Sunday, May 25, 2008
Extremists Targeting Mentally Ill?

As the expression goes here, ’those things’ like bomb threats and terror happen ‘up country’, in London, not here.

Think again. Residents of Southwest England are learning more and more about 22 year-old Nicky Reilly, the man who shattered their illusions of innocence and tranquillity as he emerged bloodied and burned from a restaurant in Exeter, England.

“You have lots of false alarms and tests and evacuations all the time and you just assume that it’s going to be another false alarm,” says Anna Lloyd a shop worker caught up in the terror scare on Thursday. “You never think that it will actually happen in this area for real,” she adds.

Cornwall and Devon police describe Reilly as a mentally ill and vulnerable young man. He was a convert to Islam and a person who in their words was radicalised and preyed upon by extremists. They allege he was planning to set off at least two bombs made of drain cleaner, kerosene and nails and the devices could have potentially been lethal.

“He was a normal guy you can’t imagine this guy would come and do these things,” says Nishant Patel who manages a neighbouring restaurant. Patel says he watched the whole incident unfold and it was clear Reilly was stunned and unable to speak after the incident.

Nicky Reilly remains in police custody in an Exeter hospital as he is being treated for severe burns. Police say they still have not been able to question him but they remain convinced he could not have acted alone.

And so in Reilly’s hometown of Plymouth, a calm cafe was transformed instantly over coffee. Several armed officers with assault rifles at the ready nabbed two more suspects for questioning. The chilling scene brought the terror threat to every store front and doorstep in town.

Authorities have also been scouring Reilly’s apartment in Plymouth, looking for clues into how a young man who they say is rather simple and dependent could have put together a lethal bomb and a chilling plot.

One place they are looking for leads is an internet café just a few blocks from Reilly’s home. Adam Targett, an employee at the internet café, says Reilly started coming to the internet café more than a year ago knowing very little about computers. Targett says he used to ask questions about very basic computing tools like email. But Targett says within months all that changed and so did the company he was keeping.

“He was actually accompanied to the café by two guys in Islamic dress,” says Targett.

While Reilly had a computer at home, Targett says it is now beginning to dawn on him why Reilly still came to the internet café. After each customer’s internet session, Targett says the computer history of that computer must be erased.

“It did bother us to begin with, yeah, but we can’t because of the way that data protection works we can’t check what people are looking at” he says.

Internet cafés have been well worn territory for extremists in the past. Police now fear that the picture emerging of Reilly follows a common pattern of radicalization and one that could now be affecting the most vulnerable of people in the most unlikely of places.

By Paula Newton, International Security Correspondent.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008
The Best Tent

Three men are currently on trial in London accused of assisting the 7/7 bombers. One of them, Waheed Ali, above left, was in the witness box today. Among the things he told the jury was that in 2001 he had made a trip to a training camp in Pakistan with 7/7 ringleader Mohammed Siddique Khan.

Ali said the camp was in the mountains in NWFP and was run by Harakat ul-Mujahideen. He said both men learned how to fire Kalashnikovs and rocket-propelled grenade launchers, among other activities.

Even though there were more than 100 others at the camp, according to Ali, it was the British who were given the best tent, as well as special food and their own trainer. “It was because they relied on the British for money,” he said.

Waheed Ali is charged, along with Sadeer Saleem and Mohammed Shakil, of conspiring with Khan, Shezhad Tanweer, Jermaine Lindsay, Hasib Hussain and others unknown to cause explosions. They all deny the charges and the trial continues.

By Andrew Carey
Monday, May 19, 2008
Morocco Arrests

Eleven arrests in Morocco announced today … members of an alleged terrorist cell involved in sending people to fight in Iraq and train at AQ camps in Algeria.

Among their number is a Moroccan resident in Belgium. Among the accusations levelled at the cell is that it was planning terrorist acts in Belgium.

A spokesperson for the Federal Prosecutor in Brussels, who’s authorised to speak on security and terrorism cases, says the arrests were as much news to them as they were to everybody else.

Belgium has worked hard to develop its CT relationship with Morocco, stationing a magistrate and a liaison officer there specifically to facilitate information exchange on terror threats. It’s safe to assume there was more than a little frustration in the upper echelons of Belgium’s police and security organisations this morning that they’d been kept in the dark over this alleged plot.
By Andrew Carey
Thursday, May 15, 2008
Watching Big Brother on the Bus

When I used to get a bus to and from school there were certain things one might have wanted to keep hidden from prying eyes. For the fortunate few it might be getting to know better a girl from the next village. For the rest of us it was more likely just the cards we were holding at whist.

Fortunately, in those days, what passed for surveillance was carried out by an old man named Percy who rode the bus trying – and failing - to maintain order among fifty rowdy kids. Ungoverned spaces flourished.

Fast forward to the present and woe-be-tide anyone with anything to hide on the new 102 to Edmonton Green. It positively bristles with cameras; no fewer than nine providing complete coverage of the passengers and their antics. Count them for yourself.

