Friday, September 5, 2008
Our new home is here
Monday, July 7, 2008
OBL...over and out?
Sana’a, Yemen---Credible assessment or wishful thinking?

Just after 9/11, Osama Bin Laden was arguably at his most menacing. His words and warnings were always breaking news as the world sized up every syllable, looking for the next threat.

Fast-forward to Bin Laden’s latest audio message a few weeks ago and his statements were merely reported and catalogued, hardly treated as major news. According to a credible collection of opinion from an array of security analysts and authors, Bin Laden’s core appeal may finally be unravelling. 

Paul Cruickshank and Peter Bergen recently wrote in the New Republic that there was a “rising tide of anger in the Islamic world toward Al Qaeda and its affiliates, whose victims since September 11 have mostly been fellow Muslims” adding, “Al Qaeda’s new critics have the jihadist credentials to make their criticisms bite”

It is the kind of claim that can easily be interpreted as naïve or contrived. But on a on a recent trip to Yemen, the ancestral home of the Bin Laden family, the adulation of Bin Laden had been replaced by cynicism and doubt.

As one young student put it, “he kills innocent people who can’t be blamed, like what he did with the twin towers. Maybe if he wanted to declare war against America or Israel than he might find support but he uses unacceptable methods like killing innocent people” he told us on the streets of Sana’a ancient city centre.

Make no mistake, certain causes do resonate with young people in Yemen, especially ones that are anti-American and anti-Israel. But Bin Laden and Al Qaeda seem to have lost their deft skill at tapping into that anger and grievance and turning it into a terrorist advantage.

In an interview with CNN, Cruikshank said “ this is not the Pentagon line going out about what’s going or the CIA line going out about what’s going on- this analysis comes from people within Jihadist movement themselves. One senior ex-Jihadist told me in five years Al Qaeda will be finished.”

Abdullah Anas considered Bin Laden a friend and fellow freedom fighter when the pair were battling the Soviets in Afghanistan. He believes America’s war on terror actually helped keep Al Qaeda in business, “this organisation have got a very good gift, after 9/11 and after the occupation of Iraq so they were recruiting people as freedom fighters, ” says Anas.

But he adds, Bin Laden and Al Qaeda are now being deprived of these potent recruiting opportunities. More and more he says, Muslims are realizing that Al Qaeda cannot address any real grievances they may have.

“This organisation is not popular in the Arab world, it’s not popular in the Islamic world,” says Anas.

The problem is that all this analysis may not mean much when it comes to Al Qaeda’s operational ability to launch a terrorist strike. They still have thousands of militant sympathizers and powerful affiliates all over the world. What is significant is that this challenge to Bin Laden’s doctrine is coming from within the Muslim community, not from his enemies. It is a challenge coming from credible voices within Islam.

One shouldn’t be too optimistic though and interpret this to mean that any of us are any safer from terrorist attack. As Daniel Kimmage author of “The Al Qaeda Media Nexus" recently noted to CNN that the iconic and very media savvy image of Bin Laden and Al Qaeda is still at the heart of its message,

“This is their presence, this is their way of saying we are still here. But bear in mind there is an increasing disparity between the very grand claims they make to change the world and the fact that they are increasingly a media presence.”

That might give Bin Laden and Al Qaeda even more incentive to make good on some of their ‘grand claims’ to change the world and take jihad to civilians across Europe and North America.

By Paula Newton, International Security Correspondent


Thursday, July 3, 2008
Extremists and Radicals but not Terrorists
Go to the UK Google site and type "Islamic extremist" into the search line and this is what the top entry will look like.

Click on the link and you'll be taken to the Metropolitan Police's main Anti-Terrorism webpage.

The same thing happens if you type "Islamist extremist" or "Muslim radical" ... or variations on any of the above.

Twelve weeks after buying these words the Met said it had recorded 139,000 click-thrus, though it won't say how many decent leads it's generated.

The Met's choice of words to buy is interesting, to say the least. 

If you type "terrorist" instead of "extremist" or "radical" ... you'll most likely be heading for Wikipedia. 

(Hat tip: Harry's Place)

By Andrew Carey
Monday, June 16, 2008
One of those tricky questions...
It’s a mistake to put forward poverty as the root cause of extremism. In fact there’s too much emphasis given to economic factors in the whole debate about radicalization. What’s missing from the discourse is the role played by religion.

That’s what Kamal El-Helbawy, a leader of the Islamist organization the Muslim Brotherhood, told me earlier this week. His remarks struck me because they run counter to the complaints one still tends to hear that there is too much emphasis on Islam in the media; that when investigating terrorist acts it’s too often implied that it’s faith leading young men to do terrible things.

