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Monday, July 9, 2007
By Dr. Steven Taylor

Via McClatchy: Why do terrorists attack Britain time and again?

So why do attacks keep happening here [Europe]? And why, since the horror of 9-11, has America avoided another assault?

Karl-Heinz Kamp, the security policy coordinator at Germany’s prestigious Konrad Adenauer research center, said it was easy to understand why.

“The U.S. has a historical advantage; America is still the land of opportunity to the whole world. The people moving there believe the American dream of social mobility,” he said. “In Europe, we’ve historically treated our immigrants as hired help, and waited for them to finish the work they arrived for and go home.”

Bob Ayers, a security and terrorism expert with London’s Chatham House, a foreign-policy research center, thinks that immigrants to the U.S. actually become Americans, giving the United States a huge advantage in avoiding homegrown al Qaida terrorists. Europeans encourage immigrants to retain their native cultures, causing them to be ostracized more readily.

“The Islamic population in the United States is better assimilated into the general population, whereas here, in Germany, in France, they’re very much on the outside looking in,” he said. “When people get disaffected, sadly, there’s not much loyalty to country in that sort of situation.”

There is quite a bit to this-in Europe is it is difficult, if not impossible, for first-generation immigrants to achieve citizenship in their new country-indeed, it is often a trial for second and third generations to do so. Many in the anti-immigration faction often malign the application of the 14th Amendment that results in all being born on US soil automatically gaining US citizenship, but that provision does simplify a situation that otherwise would be radically complicated and it is one that automatically offers hope to the progeny of all who immigrate to the US. Yes, there are problems that emerge, such as children who are citizens and parents who are illegally in the country, but that beats the kinds of problems we have seen in recent years in places like France and Britain. Hope is a very important human emotion, and knowledge of the security of one’s children is a driving force in our behavior. In the US an immigrant (legal or illegal) knows that any of their children born in the US will have citizenship, and therefore a significant amount of security. Such a situation creates a forward-thinking attitude that is infused with hope. This is not the case for most (all?)* immigrants to Europe.

If the concern is that migrant groups will not assimilate into the culture, it is rather obvious that in Europe, where citizenship is either impossible to achieve or is extremely difficult to acquire, that assimilation is more difficult over time and that the only option for immigrants to is to live in semi-autonomous enclaves.

Now, I would agree that part of the appeal of Europe is that it is easier to get to than is the US (there’s that whole ocean thing)-however, the 7/7/05 attackers in London were home-grown types. And, indeed, the primary concern in the UK has been about existing communities and the ability of Islamists to radicalize those groups. If one considers all the pent-up frustration (and sometimes not so pent-up) of North African immigrants in France of late, one can see how it is easier in Europe to radicalize members of those populations. These are problems we don’t have in the US.

h/t: Kevin Drum.


* I am not an expert on the citizenship laws of various European states, but am aware that guest-worker policies have long created a situation in which first generation immigrants have no chance of citizenship in many locales. Germany, for example, has long had such policies. I want to say that in the German case that citizenship doesn’t become easy until the third generation, but it has been a while since I reviewed those rules. I am unaware of any 14th Amendment-like policies in Europeans countries (i.e., where birth alone confers citizenship regardless of the legal status of the parent).

If anyone has specific knowledge of citizenship rules for migrant workers and their children, please feel free to share.

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By Dr. Steven Taylor

Via the NYT: New York Plans Surveillance Veil for Downtown

By the end of this year, police officials say, more than 100 cameras will have begun monitoring cars moving through Lower Manhattan, the beginning phase of a London-style surveillance system that would be the first in the United States.

The Lower Manhattan Security Initiative, as the plan is called, will resemble London’s so-called Ring of Steel, an extensive web of cameras and roadblocks designed to detect, track and deter terrorists.

[…]

If the program is fully financed, it will include not only license plate readers but also 3,000 public and private security cameras below Canal Street, as well as a center staffed by the police and private security officers, and movable roadblocks.

