Friday, September 25, 2009

Afghan Immigrant, Hydrogen Peroxide, New York City Subways, and a Close Call

It looks like New York City's subways had a close call:
"An Afghan-born Colorado resident may have plotted an attack on New York commuter trains for this month's 9/11 anniversary, a US prosecutor has said.

"The suspect, Najibullah Zazi, is accused of receiving explosives training in Pakistan and buying large quantities of bomb-making chemicals...."
This thwarted effort at self-expression through explosives is pretty big news in the English-speaking world, at least.
"Evidence of one of the biggest US home-grown terrorism threats in almost two decades unfolded this week as investigators described a plot to detonate explosives made with beauty-industry chemicals.

"Using information gleaned from phone and email intercepts, surveillance footage and receipts from vendors, prosecutors drew a picture of Najibullah Zazi, a 24-year-old Afghan at the centre of the scheme.

"They accused him of conspiring with at least three others, including a New York imam, Ahmad Wais Afzali, and of lying to US authorities investigating an alleged terrorist conspiracy to deploy weapons of mass destruction in the form of hydrogen peroxide bombs. The imam was released on Thursday after his family posted bail of $1.5 million ($1.72 million)...."
(Brisbane Times)
I remember, after the Oklahoma City bombing, some of America's lawmakers talking - seriously, it seemed - about banning ammonium nitrate. For those city boys, it probably made sense. The first they'd heard of those big words was in connection with a bomb: and naturally, they'd want to ban something that dangerous.

Never mind that it's a key ingredient for fertilizers. Which farmers use to grow the food that winds up in Washington.

That time, sanity prevailed, and we're still allowed to grow food using 20th-century technology.

This time, hydrogen peroxide, acetone and hydrochloric acid were on the list of bomb-making ingredients. That's a whole bunch of big words, too: but since hydrogen peroxide and acetone, at least, are used in hair salons, my guess is that our leaders will know enough not to talk about banning their use.

But, I've been wrong before.

Remember the Liberty City Seven?

Najibullah Zazi and all seem to have gotten much closer to actually carrying out their plans than most have.

That Brisbane Times article mentions the time, down in Florida, where some guys either tried to blow up Chicago's Sears Tower - or were trying to snooker Al Qaeda. Either way, not the sort of people who should be left unsupervised. The American press has been calling that lot the Liberty City Seven. (March 27, 2008)

The alleged terrorists had hydrogen peroxide, acetone and hydrochloric acid. Mix them the right way and you get triacetone triperoxide. That's TATP: The stuff used in the 2005 London train bombings and what Richard "shoe bomb" Reid would have used in 2001. (The New York Times, Reuters)

"Said," "Admit:" There's a Difference

A caption under the alleged terrorist's photo reads, "Najibullah Zazi has said he is not involved in terrorism" - and I have no problem with that caption. He probably did "say" that.

Here's what FBI officials said, as quoted in a traditional news outlet: "FBI officials have admitted that such cases are 'aspirational' rather than operational." (Brisbane Times) [emphasis mine]

The alleged terrorist "said" - FBI officials "admitted" - well, there's nothing unusual about that. The verb "to admit" is frequently used to describe statements by law enforcement officials. But how often do we read something like "Greenpeace representatives admitted that they interfere with whalers"?

Of course, that's different. 'Everybody knows' that Greenpeace is a bunch of idealistic people, dedicated to defending delicate little Mother Earth from the big, bad whalers. And that the fuzz are jackbooted oppressors. Ask 'anybody.'

I don't think the said/admit dichotomy is entirely deliberate. I do think that there's a very definite set of values held by many of the traditional information gatekeepers - and that's a whole different topic. (September 18, 2009, August 14, 2009, for starters)

9/11? Yeah, it Could Happen Again

So far, we've been "lucky." Or, more accurately, outfits like the FBI and CIA, by intercepting messages between terrorists and doing other things that 'rights' groups generally don't like, have kept people like the Liberty City Seven and Najibullah Zazi's merry band from killing a whole lot of other people.

All things considered, I'm rather glad that Chicago's Sears Tower is still there, and that New York City's subways are no more dangerous than they usually are.

With the sort of "luck" that allowed the CIA and FBI to notice an imminent terrorist attack, and stop it, America may not have a replay of 9/11. I rather hope that's what happens. And, that other countries can avoid terrorist attacks.

What I hope and what I expect aren't necessarily the same thing, of course.

The War on Terror Will End: Eventually

I think it's nice that the current administration has dropped the "War on Terror" phrase. (March 30, 2009) I'm sure that it's a gesture that is appreciated - in some circles, anyway.

But, whether we like it or not, the war against groups like Al Qaeda and the Taliban is not over: and, in my opinion, won't be for years. Decades. Generations.

On one side, you have people who give every indication of believing that God wants them to maintain an extreme form of a culture that has more in common with Assyria and Harappa than Austria and Hong Kong.

On the other side are people who have gotten used to wearing trousers if they want to; not killing their wives; and allowing women to drive cars.

I don't see a lot of room for compromise here.

The situation isn't hopeless, though. Al Qaeda and the Taliban are not all there is to Islam. (I've written quite a few posts on that topic.)

I think there's a reasonable hope that Muslims around the world will re-evaluate what they believe, separate cherished customs from places like Sudan and Saudi Arabia from what the Prophet said, and make the - in some cases difficult - decision to come up to speed with at least 18th-century ideas of personal freedom and social order.

That sort of massive social, cultural - and economic - change won't come easily, and I doubt that it'll come quickly. But I am pretty sure that it will come.

That, or we'll all have to get used to living under a Taliban-style caliphate.

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Note! Although I believe that these websites and blogs are useful resources for understanding the War on Terror, I do not necessarily agree with their opinions. 1 1 Given a recent misunderstanding of the phrase "useful resources," a clarification: I do not limit my reading to resources which support my views, or even to those which appear to be accurate. Reading opinions contrary to what I believed has been very useful at times: sometimes verifying my previous assumptions, sometimes encouraging me to change them.

Even resources which, in my opinion, are simply inaccurate are sometimes useful: these can give valuable insights into why some people or groups believe what they do.

In short, It is my opinion that some of the resources in this blogroll are neither accurate, nor unbiased. I do, however, believe that they are useful in understanding the War on Terror, the many versions of Islam, terrorism, and related topics.