Sunday, November 29, 2015

Social media attack ISIL with ducks as London threat grows

The terror attacks that struck Paris on Friday 13th November could "easily" happen in London, the Defence Secretary has warned. And he insisted the only way to deal with Islamic State extremists was by force. However Labour opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn remains unconvinced and says attacks on ISIL would make Britain a target. In the meantime hackers and those using social media feel that DDoS attacks and the photoshopping of images may be the answer to defeating the terror group.

Terror threat

Michael Fallon said the threat to Britain from the militants, also known as ISIL [Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant], was as "potent" in the UK as it was in the French capital where 130 people were killed and 368 injured.

"More than 750 extremists from this country have travelled to Syria, and the growth in the threat shows no sign of abating," Fallon told the Sunday Telegraph. "We are seeing plots against the UK directed by terrorists in Syria, enabled through contacts with terrorists in Syria, and inspired online by ISIL's sophisticated exploitation of technology."

Air strikes

Fallon insisted that ISIL would only be beaten by force but admitted it would be harder to get the support of the Commons if Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn ordered his MPs to vote against air strikes [Telegraph].

Meanwhile BBC political correspondent Carole Walker said Michael Fallon had been encouraged by his conversations with Labour MPs over the weekend, with many suggesting they would vote on the merits of any government motion whatever the party line.

Concerning the upcoming vote in parliament, PM David Cameron said, "I hope that when the choice comes people will indicate that this is the right thing for Britain to do. It is and we should do it."

Cameron who is in Malta to attend an emergency EU summit in Brussels on Europe's migration crisis, meanwhile confirmed that ministers were continuing to hold talks with backbenchers of all parties over the weekend [Sky News].

UK on alert

The threat to London and other cities remains high, especially after Paris. It is believed that at least 450 radicalised Britons have returned to the UK from Syria. While Britain's Intelligence services attempt to identify and monitor those individuals security has been tightened on Britain's streets.

Special forces have been deployed on the streets to monitor stations, shopping centres and key public places amid fears the UK could be the next target for an ISIL terror outrage [Telegraph].

Duck attacks

And while politicians debate whether or not to target ISIL militants in Syria, hackers and other people using social media have begun their own propaganda campaign ridiculing the Islamic terrorists. The hacking group Anonymous has vowed to hunt down members of the terror group and take down websites and social media accounts. Meanwhile creative users of imageboard 4Chan have decided to fight back with humour using rubber ducks [Telegraph].

Images of Islamic State militants were soon being posted with photoshopped head of rubber ducks. "This is how we fight Daesh. Humiliate them," one person wrote on one post. The campaign may be amusing but the  idea that a terror might be brought down by photoshopping duck heads onto terrorist is evidently quackers.

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Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Muslims fear repercussions as Islamophobia grows

Muslims are fearing repercussions following the recent Paris attacks which left 130 dead. There have already been indications that Muslims are being targeted in the wake of the Friday 13th attacks in Paris.

In Britain there were 115 Islamophobic attacks in the week following the Paris killings, a spike of more than 300% [Independent].

Meanwhile in France the National Observatory of Islamophobia, a group linked to France's official Muslim council, reported 32 anti-Muslim incidents in the week following the attacks, up from an average of 4-5 complaints [IBNLive].

And in the US there is a sense of unease with many politicians expressing concerns over the influx of Syrian refugees and a perceived threat of radical Islam.

Blame and condemnation

Arif Arif, the Director of Public Affairs from the Ahmadiyya  Muslim Community, speaking on France 24 conceded that Muslims needed to be more outspoken and condemn violence perpetrated by radical Muslims. But he also questioned the word radical and what it meant in context with the Islamic faith.

Indeed there has been much debate, not only in recent days but ever since the days following 9/11, concerning Islam and the teachings from the Koran and as to whether it is indeed a religion of peace that most people proclaim it is. And that debate has spilled onto the front pages of tabloid newspapers.

