, June 6, 2006).
Various Islamist groups have been reported to be actively spreading their propaganda to other Muslim populations throughout Eastern Europe. Hizb-ut-Tahrir, for example, organized a large conference in Ukraine in August, targeting mostly Crimean Tatars (Kommersant-Ukraina, August 13).
Yet, even countries with little or no native Muslim population have seen a tiny, yet growing, presence of Islamist activities, particularly among their Arab and Pakistani student population. During the last few years, authorities in Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria have arrested individuals who were either promoting radical Islam through websites and publications or funneling money to terrorist organizations.
Additionally, in October 2006, Czech authorities issued a terror alert after uncovering information of an alleged plot to kidnap and kill Jews in Prague (Der Spiegel, October 6, 2006).
The attractiveness of Eastern European countries for jihadis has increased significantly with the inclusion of many of them in the European Union. Some Eastern European countries, with their understaffed and often corrupt intelligence and law enforcement agencies, easy access to black market weapons and forged documents, and possibility of traveling to Western Europe without border controls, can constitute ideal bases of operation.
An interesting related phenomenon is the suspicious spike in marriages between Bulgarian and Romanian women and North African men reported in Italy and Spain immediately after the entrance of the two Eastern European countries in the European Union. In all likelihood, the majority of these artificial marriages involve individuals with no connections to terrorism who simply want to acquire a European passport to stay and work in Western Europe. Nevertheless, the possibility that terrorists could use the same scheme should also be considered.
Jihadism is a global movement whose characteristics mutate rapidly. While today some of the abovementioned trends are still in a developing phase or can be noticed only in some European countries, it is likely that they will be replicated with greater intensity and in more countries in the near future.
ACLU Challenges US Visa Ban for Muslim Intellectual
October 25, 2007
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) challenged in federal court Thursday the US government's refusal to grant a travel visa to Swiss-based Muslim academic Tariq Ramadan.
Ramadan, one of the world's leading scholars on Islam, was forced to turn down a tenured position at the University of Notre Dame when the US government revoked his visa in late 2004 on the basis of the so-called 'ideological exclusion' provision of the Patriot Act.
Washington later dropped its claim, unable to prove that Ramadan had endorsed terrorism.
But it banned the academic in September 2006 on grounds he made donations between 1998 and 2002 to a Swiss-based charity that provides aid to Palestinians. The charity was included in a US list of terrorist organizations in 2003.
'The government is barring Professor Ramadan not because of his actions but because of his ideas,' ACLU's National Security Project Director Jameel Jaffer told the court in New York.
'Ideological exclusion is a form of censorship and it should not be tolerated in a country committed to democratic values,' he added.
The ACLU sued the US government in 2006 on behalf of the
American Academy of Religion, the American Association of University Professors and PEN American Center -- all of which had invited Ramadan as a guest speaker.
'The ideological exclusion of scholars like Tariq Ramadan impoverishes political and academic debate inside the United States and violates the (US Constitution's) First Amendment rights of those who seek to meet with foreign scholars, hear their views, and engage them in debate,' Jaffer said.
The ACLU on Thursday repeated the arguments it made when it first filed its lawsuit against Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
'Although the so-called ideological exclusion provision is ostensibly aimed at those who 'endorse terrorism,' its terms are vague and subject to political manipulation,' said Arthur Eisenberg, legal director of the New York Civil Liberties Union.
'Professor Ramadan's small humanitarian donations were completely permissible at the time he made them, and he had no reason to know that the charity was supporting Hamas, if indeed it was,' said Melissa Goodman, a staff attorney with the ACLU's
National Security Project.
A controversial intellectual, Ramadan is the grandson of Hassan al-Banna, the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist political and social movement founded in Egypt in the 1920s. He lives in Geneva and teaches at Britain's Oxford University.
West Misused Islam for Political Reasons, Meet Told
October 26, 2007
al-Qaeda is being viewed in the Gulf as a part of the power struggle in Saudi Arabia, not as a global terrorist movement as the Americans perceive it, a seminar on US-Middle East relations here was told.
There is also a general feeling in the region that the West has badly misused Islam for political reasons during its 'war on terror.'
Speaking at a panel discussion on 'America's role in the Middle East', Dr Steven Wright, an expert on Gulf politics and US Foreign policy said, the 'US has failed to understand the complexity of regional political participation.'
Wright is currently an assistant professor in international affairs at Qatar University and is conducting research on the political economy and foreign relations in Qatar.
Another common perception in the region is that the war was driven by commercial interests of certain lobbies in the US government and the name of former US Defence Secretary Dick Cheney has been referred in this context, said Wright.
Many in the region also feel that the American view on the Iranian nuclear threat is exaggerated. They tend to sympathise with Iran on grounds that the expanding US presence in the region has posed a real threat to the latter's security.
According to Wright, countries in the Gulf are keen to see common grounds with the Americans in areas like trade and commerce, technological know-how, education and if possible tourism.
Presenting a 'view from Jerusalem', Eldad Pardo, an expert from Hebrew University said, Israel is the 'most Arab country' in the Middle East with Arabic as one of its two official languages, the other being Hebrew.