Of course cameras have been fitted on London buses for years now. They played a crucial role in tracking down two of the failed bombers who struck the capital on July 21st, 2005.

But what’s striking about the new technology is the fact that passengers can now watch the images from the nine cameras on two screens, one on each deck. And the quality of those images is very impressive.

The screen cycles through the shots on a never-ending loop, in the same way any other CCTV circuit does. The difference of course is that it’s not just one man behind a closed door keeping an eye over it. Pretty much everyone on the bus can monitor the behaviour of fellow passengers.

There is something rather voyeuristic, even depressing, about staring at the screen as it cycles away. It all feels like a particularly dreary episode of Big Brother. Perversely it also feels more intrusive to know the whole bus is watching me, as I watch them; even though it’s surely much more democratic to be surveilled by everyone rather than by a single faceless stranger.

One unambiguously positive element to this does, however, suggest itself. If we really are going to live in a society where CCTV cameras proliferate then we surely want to see some pay-off in terms of preventing crime and prosecuting criminals. Last week, as Paula wrote in an earlier entry, it emerged that at least one senior police officer at the Met believed CCTVs had been an “utter fiasco,” due in large part to the fact that criminals, and presumably everyone else as well, assume the cameras aren’t working.

Sitting on the 102 as it crawls its way through north London, I can confirm that the cameras most assuredly are working. And, though I’d be foolish to say it proves a link, I can report that everyone’s behaving themselves.

By Andrew Carey

Tuesday, May 13, 2008
'Bottle Bombs'
From the outset, explosives expert Keith Ritchie made clear that this experiment was incredibly dangerous to carry out, even for the British military. Protectively rigged within a sealed chamber, authorities say they carefully constructed a bomb in bottle and would only detonate it by remote control.

On impact, the destruction is profound. You can see the shattered glass, the collapsing panels. This experiment was shown to a British jury in connection with an alleged plot to bring down several airliners in 2006. Prosecutors allege this proves that liquid explosives disguised as sport drinks could have been smuggled onto planes causing massive damage.

From several different camera angles the hydrogen peroxide mixed with a powdered drink explodes with shocking intensity. You can hear loud bangs, you sense the extreme heat and other pictures show close-ups of punctures in the panels.

These video images and pictures were all played for the jury and accompanied by expert testimony. Eight men are now standing trial accused of trying to bring down American and Canadian jets with their ‘bottle bombs’. They deny all charges. The prosecution claims the experiment simulates what the accused were plotting and what they were perfectly capable of pulling off. The prosecution told the jury, the accused had all the component parts in place.

But the Judge in the case cautioned the jury after seeing the images, telling them the explosions were hypothetical, they had to deal in facts only: Would this have killed anyone or brought down a plane? The prosecution is expected to present more experts in the coming weeks to testify to the lethal potential of these ‘bottle bombs’

Watch my report, which includes footage of the explosion, by clicking here.

By Paula Newton, CNN’s International Security Correspondent.
Monday, May 12, 2008
GWOT - An End in Sight?
Two years ago, the Bush administration started characterizing the ‘global war on terror” as the “Long War.” Bush himself made direct comparisons between the GWOT and the Cold War in a series of speeches. The message was clear: the defeat of Al Qaeda was a long-term project. It would be many decades before OBL and his followers were gone for good.

So it’s a bit of a shock when FBI boss Robert Mueller says that AQ will be defeated “on my watch.” The remark came at an event in London last month in response to a question from the audience. There’s a suggestion he might have misspoken and meant to say “in my lifetime.” Even if it wasn’t a slip of the tongue, it’s quite possible that Mueller was referring only to the core of Al Qaeda rather than all those inspired by it. You can watch the clip here.

But whichever way you want to slice or dice this particular remark, I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that those fighting jihadi terrorism have a bit of a spring in their step at the moment. As one member of Britain’s intelligence community says, “there are green shoots of hope.”

He points to a poor showing from Islamists in the recent Pakistani elections, as well as his belief they’ve suffered a setback in Iraq and sustained severe and unforeseen blows in Indonesia and Malaysia.

He still puts a timeframe on the defeat of jihadi terrorism in the region of fifteen to twenty years but adds: “The problem probably won’t be sustained as long as I had originally thought.”

By Andrew Carey
Thursday, May 8, 2008
Abu Qatada refuses to be written out of the script

The news that Abu Qatada is to be bailed marks another plot turn in the blockbuster that is “Londonistan.” The story, for those who need reminding, begins in the late 1990s, when the French, in particular, were being driven crazy by what they saw as Britain’s naïve neglect of dangerous extremists living in London. These were people, they said, involved in spreading a message of hatred and violence towards non-Muslims; in some cases, too, it was said, helping to recruit volunteers and raise money for terrorist acts.