The front page of Monday's Sun newspaper in Britain proclaimed that 1 in 5 British Muslims had sympathy for Jihadis. But while other papers, such as the Mirror, Guardian and Independent, questioned the assertion, there is a common feeling amongst non Muslims that there are at least strong divisions between those that follow Islam and those that don't.

Religion of peace?

And while many Muslims are outspoken in their condemnation of the violence carried out in the name of Islam, some non-Muslims find it difficult to reconcile some of the hateful bigotry that exists in the Koran.

For most, if not all, Muslims the Koran is seen as the literal word of God and cannot be questioned. Yet there are passages which are extremely inflammatory.

There are passages for example that say Muslims should not make friends of Jews or Christians and call on believers to kill the infidels [unbelievers] wherever they may be found.

Moderate Muslims will however say that drawing from such verses amounts to cherry picking, misinterpretation or taking things out of context.

Interpreting the Koran

However some academics reject this notion. Author of several books including a number of New York Times Best Sellers Robert Spencer insists that Islamic writings are themselves enough to radicalise Muslims and encourage them to take up arms.

"Every word, unless it is cancelled by another section, is valid for all time and cannot be questioned, this means that moderate Muslims, peaceful Muslims, if they are sincere have to reject entirely Koranic literalism but to do so puts them outside the sphere of anything that has been considered orthodox Islam throughout history because to do so is to reject the very basic premise of Islam that this is a book which is dictated by God and is a perfect copy of a perfect book, the Umm Al-Kitab, the mother of the book that has existed for ever with Allah in heaven" [YouTube].

Of course Spencer, and those who subscribe to his views, have are often described as anti-Islamic or Islamophobic. Indeed Spencer has himself been banned from visiting the United Kingdom by the Home Secretary Theresa May who said his presence in the UK would "not be conducive to the public good".

Fear of Islam

In the United States Robert Spencer has a greater freedom to express his views and he has already been invited onto the right wing news channel Fox News to discuss the risks of allowing Syrian refugees to come to America. Speaking on Hannity, Spencer said that President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry had ignored the "elephant in the room", that of the risk that there might be Jihadis amongst the refugees. "He [Kerry] tried to make it into an issue of religious bigotry saying some people only wanted to take in the Christians and not the Muslims. Well the reason for that is that Muslims might blow us up and the Christians are not going to." [YouTube]

It is not just the likes of Spencer who has questioned the policy of allowing refugees to flood into the US. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has described the refugee crisis as the ultimate Trojan horse [Fox News].

And it is clear that many in the US government are just as fearful. On Thursday last week [19th November], less than a week after terrorists brought carnage to the streets of Paris, the House of Representatives passed a bill that would effectively halt the acceptance of any Syrian or Iraqi refugees. However, for the bill to be adopted, it will also have to pass the US Senate.

Meanwhile a poll conducted this week by Bloomberg Politics found that 53% of Americans oppose allowing Syrian refugees to resettle in the US.

Trump is on the the record as saying that if he wins the Presidential election he would deport the Syrian refugees. "If I win they're going out," Trump told Fox News commentator Sean Hannity.

Calls for more controls

Trump has also hinted that he would like to see more surveillance on Muslims. The US government "is going to have to look at a lot of things very carefully" and "look at the mosques" Trump told Yahoo news.

Republican presidential hopeful Ben Carson, who is just behind Trump in the polls, was also criticised this week for likening Syrian refugees to rabid dogs.

"If there is a rabid dog running around your neighbourhood, you're probably not going to assume something good about that dog. And you're probably going to put your children out of the way." [CNN]

The comments have enraged Muslim groups in the US. Saif Inam of the Muslim Public Affairs Council, a Washington-based policy institution, has likened Trump's proposed database of Muslims to the "J" that was stamped into the passports of European Jews by the Nazis [Guardian].

Angelita Baeyens, programmes director for the Robert F Kennedy Centre for Justice and Human Rights, said the two presidential candidates' comments, as well as the measures by American lawmakers, were "extremely frightening" [Al Jazeera].