Given that we are primarily concerned about suicide bombers, it is unclear to me how these cameras are supposed to act as a deterrent. If being blown up in the act of the crime isn’t enough of a reason not to act, I somehow doubt being photographed while so doing will discourage the actors in question. Even those perpetrators who don’t engage in suicide bombing are so certain of their reward in the hereafter that it would seem that the possibility of being caught is not all that much of a deterrent-certainly the presence of all those cameras in London didn’t deter the 7/7/05 attacks, the 7/21/05 attempt nor the recent car bombing attempt . As such, I am not sure I buy the argument that such a system actually dissuades attacks.

That thousands of cameras can be useful in solving a crime after it happened I do not doubt. However, I can’t help but wonder whether that is worth the trade-offs that we have been engaging in post-9/11 wherein governmental authorities gather enormous amounts of data on the activities of the innocent.

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Sunday, July 8, 2007
By Dr. Steven Taylor

Via the Times: Car bombs are linked with Iraq’s Al-Qaeda

AT least one of the suspects being quizzed over the alleged plot to set off car bombs in Britain was in recent contact with Al-Qaeda in Iraq, senior security officials said yesterday.

Scotland Yard’s Counter Terrorism Command SO15 is understood to have uncovered evidence that in the months leading up to the attacks one or more of the suspects communicated by telephone or e-mail with terrorist leaders in Iraq.

The development has fuelled a theory that the failed attacks in London and Glasgow were designed as a farewell to Tony Blair to punish him for his role in Iraq. Details of the Al-Qaeda role in the three failed car bombings are expected to emerge over the next few days.

The development suggests that intelligence received by MI5 earlier this year about a possible Al-Qaeda attack to mark Blair’s departure was accurate. A report in April by the Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre (JTAC) warned that a senior Iraqi Al-Qaeda commander had outlined details of a big attack on Britain.

The report said the commander “stressed the need to take care to ensure the attack was successful and on a large scale”. It was aimed “ideally” to take place before Blair stepped down. It said JTAC, which is based at MI5’s London headquarters, was “aware that AQI [Al-Qaeda in Iraq] . . . networks are active in the UK”.

A key question that needs addressing is why it has been seemingly easier to radicalize persons in Britain/establish cells there than it has been in the US.

In regards to the AQI link, James Joyner rightly notes:

There’s a lot of speculation here. Basically, a terrorist in London at some time in the months leading up to the plot sent an email or made a phone call — we’re not sure — to “terrorist leaders” in Iraq. This, in turn, has led to some guessing — on the part of whom we don’t know — that there may be a connection.

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Friday, July 6, 2007
By Dr. Steven Taylor

Via the BBC: New Australia raids over UK bombs

Police in Australia have seized new evidence and questioned five more doctors over last week’s failed car bomb attacks in the UK.

Computers and other materials were taken from two Western Australian hospitals, one in Perth and one in the Outback mining town of Kalgoorlie.

Police said the doctors questioned had not been arrested.

The raids came as Australian police were given more time to question a relative of two men held in the UK.

This whole bombing-doctor business is quite odd, although I will confess as to not having paid great attention to all the details this week. Still, it is concerning that educated persons, indeed persons schooled to “do no harm” would be involved in such activities.

The Australia connection seems to be nothing more than checking on associates-although the seizing of computers indicates serious suspicions. Of course, I wouldn’t put it past government to over-react in a situation such as this.

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Sunday, July 1, 2007
By Dr. Steven Taylor

Via Reuters: British police arrest five after car bomb attacks

British police arrested a fifth person on Sunday after a fuel-filled jeep was rammed into Scotland’s busiest airport, a terrorist attack that police said was linked to two failed car bombings in London.

Three of the arrests were in northern England and followed the detention of two men, who witnesses described as Asian. They were seized on Saturday immediately after they slammed a Jeep Cherokee into Glasgow airport and set the vehicle ablaze.

[…]

Outside Glasgow, Scotland’s biggest city, police in white body suits searched houses in a town a short drive from the airport and set up forensic tents behind one building.

Neighbors said two Asian men had moved into one of the houses a month ago but had kept very much to themselves.

“I don’t remember seeing them at all,” said Mae Gordon, 67. “They were the only people around here you would never see.”

Police said the three arrests in the north of England were related to both the Glasgow and the London attacks, but did not provide further details. Two of the arrests were made overnight on a major highway and the third was made later on Sunday.