Slowly but surely, however, the main characters in “Londonistan” disappeared from Britain’s streets. Firebrand preacher Abdullah al-Faisal was convicted of soliciting to murder in 2003; last year he was deported to his native Jamaica. Abu Hamza, who ran the Finsbury Park mosque in north London, is serving time at Her Majesty’s pleasure after he, too, was found guilty of soliciting murder. Once out he faces almost certain extradition to the United States to face trial on separate terrorism offences. And Omar Bakri, the founder of AQ-sympathisers, Al Muhajiroun, fled Britain shortly after 7/7 and was subsequently barred from coming back.

Abu Qatada’s story was always more complicated. Convicted in absentia in his native Jordan for terrorism offences in the 1990s, he was later described by Spain’s chief terrorism prosecutor, Baltasar Garzon, as Osama Bin Laden’s right hand man in Europe. Recordings of his sermons were found in a Hamburg apartment frequented by the 9/11 hijackers.

Facing likely arrest in the face of new terror laws in Britain introduced after those attacks Abu Qatada went on the run. He was caught in October 2002 and then held without charge at Belmarsh high security prison for two and a half years. In March 2005 he won bail and was slapped with a control order instead, placing strict limitations on his movements.

At this point the British government embarked on a new strategy for dealing with foreign nationals it believed posed a threat to national security. It started negotiating agreements, or Memoranda of Understanding, with countries with dodgy human rights records aimed at securing a promise from those governments that they wouldn’t torture or carry out the death penalty on individuals returned there from Britain. After agreement was reached with Jordan in August 2005, Qatada was immediately arrested again pending deportation. It looked like the beginning of the end.

That is until not one but two key legal victories for Abu Qatada in the space of the last four weeks. First the Court of Appeal blocked deportation saying it was unsafe to send him back to Jordan. And now an immigration tribunal has granted him bail, albeit effectively confining him to his house for 22 hours each day. Britain’s Home Secretary pronounced herself extremely disappointed at this latest decision.

It’s all very messy and certainly offers fresh ammunition to those who believe “Londonistan” continues to tie British authorities up in knots. With recent High Court challenges to certain terror offences as well as the sanctions regime targeting terrorist financing, there will be those who believe British judges remain too soft on the terror threat.

Opposition politicians, meanwhile, are saying it underlines the need for Britain to fall into step with many other jurisdictions around the world and allow intercept evidence into court. If that’s what is needed to build a case against Abu Qatada in a British court, they say, then the case for changing the law has never been stronger.

By Andrew Carey
Wednesday, May 7, 2008
A Candid Look at Cameras

It seemed to be the ‘smoking gun’ many were waiting for. One of Scotland Yard’s finest telling a security conference that CCTVs have been ‘an utter fiasco’, that only 3 per cent of street crime is solved using them, and that criminals had no fear of CCTV.

So what are the facts? Do CCTVs make us any safer?

London’s Transport Police say the cameras do work. It claims violent crime on trains and buses is down by half in the past year alone. But officers admit they have to find smarter ways to use the technology.

“The challenge for the police service is to constantly look for smarter ways to look for the product, so the images. “ says Paul Crowther of the British Transport Police. He adds that law enforcement officials are constantly asking themselves how they can use the footage more effectively.

“How do we quickly get those images out, how do we process them, how do we identify the people that were on them and then turn those into arrests so that we can reduce crime further by making it clear to people that CCTV means they are going to get locked up,” says Crowther.

Privacy advocates in Britain claim the country has one fifth of all the world’s CCTVs, at least one for every 14 people in the country. When you’re in Britain, you can be caught on camera hundreds of times per day.

Scotland Yards refuses to comment, but its internal audit suggests all those long lenses are short on results. Government statistics on crime rates have held steady in Britain in the last decade despite billions of dollars of investment in CCTV.

“Most of these problems are social problems and you can’t just get around them by introducing a flashy new technology,” says David Murakami Wood, a surveillance expert who studies its impact on society.

But there is compelling evidence that some crimes would never be solved without CCTV evidence.

In July 2005, CCTV cameras in London candidly caught three armed men viciously stab and beat two friends on a night out. Even though all of it was caught on tape, it seemed to make no difference to the criminals. One of the victims, Daniel Pollen died that night, but Andrew Griffiths, the other victim, survived to see his attackers convicted using CCTV evidence.

“Without it, there wasn’t a case really,” says Griffiths. “Due to the fact that I didn’t remember barely anything, the CCTV showed everything that happened, the way it happened,” he adds.

Experience authorities here in Britain point out that there is no way of knowing how or when CCTVs actually prevent crime.

“This is a wonderful tool for crime reduction and crime prevention but it’s not being used in the right way” says John O’Connor, a former Scotland Yard commander.

“Who knows how bad crime would be if it wasn’t for the CCTV?” he asks.

Watch my report here.

By International Security Correspondent, Paula Newton.
Friday, May 2, 2008
Amnesty Update: Drowning in Controversy
A few of you have commented that regardless of the morality of torture, an interesting question is: Does it work? Back in the Fall, when CIA and U.S. justice department secret memos on aggressive interrogation were leaked, we interviewed a man who says he was tortured by American authorities. He claims torture is useless.

Watch my report here.

Update by Paula Newton.
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.
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