The kneejerk reactions by the right wing in the US are perhaps understandable. The memories of 9/11 cut deeply into the American psyche and the Boston bombing is still fresh in people's memories.

But it isn't just right wing Americans who feel that Islamic teachings have much to answer for. Walid Shoebat is a Palestinian American who converted to Christianity from Islam. Shoebat has stated he used to be a Palestinian Liberation Organization terrorist and is amongst several that insist the teachings of the Koran and Hadith are the direct inspirations to those who commit violence under the name of Islam [YouTube / YouTube / YouTube].

Growing distrust

In Britain there is a deepening distrust between mainstream society and ever more isolated Muslim communities. It is a problem that has been growing for a number of years [Independent].

In 2013 some 50% of Americans considered Islam a 'critical' threat, with similar numbers reported in France and Germany [Al Jazeera]. Turn on the TV or pick up a newspaper and one will often be confronted with horror stories about honour killings, terrorist attacks and Sharia law taking over Western cities [Daily Mail / Basildon Echo].

The recent spate of articles and news reports critical of Islam has been almost incessant. CNN was just one broadcaster that has been singled out for its overly critical stance [Washington Post]. And along with the criticism there have been calls for the hysteria to stop [Huffington Post].

The verbal attacks on Muslims in news broadcasts are also spilling onto the streets as Muslims find themselves under attack from members of the public [Guardian]. 

Online reaction

But some Muslims have reacted with humour rather than anger to the recent criticism. Following the Sun's declaration that 1 in 5 Muslims had sympathy for Jihadis many took took to Twitter with the hashtag #1in5Muslims.

"#1in5Muslims have accidentally munched on a packet of gelatine haribos" one tweet said [Haribo is a German confectionery company which make popular sweets often made with pork gelatine].

Others joked that they had forced their pets into the religion, with one Twitter user posting a picture of a dog dressed in a burka and a kitten draped in a keffiyeh reading the Koran [BBC / Guardian / Metro].

One popular reaction to the rampant Islamophobia was a Tweet which proclaimed "there are 1.6 billion Muslims in the world right now. 1.6 billion... if Islam really bred terror, we'd all be dead right now!"

This may be comforting for most people, though for those convinced by headlines in this week's Sun or the rhetoric of American politicians, such a statistic might feel rather foreboding.

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Thursday, November 19, 2015

Europe faces chemical weapon threat from ISIL

ISIL, Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, the militant group behind the terrorist attack in Paris a week ago could arm itself with biological and chemical weapons in future terror attacks on Europe, the French prime minister has warned.

Manuel Valls has said France faced a serious threat from associates linked to the gunmen and bombers who launched attacks across Paris on Friday 13th November, killing 129.

"We must not rule anything out," Valls said. "I say it with all the precautions needed. But we know and bear in mind that there is also a risk of chemical or bacteriological weapons." [Mirror / Independent / Sky News]

Valls presented a bill to the French parliament that would extend the country's state of emergency for another three months. It will then go to the upper house on Friday.

The threat from chemical or biological weapons has been dismissed as unlikely by some [Guardian].

While some kind of biological or chemical agent has been intermittently raised by officials over the past two decades, there has never been such an attack, at least in the West. But it is a  is a nightmare scenario that concerns those in intelligence circles who say that ISIL are at least looking into launching such attacks

In the late 1990s, Osama bin Laden, the founder and leader of al-Qaeda, described obtaining chemical weapons as a religious duty and even claimed to have stockpiled such arms as a "deterrent".

In 2003, Saudi and US intelligence services claimed to have learned of a plot to release cyanide gas on the New York subway system, though no one was arrested nor evidence released to the public.

But while no attack has yet taken place, one should not be complacent about the possibility.

Indeed, while Islamic terrorists have yet to launch a chemical or biological attack, there are instances where other groups have used such weapons. A case in point is when members of the cult movement Aum Shinrikyo launched five coordinated attacks in which they released sarin on several lines of the Tokyo subway during the rush hour, killing 12 people, severely injuring 50 and causing temporary vision problems for nearly 1,000 others.