Of the two men detained at Glasgow airport, one was badly burnt and listed in critical condition in hospital.

All of which amounts to not a whole lot of information on who these folks are.

The good news is that the attackers in this case don’t seem especially proficient, especially in terms of the Glasgow attack-for while it was dramatic, in terms of causing death and destruction, dousing the car in gasoline and igniting it isn’t a devastating weapon. And hopefully the London car bombs failed due to lack of expertise.

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Friday, June 29, 2007
By Dr. Steven Taylor

Via the BBC: Police avert car bomb ‘carnage’

A car bomb planted in central London would have caused “carnage” if it had exploded, police sources have said.

A controlled explosion was carried out on the car, packed with 60 litres of petrol, gas cylinders and nails, in the early hours in Haymarket.

Police were alerted by an ambulance crew who saw smoke coming from the silver Mercedes, parked near the Tiger Tiger nightclub.

“International elements” are believed to be involved, the BBC has been told.

A little drama for the new PM and his cabinet on their first full day in office.

The story is breaking and developing.

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Tuesday, June 5, 2007
By Dr. Steven Taylor

Via the BBC: Guantanamo pair’s charges dropped

A US military judge has thrown out charges against two Guantanamo Bay detainees, casting fresh doubt on efforts to try foreign terror suspects.

Both cases collapsed because military authorities had failed to designate the men as “unlawful” enemy combatants.

[…]

Under a new system of military justice approved by Congress last year, detainees facing trial must be designated “unlawful enemy combatants”.

When they were assessed years earlier they were described only as “enemy combatants”. The word “unlawful” did not appear, giving the new tribunals no jurisdiction.

It seems the same may apply to all the other 380 detainees, leaving the tribunal system in legal limbo while Bush administration lawyers race to clarify the situation.

While it may seem like a formality, the issue of whether these combatants are “lawful” or not is quite significant. Indeed, much of the predicate of Gitmo is that we had to find a way to deal with a new kind of militant on the battlefield: a large number of unlawful combatants.

Sadly, this current turn of events is emblematic for this entire ill-fated policy in Guantanamo-poor planning, inadequate definition of concepts and goals, and sloppy thinking.

So, what does this all mean?

The US government has basically three options, our correspondent says:

* throw the whole system out and start again, which would be very embarrassing for the Bush administration
* redesignate all the detainees as “unlawful enemy combatants”, which would require a separate administrative hearing
* appeal against the ruling - but this would need to be handled by an appeals court, the military commissions review, which has not yet been established

The fact that we also find ourselves to still not have the entire apparatus in place (i.e., point number three and the fact that an appeals process hasn’t been established) is a further embarrassment-and creates serious problems. To wit:

The judge left open the possibility that Mr Khadr could be re-charged if he appeared before an official review panel and was formally classified as an “unlawful” enemy combatant.

He said prosecutors could lodge an appeal within 72 hours, although it was not immediately clear who they could appeal to. Prosecutors have indicated they intend to appeal.

Remarkable-it is quite difficult to file an appeal, especially with a 72 hour time frame, when there is no one to whom one can appeal. (And this isn’t the first time that the incomplete nature of the rules has reared its ugly head).

My guess is that the administration will pursue the middle route.

The Congress may have to revisit the situation:

Senator Arlen Specter, the senior Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, told the New York Times that Monday’s ruling could prompt Congress to re-evaluate the legal rights of detainees.

“The sense I have is that there’s an unease, an uncomfortable sense about the whole Guantanamo milieu. There’s just a sense of too many shortcuts in the whole process,” he said.

Gee, ya think?

The thing is, like much of the anti-terrorism policies of this administration, we have been told of the clear and obvious need for the Guantanamo prison and for a new and separate justice system to deal with the detainees held there. All of this is sold as a requirement for the safety of the United States. However, when it comes to execution of the policy we see bumbling, half thought out proposals and a general lack of direction and logic save for a generic “we are doing it to keep us safe.”

The administration has a pattern of asserting that they understand a broad and comprehensive approach to dealing with terrorism, but when it comes down to actually demonstrating that they know what they are doing, and that we should “trust them” they fail to demonstrate competency. Indeed, at the end of the day they clearly have a far smaller understanding of the basic problem than they claim, and have similarly spent far less time trying to figure it out than they should have done.

