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A blog on terrorism, democracy and international politics

Sunday, March 21, 2004

ABC Finds Nothing Positive in Liberation of Iraq 

Many media outlets attempt slant a story in a particular direction while appearing neutral, by selecting positive and negative arguments designed to guide the reader to a particular conclusion. When presented as 'news' this is, of course, insidious dishonesty.

However, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation doesn't bother with such niceties when commenting on the war in Iraq. This piece on the anniversary of the war in Iraq presents the story in purely negative terms, as if there was not a single positive thing to be said about the unseating of a brutal dictator by a broad-based international coalition.

Take the "then and now" picture portrayed in the two introductory paragraphs:

A year ago this weekend, bombs began dropping from the sky over Baghdad and "shock and awe" stormed into the lexicon, as the US-led war in Iraq began.
Today, the bombs are detonated from inside Iraq, the targets are unpredictable and the carnage indiscriminate.

The first sentence implies that bombs were randomly 'dropped' over the capital (rather than guided by satellite into government targets on the western side of the Tigris). The second sentence is similarly desolate.

All indications are that Iraqis support the toppling of Saddam Hussein's Ba'ath regime, but somehow the ABC didn't think this was worth mentioning.

If you're not convinced that the ABC is systematically biased, take a look at Hope and Realism in Iraq by Mark Bannerman.

In order to present a picture of everyday life in Iraq, Mark Bannerman interviewed ordinary Iraqis from all walks of life. Actually, only a policeman and one ordinary Iraqi. Actually, the 'ordinary Iraqi' was a Ba'athist whose job in the State media "disappeared with Saddam Hussein." (Apparently the new independent media in Iraq actually want to find out what is happening and report it, rather than operating as the mouthpiece of State intelligence).
"For the Younis family, it is fair to say the departure of Saddam has been a mixed blessing. Food and many other essentials are much easier to come by but they have come with a price"
- namely, that they no longer enjoy the status that comes with being employed by a totalitarian state.

The other stories in this feature are unrelentingly negative, from the hostile interview of Richard Armitage to the exchange of cliches between the 7.30 Report's Kerry O'Brien (ABC) and ABC foreign affairs editor Peter Cave.

Australia's 2004 election - another M11? 

I very briefly met Australia's Opposition Leader, Mark Latham, at La Trobe University on Friday.

I asked him one question: "If you become Prime Minister, will you bring the troops back from Iraq?" He answered, "Sure, when they've finished their work, they'll be coming straight home." (Paraphrased).

He assumed I wanted to hear a "yes" and gave me a fob off answer, which for the purposes of the question was really a "no". Australian troops will not withdraw from Iraq until their duties have been discharged. Australia will not capitulate to terrorist threats, and therefore is less of a target. I just hope the Islamists are aware of Latham's position...

It would seem prudent for the residents of countries in the Coalition of the Willing to lobby their opposition parties to support the war!

Comment: Mark Latham radically changed his position several times in the ten days after I posted this. I hope to add another blog entry on this topic soon. -TS. 04/04/04

Islamist webpage recommended pre-election attacks on Spain 

The Norwegian Defence Research Establishment has discovered a strategy document that encourages terrorist attacks against Spanish interests as a method of driving Spain and other coalition members out of Europe, on an Islamist webpage.

This was reported by BjornStaerk Blog, which also contains excerpts translated into English.

The document, which includes analysis of Spanish elections back into the 1980s, demonstrates that the terrorists are highly advanced in their intelligence gathering and strategic thinking. They are not uni-dimensional automatons acting in direct response to their victims' foreign policies, but rather independent agents acting in the geopolitical arena.

The prevalent impression that terrorists will attack those countries that offend them (for example by invading Iraq) and leave alone those who toe the line (for example by withdrawing, as Zapatero plans to) is incorrect. This view denies the agency and intelligence that the Islamists clearly possess. It treats them as puppets that will behave in our interests if only we learn how to operate their strings. As the Madrid bombing and election demonstrate, the converse is true.

Whatever spin the world media or the Left put on the recent events in Spain, be assured that the world's Islamists are watching, listening and - most importantly - learning.

Coalition of the Willing page overhauled 

I've spent a couple of days researching new material for the Coalition of the Willing webpage on PWHCE. It retains the information about countries that were part of the coalition during the invasion, and now also has information on contributions in March 2004.

I've also added troop numbers for the many countries currently helping in Iraq, and two indices: troop commitment by population and troop commitment by size of military.

Iraq Troop numbers March 2004
CountryTroopsPer 100000
Per 1000
2United Kingdom9,00015.242.4
6Spain *1,3003.37.0
13Honduras *3686.15.4
14El Salvador3616.214.7
15Dominican Republic3023.712.3
25Czech Republic800.81.4
27Albania702.17.0 **
29New Zealand611.76.4
Sources: The Australian, 17th March 2004. SBS World Guide, ninth edition, 2001.
* Spain and Honduras have signalled they will not renew their troop commitments in June 2004 unless a UN mandate is forthcoming.