As recently as September this year  US government officials said that the Islamic State militant group was making and already using crude chemical weapons in Iraq and Syria. "They're using mustard," one official said, "We know they are." [BBC]

There is some independent evidence suggesting the veracity of the US claims with a leading chemical weapons expert telling the BBC there was "very strong and compelling evidence" that mustard gas has been used in attacks in Syria [BBC / Express].

Furthermore Australian forces in air and training missions in the Middle East say they are prepared for chemical weapon attacks by ISIL [Guardian].

There is a clear danger in that even if ISIL has yet to develop such weapons, they have the ambition and apparent willingness to use them.

Both ISIS and Al Qaeda are rapidly extending their networks into North Africa and Central and South-East Asia.  And the mid‑November ISIS attacks on Paris testify to its capacity to strike targets far beyond geographical regions in its immediate sphere of influence.

The deadly efficiency with which ISIS plans and executes such strikes has become a hallmark of its operations.

The attacks in Paris and the downing of a Russian airline has shocked the world. The fallout from a chemical or biological attack will have far wider implications and create much bigger concerns.

[Pictured: British emergency services simulate a chemical weapons attack during chemical weapons drill in the City of London - September 2003]

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Emotional scars of Paris attack will heal in time

The terror that swept through Paris on Friday 13th of November has left deep scars. But they are scars that may well heal in time.

One hundred and twenty nine people lost their lives in the Paris attacks and some 350 were injured. But the attack not only destroyed the lives of 129 people, it also tore families and lives apart.

These are the unseen victims; those left behind who must struggle to go forward without their sons, daughters, husbands, wives or partners. Indeed even friends of those who were killed will be suffering.

The damage is a psychological one. It is one of grief. And the grief and emotional scars may last many months if not years.

Paris-born Christos, 33, believes "in some way" the attacks have changed the city forever.

"It's the kind of thing that leaves a scar," he told the BBC amid an atmosphere of quiet reflection outside Le Carillon bar and the Petit Cambodge restaurant where 15 people were gunned down. "We have to stay united and be stronger than ever."

Some refuse to let such attacks ruin their lives and have spoken out not with anger but in defiance.

Antoine Leiris lost his wife Helene in the Bataclan theatre in Paris. And he is now left to raise his son alone. In a tragic note he posted to Facebook, he insisted that the terrorists would not leave him cowered nor enraged [BBC / Telegraph].

The letter, entitled 'You will not have my hatred' has been shared widely on social networks and drawn much media attention.

"On Friday evening you stole the life of an exceptional person, the love of my life, the mother of my son, but you will not have my hatred," Antoine wrote.

Antoine admits he is "devastated with grief" but adds that "it will be short-lived."

Sadly for many the grief will last a long time and the emotional scars may be difficult to heal.

Tears have rolled down the faces not only those directly affected. Even members of media have been struck with emotion. BBC reporter Graham Satchell was overcome with emotion as he reported live from Paris [Guardian / Daily Mail].

Perhaps it's a sign of the times, and maybe it's expected by an audience who want to see that even reporters are human too [Guardian]. Indeed Satchell received praise from viewers for his 'honest reporting'.

Ultimately time heals, says Robin Goodwin, a Professor of Social and Environmental Psychology who has studied and examined the psychological responses to the 9/11 attacks in the US and in the subsequent 7/7 terrorist attacks in London.

For many there will be constant everyday reminders, such as the bangs from fireworks. Those who survived the Bataclan shooting may find it difficult to listen to their favourite band. Meanwhile an evening meal at a Paris restaurant or an espresso at a streetside café may be uncomfortable for many people in the weeks to come.

It took around three months before people returned to their normal behaviour following the 7/7 attacks in London, Robin Goodwin told BBC Radio 5 Live. Of course there are those who had no immediate choice about using public transport. People had to go to work and for most there was no alternative method to get to work.