This is not a surprise at this point, and amounts to old news, but it is a gift that, unfortunately, keeps on giving.

At a minimum, if Guantanamo was filled with slam-dunk cases of evildoers, it would seem that this would be a little easier to figure out what to do with them than it has been.

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Saturday, June 2, 2007
By Dr. Steven Taylor

Via ABC News: Feds Claim to Bust N.Y. Airport Terror Plot

Authorities have arrested a former cargo worker at John F. Kennedy Airport in New York City who allegedly recruited an FBI informant to help blow up jet fuel tanks and a fuel pipeline at the airport, law enforcement officials told ABC News.

Two additional arrestes were made in Trinidad, a law enforcement source said. A source identified the suspect arrested in the United States as Russell Defreitas.

The plotters had “indirect” links to overseas terror elements and the plot had links to Guyana, Trinidad and possibly Germany, a source said.

Officials viewed the alleged plotters as a credible threat, but sources said they apparently did not have the technical savvy to carry out the plot.

The planning for the plot was said to be going on for two to three years but sources claim the alleged plotters were nowhere near any ability to put it into place.

One official said the plan “was not technically feasible.” Officials added that the alleged plotters had no explosives and had not yet figured out a way to get some.

I must confess I am now to the point with these arrests that I have to wonder exactly what we have here. Is this really a “terror” plot or is it the work of disgruntled worker? Was this simply the ranting fantasies of a few people or was this some more nefarious plan?

When we are talking about “indirect” links to overseas “terror elements” and the fact that these guys lacks the “technical savvy” to carry out the attack, I lean towards assuming we have here disgruntled cranks.

At a minimum it sound more like the Miami 7 than a serious plot.

The terrorist links seem to be as follows:

Sources said that the plotters several times mentioned the name “Adnan,” and Trinidad and Guyana. That may suggest a link with Adnan Shukrijumah, the son of the imam at the mosque where some of the 9/11 plotters worshipped, although authorities were never able to prove or disprove a link to him.

Shukrijumah, a Saudi, left the United States shortly before 9/11. Shukrijumah is considered extremely dangerous by the FBI and has a $5 million bounty on his head. He’s known to travel on a Guyanese passport and a Trinidadian one as well.

However, A FBI spokesperson in Miami said the squad assigned to Shukrijumah was aware of the case but found “no connection” to the wanted al Qaeda figure. He is believed to be with top al Qaeda leaders along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, the FBI spokesperson said.

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Monday, May 28, 2007
By Dr. Steven Taylor

Via the AP: Spain Arrests 15 on Terror Charges

Fifteen North Africans were arrested in Spain on Monday on suspicion of recruiting volunteers to fight in Iraq and other countries.

Spain’s Interior Ministry said computer material, jihad propaganda and several cell phones were seized during at least five pre-dawn raids throughout Spain. No arms or explosives were discovered.

Thirteen of the 15 were Moroccan and two were from Algeria, according to the statement, which said the group was operating as a cell that allegedly send money and fighters to different terrorist organizations in north Africa, Iraq and other countries.

When one wonders “why Spain?” one must remember:

Al-Qaida has frequently claimed that it intends to recover ‘’al-Andalus,'’ a reference to the vast area of Spain ruled by the Moors for 800 years until 1492.

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Friday, May 25, 2007
By Dr. Steven Taylor

Via the AP: Report: IRS poor at finding terrorists

IRS investigators look at paper documents and use a limited terrorist watch list to pinpoint possible ties between charitable and other nonprofit groups and terrorists, said the office of the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, which does independent oversight of the tax agency.

As a result, it said, “There is a risk that these charities will not be reported to the federal government authorities fighting terrorism.”

And how’s this for a methodology?

[Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max] Baucus, in a letter to Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, noted that IRS personnel told the Treasury Inspector General that they mainly look for “Middle Eastern-sounding names” when considering which tax filings to flag for further review.

Sheer genius. I feel safer already.

Seriously, while I understand and support the general policy goal of stopping financial flows to terrorist organizations, there is a legitimate question here as to whether such activities are really in the purview of the IRS. Surely their job is the collecting of taxes owed, not in the policing of international terrorist networks.

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