But for Helbawy it is faith, albeit faith wrongly understood, that’s to blame. He told me he boils the motivation behind acts of terrorism down to two main impulses. The first is a desire to please Allah, over and above any desire to displease the United States, or Britain, or whomsoever. The second is a desire to go quickly to paradise.

It follows then that the challenge is to convince would-be terrorists that the acts they are contemplating would lead to Allah’s displeasure and would send them not to paradise but to hell. Helbawy is surely right when he says it’s not Government leaders or the police who can do that, but religious figures.

And this, in turn, leads us to the big dilemma facing policy-makers involved in the hearts and minds bit of counter-terrorism. Which religious figures do they choose to help them? Which religious figures are most likely to succeed in turning around an aspiring suicide bomber in Birmingham? Those fully signed on to the idea of western liberal democracy? Or those who would wish to see Islamic law and ideas dominate all areas of life? Both are going to argue that Al Qaeda-style attacks on civilians are wrong. But which one is going to make headway?

By Andrew Carey
Friday, June 13, 2008
One Big Yawn
That’s how one former Guantanamo Bay detainee reacted to the U.S. Supreme Court decision on Thursday that terror suspects held at the U.S. military base have the right to challenge the legality of their detention in American civilian courts.

Moazzam Begg was released from Guantanamo in January 2005. He was never charged with a crime. But Begg said that for most the 270 detainees still being held at Guantanamo, this ruling will mean absolutely nothing.

“This might be some kind of landmark victory but nobody has ever been released from Guantanamo because of a legal decision,” notes Begg.

Begg’s view is that American justice is an oxymoron and the detainees know even a U.S. Supreme court decision will mean very little to their future.

But the human rights organization Reprieve, which has been working for years for the release of detainees, says the ruling is a sweeping victory.

“It means the detainees will have their day in court,” says Cori Crider, a lawyer with Reprieve. “The detainees will be able to demand the U.S. government either charge them with a crime, or set them free,” she adds.

But even as Reprieve admits, a judicial ruling, even of this stature, will not necessarily lead to due process for all the detainees.

As Begg will tell you, the detainees, the lawyers who try to defend them, even some high ranking U.S. officials, have abandoned the idea that any judicial ruling will change the immediate fate of those still being held at Guantanamo without charge.

As Begg soberly added, “As Malcolm X once said, you can wedge a knife 6 inches into someone’s back, pull it back 5 inches and call it progress, it’s not progress,” says Begg.

By Paula Newton, International Security Correspondent
Wednesday, June 11, 2008
Nearly three years on... 21/7 recalled
Fifteen people have now either pleaded guilty or been convicted in connection with the failed bomb attacks in London on July 21st, 2005. Among the most recent was Yeshi Girma, below, who was sentenced to 15 years after a jury decided she did know her husband was planning to blow up a London underground train.

The jury also found her guilty of helping her husband, Hussain Osman, escape. Osman fled first to Brighton - the CCTV image below captures him at Brighton station - and then to Rome, where he was eventually caught.

Also convicted was Yeshi's younger sister Mulu. She too was found guilty of helping Osman avoid capture. Among the items shown to the jury during their trial was CCTV footage of Mulu buying newspapers in the days immediately after the failed attack. One of them, seen below, bears the headline, “4 Suicide Bombers on the Loose.” The other paper contains an image of Osman; in a bizarre twist, the CCTV captures Mulu scanning the paper for the latest news on the hunt for the man whose whereabouts she is protecting.

The investigation into the botched bombings was the biggest manhunt in the history of the Met police. For journalists working on the story it was also a big operation...following up dramatic CCTV images of the would-be bombers, or news that another address was being searched in another part of the city.

Every new raid needed to be checked out, though it was rarely clear immediately whether or not it represented a major breakthrough. Time spent outside Curtis House, in north London, for instance, proved useful, as it became clear this was probably the bomb factory. By contrast, time spent on Tooting Broadway, in south London, proved to be wasted, as those addresses turned out to be nothing much at all.

Blair House, below, was raided on the Wednesday, six days after the would-be bombers had struck. One of the suspects, Yassin Omar, had been captured earlier that day up in Birmingham, and there was a definite sense that police might be into the end game.

We found Blair House in Stockwell, south London, part of a small estate built, at a guess, after the second world war. There was a blue plastic tarpaulin over number 40 and a cordon in front of that. Police officers were on duty outside.