I strongly encourage readers to express their views on the Coalition and Iraq by posting a comment to this blog.

Friday, March 19, 2004

Zawahiri surrounded? 

There are currently suggestions that Pakistani troops could be on the verge of capturing a major al-Qaeda target in an offensive in Waziristan Province, along Pakistan's border with Afghanistan.

Pakistan believes it has surrounded "a high value target", possibly al-Qaeda's #2 Dr Ayman al-Zawahiri, the intellectual power behind al-Qaeda spiritual leader Usama bin Laden. This offensive is part of an offensive that involves American and allied troops on the Afghanistan to seal off escape routes that allowed al-Qaeda's leaders to escape into Afghanistan in 2001. At that time, Pakistani troops were diverted to the eastern border after a terrorist attack against Indian interests ignited long-standing animosity between the two countries.

In recent years, Usama bin Laden's propaganda videos have typically shown the terrorist leader flanked by Dr Zawahiri and Suleiman Abu Gheith, who is now in custody. The capture of Dr Zawahiri would be a very major blow in the War on Terror.

Tuesday, March 16, 2004

Talk on the 31st March 

If you are in Melbourne on the 31st of March, please consider attending Perspectives on World History and Current Events' March talk, Pope John Paul II and the End of the Twentieth Century, by Andrew Rabel.

MEMRI casts doubt on "alleged" al-Qaeda message 

The Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) has published a translation of the claim of responsibility for the 11th March 2004 train bombings in Madrid issued by the al-Qaeda-linked "Abu Hafs Al-Masri Brigades".

MEMRI's President, Yigal Carmon, has provided a commentary to this translation, in which he states that the tape "includes linguistic usages and concepts that are incompatible with or alien to authentic Al-Qa'ida writings by Osama bin Laden, Dr. Ayman Al-Zawahiri, and others". Although I can not comment on specific uses of Arabic, I believe Mr Carmon is mistaken in a number of his claims, and find the text to be in keeping with other al-Qaeda publications.

Carmon says:

Following the Qur'an verses is the title "The Trains of Death Operation." This is uncommon in bin Laden's writing.

In fact, the diabolical kitschness of the "Trains of Death Operation" is not unprecedented in al-Qaeda statements. For example, Suleiman Abu Gheith, the most prominent al-Qaeda spokesman until his recent capture, a man who constantly accompanied Usama bin Laden in his videos and audiotapes, used the phrase "aircraft storm" after the September 11 attacks.

Comparing bin Laden's and Suleiman Abu Gheith's statements, it seems clear that very different rhetorical styles are used by the Director and his Lieutenants.

The concept of conditionality, as in the statement "And if you renounce [fighting us], we too will stop fighting you" is not a bin Laden concept.

On the contrary, this conditionality runs through many of bin Laden's statements. (Whether it is a statement of his genuine intentions is certainly debatable, since ceasing to attack the West would contradict other planks of the al-Qaeda ideology.)

Take these statements for example:
"To America I say I swear by God the great... America will never taste security and safety unless we feel security and safety in our lands and in Palestine. . . They will not feel safe until the troops of the United States of America withdraw from the Muslim holy places."

"I ask the American people to force their government to give up anti-Muslim policies. The American people had risen against their government's war in Vietnam. They must do the same today. The American people should stop the massacre of Muslims by their government."

"We say to the Americans as people and to American mothers, if they cherish their lives and if they cherish their sons, they must elect an American patriotic government that caters to their interests not the interests of the Jews. If the present injustice continues with the wave of national consciousness, it will inevitably move the battle to American soil, just as Ramzi Yousef and others have done. This is my message to the American people."

Additionally, a video released by al-Qaeda in October 2003 (no longer online) contained the first ever al-Qaeda message in English, which contained the following ultimatum:
"We want from all Christian and Jewish to go out from our Islamic countries and release our brothers from jails. And stop killing Muslims. Or we will kill you, as you are killing Muslims. We will continue in our fighting until we will get what we want."

"Settling old accounts," both as a linguistic form and as a concept, is alien to authentic Al-Qa'ida writings.

This is contradicted by the following statement by Usama bin Laden, released following the Bali bombings:
"This is unfair. It is time that we get even."

Carmon's claim that "The phrase 'but you did not get the message' is not one used by bin Laden, who does not cast his operations in the light of 'messages,' rather, as acts in and of themselves to further the goals of Al-Qa'ida for the sake of Allah." is likewise contradicted by the tape following the Bali bombings:
"We warned Australia before not to join in [the war] in Afghanistan, and [against] its despicable effort to separate East Timor. It ignored the warning until it woke up to the sounds of explosions in Bali."