But eventually time heals and people eventually find a way of getting on with their live despite underlying fears.

The strengthening of social cohesions also dissipates after a while, Goodwin observes. After 9/11 the French Newspaper ran with a headline "We are all Americans." And after the attacks on the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo the phrase "Je Suis Charlie" became a rallying cry of solidarity with the French.

Following the attacks in Paris last week, there has once again been a showing of sympathy and solidarity. La Marseillaise, the French national anthem, was sung by English and French fans alike at the friendly football match at Wembley that played out on the Tuesday after the attacks.

Expats and Londoners gathered in Trafalgar Square on Saturday 14th November in a vigil to mourn the victims and show solidarity. And around the world landmarks were lit with the red, white and blue of the French Tricolor. There has even been an outpouring of grief for Diesel the police dog killed in a terror raid in northern Paris that saw the arrest of 8 suspects and the killing of two others [SMH].

But memories fade, and as they do so too will the comradery.

How long indeed before the French are once again criticised for their handling of refugees camped out at the Jungle on the outskirts of Calais or are lambasted over travel disruption caused by striking air traffic control staff or protesting farmers.

The attacks were appalling and it is right that people show sympathy and stand with the French following the slaughter of so many people.

But in just a few short weeks many people outside France will have forgotten the horror of that day. Even in France the memories of that dreadful day will have faded.

For those directly affected, such as Antoine Leiris, it will be much harder to forget. Indeed for those left to look after children it will prove even more difficult as they have to explain why mummy or daddy will never be coming home. But time is a great healer. Even these individuals will eventually be able to put those events of Friday 13th behind them and move on. Indeed, we all need to move on and get on with our lives. To do otherwise is to give the terrorists another victory.

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Saturday, November 14, 2015

French newspapers react to Paris attacks

French newspapers reacted in shock to the events in Paris on Friday 13th November. Many ran with the simple headline 'Horror' or Carnage', but some echoed the French president's words in which he described the events as an "act of war" conducted by a terrorist army against France.

While many publications conceded the attacks were likely retaliation for France's role in the continuing war against ISIL, most expressed solidarity and a commitment to continue the fight.

"It is impossible not to link these bloody events with the battles raging in the Middle East. France is playing its part there. It must continue to do so without blinking," wrote Laurent Joffrin in an editorial in the French paper Liberation.

This was "terrorist barbarism" which crossed a "historic line," said the head of the left-leaning Liberation daily, calling for France to stay resolute.

Le Parisien ran with the headline "This time it's war" and concentrated on those that died and called for unity. "In the name of the true martyrs of yesterday, the innocent victims and in the name of the Republic, France will be able to stay united and stand together," said Le Parisien.

Many referred to the attackers as "cowardly terrorists" and there was also a clear agreement that what they left behind them was one of carnage on the streets of Paris

More: Sky NewsPress & Journal / Time / 20 Minutes [French]  

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Alert at UK airport follows Paris attacks

Hundreds of passengers were evacuated from the North Terminal of London's Gatwick airport on Saturday [14th November] after armed police confronted a man "acting suspiciously".

Witnesses at the scene spoke of police shouting at the man to get down before arresting him. Some passengers said they overheard conversations discussing the possibility the man had a gun whilst other spoke of a hand grenade [Twitter / Twitter].

Pictures posted to social media showed scores of passengers being  evacuated after the terror scare. Other photographs showed a bomb disposal truck at the scene.

As passengers were evacuated from the terminal members of the Royal Logistics Corps Bomb Disposal team arrived at the scene to deal with the suspicious item.

Police were called at about 09:30 GMT after "suspicious actions" by a man. A spokesman confirmed that Explosive Ordnance Disposal specialists were at the scene. Sussex Police would only say that a man was arrested after he "discarded an item" at the airport.

Meanwhile Gatwick Airport advised passengers to contact airlines for information concerning travel plans.

The terror alert followed terrorist attacks in Paris on Friday 13th November that left 127 dead and more than 100 injured.