'We have bilingual schools, which offer special education in Arabic. We are very much a Middle Eastern country,' said Pardo.
He said the common areas that bind Israel and America are democracy, free press, Judeo-Christian relations, among others.
'America is made of individuals but in the Middle East family, tribe, religion, and ethnic groups are predominant.
Separation of religion from the state is not practical in this region,' said Pardo.
He said, all the countries in the Middle East should become 'strong enough' and people 'free enough.' Islamic unity is necessary to resolve the problems of the region, he felt.
'There is no solution without Islam,' he asserted.
Speaking on US-Iran relations, Mehran Kamrava, director of the Center for International and Regional Studies (CIRS) at Georgetown University's School of Foreign Service in Qatar, the organisers of the conference, said there is a chasm existing between the popular view in Iran about America and a more sympathetic view among the middle class in the country.
Face-Veil: Mistaking Social Customs for Religious Rules
October 26, 2007
Saudi women have been burdened with several social customs imposed on them as though they were inviolable religious injunctions. Islam, apparently, is not the only factor shaping the Saudi social life, as many outsiders or even some within the Saudi society itself are inclined to assume. It is closely tied to the local customs and traditions.
It has also been observed that such customs have a tighter hold on the Saudi people than the religious values, particularly in case of some conflict between the customs and the religious teachings. For instance, Islam does not insist that a woman cover her face while wearing a hijab (head cover). At the same time, women of conservative or tribal families conceal their faces as though they are observing an indisputable religious rule. Any one who dares to challenge the practice would be punished psychologically and at times even physically.
While Islamic law permits a man to look at a woman when he is seeking a spouse, some Saudi families deny this right, resulting in bizarre situations such as a bridegroom being unable to identify his bride. In some extreme cases a husband would never be able to identify his own wife because certain tribes do not allow women to lift their niqab (face-cover) even in front of their husbands.
Another Saudi custom, not related to Islam, is brides demanding fabulous sums of money as dowry, particularly if the suitor belonged to a different tribe or region. Regional or tribal spirit pervades some sections of Saudi society to such an extent that the major Islamic principle that the noblest of the people are the most pious is very often ignored. The present Saudi society regards family, wealth and position as the yardsticks to measure the nobility of a man.
I have been a witness to how an inconvenient social practice the face veil can become in a different social environment. A married Saudi woman used to attend classes in an American college where I was studying. She was fully veiled including her face, hands and feet. She was religious and well behaved but presented a picture of depression and sadness. However, after a few weeks she used to remove her face-veil and gloves the moment she entered the college campus.
She would not veil her face until the time her husband came to pick her up. I believed then that wearing or not wearing a veil was a purely personal matter. However I observed a markedly positive change in her classroom conduct with increased participation in the academic activities after she removed her face-veil.
I would like to point out the psychological significance of the change in her without criticizing a cultural tradition or religious practice.
A social custom would lose its meaning in another society where that custom would be judged by a set of different values. After all a people’s evaluation of a custom is based on a set of social and psychological factors that vary from culture to culture. This woman felt very comfortable covering her face while she was in Saudi Arabia. But when she moved to a different society, the US, she had to interact with men of different cultural and religious values. In this new society body language plays a major role in human communications.
In US or any other society, a man or woman finds it very difficult to communicate with a woman if her face is fully covered. This naturally leaves a woman with face-cover in a state of depression and isolation. The matter becomes worse for the Saudi woman when the Muslim women from other countries appear without a face-veil. The inevitable result is that others label Saudis as ‘rigid,’ ‘fundamentalist,’ ‘alien,’ or ‘barbarian.’
This Saudi woman might have suffered too much stress and tension while attending classes but would not dare discuss her difficulties with her Saudi husband. Instead she removed the veil when her husband was away.
A Saudi woman veils her face because it is the expression of modesty and dignified conduct in the Saudi society. In the US society where she is studying, leaving the face uncovered is never considered an immodest act.
In the American culture, a woman wearing her skirt just below the knees is considered more modest than the one wearing the skirt above the knees, while in Saudi Arabia covering the face and head is considered more modest than covering the head leaving the face unveiled.
Modesty is a relative term with varying definitions depending on the society in which one lives. The husband of the Saudi woman did not understand the relative meaning of the modesty but like several other Saudis transplanted the Saudi modesty to the United States on the understanding that face-veil is an inviolable religious stipulation.
Islam is not a religion with complex customs though some people strive it to make it a difficult one to live with. The woman’s husband did not hesitate to shave off his beard when he found that his beard was unacceptable to some of his teachers at his college. Ironically enough, there is a contradiction here. The Prophet, peace be upon him, recommended wearing a beard as a virtuous act.
The husband removed it in order to win social acceptability while he did not allow his wife to remove her face-veil though it did not involve violating any religious rules.
This happens often at most places away from the watchful eyes of the tribe or family. Saudi women remove their face-veil because they are fully aware that the face-veil is only a cultural practice and not a religious order.
When they find themselves in a changed cultural situation as required by their job, studies or some other factor, Saudi women can be seen making some adjustments in their cultural behavior without compromising their religious values.