There was also plenty of residents standing around answering questions from journalists. The story, everyone seemed fairly clear, was that a woman and some children had been led out of the house several hours earlier and driven away.

“Did anybody else live at the house?”

“Possibly a man… hard to be sure… they were friendly but kept themselves to themselves.”

Interesting, up to a point. Then suddenly someone new spoke up.

“He lived there, the man in the picture, the man in the picture on the telly just now, he lived there.”

That was definitely interesting. The picture was a reference to a new image of Hussain Osman, seen below, released just a few hours earlier by the Met.

The image showed Osman on a bus, an hour or so after his bomb had failed to go off. Crucially it was a much better image than the first one released by the Met, which had showed him wearing a baseball cap as he waited, before the attack, for a train.

Unfortunately none of the other people still standing around outside Blair House seemed to have seen the early evening news bulletins. And no one had a copy of the late edition of the Evening Standard newspaper, which had also carried the picture. So there was no one able to corroborate this intriguing development.

What we needed to do was to film the reaction of the other residents as they looked at the new picture of Osman for the first time. So one of the photographers who had decided to stick around was prevailed upon to call her news desk. They sent a jpg file to her email address, which meant the image could be downloaded onto her laptop and shown to the residents.

That’s exactly what happened and we were the only camera team to capture the moment when the residents of Blair House in Stockwell realized they had been living next door to a man who had tried to explode a bomb on the underground.

OK, so it wasn’t quite as dramatic as the images two days later of the other two failed bombers, Muktar Said Ibrahim and Ramzi Mohammed, giving themselves up to police on a brick balcony in west London. But it did give us some unique footage and a good line at the end of another remarkable day.

By Andrew Carey

Thursday, June 5, 2008
Charges in Barcelona - Ebbs and Flows of a Terror Case
When it broke in the third week of January it looked a big story. A dozen or so men, almost all of them from Pakistan, arrested in Spain just days ahead of allegedly launching suicide bomb attacks in Barcelona. Then it transpired that very little in the way of explosive material had been found, casting doubt on whether the men really were in a position to carry out their attacks there and then. First question mark.

The story picked up again with reports there was an international dimension. El Pais reported attacks were being planned in five other European countries. And then a short while later the United States Defence Secretary Robert Gates told a conference in Munich that the cell appeared linked to Baitullah Mehsud. He’s the leader of the Taliban in Pakistan and the man blamed for the death of Benazir Bhutto. It looked once again like an important story.

Then a few weeks ago I received strong steer that took the air right out of it. The alleged attacks were not as imminent as it had appeared at the time, I heard; indeed, the threat had been exaggerated. I downgraded my interest accordingly.

And so today and the news that indictments have been brought against the men by Judge Ismael Moreno. The eleven charged, writes the Judge, were intending “to commit various terrorist suicide attacks between January 18th and January 20th on public transport in the city of Barcelona.”

The group were also “very close to achieving technical capacity with explosives.” Enough material was recovered to make “one or more” bombs, according to the indictment, adding “although they lacked sufficient destructive potency for the commission of an attack that would guarantee large-scale damage, they could have been used for training in the handling of explosives.”

The Judge said that four of the men were to carry out the suicide attacks; three of them, he noted, having arrived in Spain just weeks before their arrest. Moreno also named two men as the group’s alleged ideological leaders, including a 64-year old man, Mohamad Ayud Elahi Bibi, described as having lived in Spain for many years.

The indictment makes little mention of any international dimension and all these charges are yet to be tried in court. But as a story of interest, it goes back up the flagpole.

By Andrew Carey
News and observations on the threats to international security and the challenges posed by terrorism to societies around the world. From breaking news to background stories, from serious analysis to casual asides, if we think it's interesting we'll post it here.
• February 2008
• March 2008
• April 2008
• May 2008
• June 2008
• July 2008
• September 2008
    What's this?
CNN Comment Policy: CNN encourages you to add a comment to this discussion. You may not post any unlawful, threatening, libelous, defamatory, obscene, pornographic or other material that would violate the law. Please note that CNN makes reasonable efforts to review all comments prior to posting and CNN may edit comments for clarity or to keep out questionable or off-topic material. All comments should be relevant to the post and remain respectful of other authors and commenters. By submitting your comment, you hereby give CNN the right, but not the obligation, to post, air, edit, exhibit, telecast, cablecast, webcast, re-use, publish, reproduce, use, license, print, distribute or otherwise use your comment(s) and accompanying personal identifying information via all forms of media now known or hereafter devised, worldwide, in perpetuity. CNN Privacy Statement.