More reports: BBC / Daily Mail

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A night of terror on the streets of Paris

France is in mourning after terrorists brought death to the streets of Paris.

French President François Hollande declared a national state of emergency and tightened borders after at least 128 people were killed in a night of gun and bomb attacks in the capital which has not only shocked France but much of the Western world.

The attacks came some 10 months after the so-called Charlie Hebdo attacks and the Île-de-France attacks which left 17 dead. France, and Paris in particular, was already in high alert. However it is unclear whether there was a failure in intelligence or if the terrorists managed to successfully fly below the radar undetected.

Black Friday

Friday the 13th, also known as Black Friday, is often considered an unlucky day in Western superstition. But for Paris and France Friday November 13th proved to be extremely black.

The series of mass shootings and suicide bombings began at 21:16 CET. Three separate explosions and six mass shootings occurred, including bombings near the Stade de France in the northern suburb of Saint-Denis.

The deadliest attack was at the Bataclan theatre where attackers took hostages and engaged in a stand-off with police.

Concert goers who had been out to enjoy the US rock group Eagles of Death Metal instead became victims as two gunmen opened fire indiscriminately on the crowds.

Julien Pearce, a radio reporter who witnessed the attack first hand, told CNN that the black clad gunmen said nothing as they open fired in Bataclan theatre for at least 10 minutes. "It was a bloodbath," he told the news outlet.

There was a three hour stand-off during which some inside the theatre posted desperate messages on social media. Some said they were not being treated as hostages and that the gunmen were killing them one by one and called on police to launch a rescue bid. Some meanwhile managed to escape from the rear of the building, several dragging the injured or dying away from the scene [Warning Graphic Footage: YouTube]

The siege eventually ended at 00:58 CET on the 14th November 2015 when armed police launched an assault on the building. At the end of the assault two terrorists were dead, after apparently detonating suicide belts, and some 100 concert goers were dead with scores of others left injured.

Night of terror

The night of terror began at a pair of cafés, Le Petit Cambodge and Le Carillon on the Rue Bichat and Rue Aliber,when gunmen opened fire on those eating inside one before reloading and firing upon the other leaving 14 dead.

Then came an attack at La Casa Nostra, an Italian restaurant, in Rue de la Fontaine-au-Roi south of Rue Bichat, by a man wielding a machine gun. At least five people were killed by the gunman who, according to one witness, fired "bursts of three or four shots."

At around 21:30 CET three explosions occurred near the Stade de France in the suburb of Saint-Denis, and resulted in at least five deaths. At least 10 people were injured or killed in an explosion at a bar near the stadium about twenty minutes after the kick-off in the international friendly football match between France and Germany which the President of France François Hollande was attending.

Less than twenty minutes later there was another mass shooting as two attackers fired for several minutes at the terrace of La Belle Équipe, a restaurant on the rue de Charonne in the 11th arrondissement of Paris before returning to their car and driving away. Police later confirmed that 18 people were killed by gunmen.


The attacks thus far had been deadly, but the assault on the Bataclan Concert Theatre was nothing less than slaughter.

The American rock band Eagles of Death Metal were playing to an audience of around 1,500 when about an hour into the concert, four black-clad men with AK-47 assault rifles entered the hall.

There are conflicting reports as to whether the men said anything, but some witnesses said the terrorists shouted "Allahu akbar" just before calmly and methodically opening fire into the crowd.

The killing finally stopped when armed police stormed the theatre. Four attackers were killed, three of whom died by detonating their suicide belts. The fourth was hit by police gunfire, and his belt blew up when he fell.

Repercussions & recriminations

After a little over three hours of terror some 128 people were dead and 100 others were critically injured in hospital.

Meanwhile eight attackers were killed and authorities were continuing to search for any accomplices that remained at large.

In response, French President François Hollande announced a national state of emergency, and subsequently placed temporary controls on the borders of France in a televised statement at 23:58 CET. It was the first nation-wide state of emergency since the end of the Second World War.

