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.
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
ABOUT THIS BLOGNews 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.