The sequence of events al-Qaeda is attempting to follow is derived from the 'Jihad' against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. This methodological model, which I explored in my recent thesis, can be represented as follows:

Afghanistan and the Soviet SuperpowerPredicted demise of the Crusader Superpower
1Soviet infidels invade (1978)Crusaders and Jews invade Arabian Peninsula
2Jihadis enter Afghanistan (1978 onwards)Jihadis attack America and allies
3Soviet troops withdraw from Afghanistan (1988)'Crusader-Jewish Alliance' leaves the Middle-East
4Soviet Union collapses (1991)America/West collapses
5Afghan Communist regime collapses (1992)Arab regimes collapse as Western support is withdrawn
6Islamic regime begins to take shape. This becomes a key destination for Jihad training. (Taliban emerged 1994)Islamic State(s) established in Arabian Peninsula, leading to the eventual spread of Islamic radicalism throughout the Peninsula, Muslim countries, and possibly the entire world.

Al-Qaeda is currently working on step two and appears to be laying the groundwork for later stages. Attacks on the West are motivated both by the individual religious obligation (fard ayn) to attack all 'Crusader States' (whether involved in Iraq or not - witness the attacks on French interests) and by the objective of dividing and weakening America's alliances and forcing the Coalition out of Iraq. In Iraq, attacks are designed to make the country ungovernable and knock out the pillars of support for a future democratic state (the UN, other Arab States, Shia, infrastructure, police stations, aid organisations). Outside Iraq, there is an attempt to influence the public to pressure Governments into withdrawing from Iraq.

With all international support withdrawn from Iraq, a new "location for Hijra" could be established, after the demise of the Taliban in Afghanistan. More on this can be found in this MEMRI translation of a bin Laden tape. This would, in other words, be a base of operations for the training of jihadis and the projection of Islamist violence around the world. The withdrawal of Western troops from Iraq at this point would have catastrophic consequences for the entire world.

The tape should be viewed in terms of this grand plan; released in conjunction with the shocking pre-election bombings, its aim was to change the Spanish Government, thus pulling Spain (and other supporters) out of Iraq. The plan has worked - the Popular Party seemed poised to win until the attacks of the 11th of March, days before the election. Although the new Socialist Government has stated that it will be tough on terrorism, it may yet withdraw material support for the Coalition in Iraq.

Carmon's commentary points out a number of linguistic features and conventions that are supposedly "alien to bin Laden's scholarly Islamist style". However, the tape in question does not purport to be from bin Laden himself, but from a satellite group. As already noted, al-Qaeda spokesmen often adopt a different rhetorical style to bin Laden. In this case, the tape's author or authors are clearly targeting a Western audience.

In my opinion, Carmon's two most compelling blows against the credibility of the tape are that it uses the term 'events' rather than 'ghazwah' (raids) to describe the attacks, and that the Abu Hafs al-Masri Brigades previously claimed responsibility for the August 2003 blackouts in America, which were later shown to be caused by technical failures, not terrorism. I can not explain why the Brigades used the word 'events'. However, the making of a previous false claim of responsibility does not render all subsequent claims false. Multiple claims of responsibility have been common in previous terrorist conflagrations. Since the point of terrorism is its psychological impact, it makes sense to augment real terrorist attacks with claims to have committed other acts.

Extracts from the tape published by The Age but for some reason not translated by MEMRI use trademark al-Qaeda language, such as "You love life and we love death, which is an example of what the Prophet said."

Given that the Brigades are willing to make false claims, some points need to be made:

  • The bombs were set off simultaneously using mobile telephones, a technique widely used by al-Qaeda affiliates such as Abu Sayyaf Group. In fact, the attacks are reminiscent of a series of bombings of buses, bus shelters and shopping centres in Manila from September to October 2002. These attacks were claimed by Abu Sayyaf Group (which is named after Rasul Sayyaf, a prominent mujahideen leader who was closely allied with Usama bin Laden in Afghanistan) before they took place.
  • The explosives used were not dynamite, the favoured explosive of ETA, as previously claimed by the Spanish Government.
  • ETA denied responsibility for the attack, which would be unusual for such a group: a terrorist organisation following the national liberation model, in which violence is used as a tool to directly extract a specific action from the Government.
  • Men were seen taking heavy bags from a white van and placing them in one of the trains that exploded. This white van was later found to contain detonators and an audiotape of the Quran in Arabic (purchased from a shop).
  • The attack was exactly quarter of a decade (2.5 years) to the day after the September 11 attacks, as stated on the tape. (Through a strange numerological quirk, exactly 911 days passed between 11th September 2001 and 11th March 2004 - although this was presumably a coincidence not noticed by the attackers).
  • Five men of Arab origin were arrested after being connected to a mobile telephone connected to one of the bombs that failed to explode. One of the suspects was wanted in connection to last year's Casablanca bombings.

    While expressing disagreement with the content of Mr Carmon's article, I must affirm my respect for Mr Carmon and MEMRI, whose work I often cite.

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