Prior to the attack, France had been on high alert since the January 2015 Île-de-France attacks in Paris. But these latest series of attacks were having far wider implications as some American airlines suspended flights to Paris and other countries began to rethink their security procedures. The subsequent claim of responsibility for the attack by Islamic State has also raised concerns as to the growing threat of the terror group.

More reports: BBC / Sky News / France 24 / CNN / Telegraph / Guardian / Daily Mail

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Friday, November 06, 2015

Charlie Hebdo angers Russia over 'vile' cartoons

The Kremlin has angrily condemned the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo for publishing political cartoons focusing on the Egypt plane crash in which 224 people died, most of them Russian tourists.

One cartoon shows debris and human remains raining down on an armed IS militant, with the caption: "IS: Russian aviation is intensifying bombardments," a reference to its air strikes in Syria.

Another shows a skull with a pair of sunglasses hanging off it with the crashed plane in the background. It is titled "The dangers of Russian low-cost airlines", and the speech bubble says "I should have taken Air Cocaine," a reference to a current scandal over French pilots smuggling drugs from the Dominican Republic.


"In our country we can sum this up in a single word, sacrilege," President Vladimir Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov told journalists. "This has nothing to do with democracy or self-expression. It is sacrilege."

The Kremlin spokesman called the cartoons "unacceptable" but said Russia would not make an official complaint.

Others were more scathing of the cartoons. "It's not satire but filthy mockery," Ivan Melnikov, the deputy speaker of the lower house, told Russian state TV.

Writing on Twitter, the lower house of parliament's international affairs chief Alexei Pushkov said, "Is there any limit to Russophobia on the pages of Western media?"

"As the whole world condoles with us, Charlie Hebdo preaches its vile right to sacrilege," he added. "The caricatures are overgrowing the boundaries of French journalism. They are so sacrilegious that they require some kind of reaction from the French officials. Their silence will mean their tacit consent to Charlie's usurped right to mock and scoff at the tragedy," Alexey Pushkov, head of the Russian State Duma, told TASS.

French reaction

Mainstream French media has barely commented on the story however, and the French foreign ministry has only responded in releasing a statement saying that "journalists are free to express their opinions in France" and that "the authorities do not get involved."

Charlie Hebdo, which is based in Paris, was the target of a terrorist attack in January. Two Islamist gunman killed 10 of the magazine's staff at its offices and two policemen outside.

The magazine has a history of controversial satire and has been accused previously of insensitivity. It was criticised by Twitter users on Friday, with the hashtag "I'm not Charlie" among the top trends in Russia - a reference to the "Je Suis Charlie" hashtag popular in the wake of the January attack [France 24 / BBC / NYP / TASS].

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Security rethink after probable bombing of Metrojet plane

The Russian passenger plane which crashed over the Sinai on the 31st October was likely brought down by a terrorist bomb the British government has said.

Evidence gathered by US and UK intelligence services appears to suggest the plane was destroyed by a bomb placed on board by someone with access to the plane.

Both the British Prime Minister, David Cameron and the Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond have said there was strong evidence pointing to a terror attack, and the US President Barack Obama has said "it is certainly possible there was a bomb on board" [BBC]

The apparent downing of flight 7K9268 which resulted in the loss of 224 passengers and crew has once again provoked a rethink of airline security.

Terrorist claims

There are a number of things that appear to point to a probable terror attack.

Soon after the plane crashed, a group linked with ISIL claimed responsibility for bringing down the jet saying it was in retaliation for Russian bombardment of Islamic State targets in Syria [RT].

The claims were immediately dismissed by Egyptian and Russian officials who said the militants did not have surface-to-air missiles with a range long enough to attack high-flying passenger planes. But while a missile might have been dismissed, there was still the possibility a bomb could have been placed on board.

Unusual sounds

Reports later emerged that "unusual sounds" could be heard on the recovered voice recorder [CNNGuardian / Independent].   

Whilst investigators have not officially released data or findings, the Interfax news service said it had seen a transcript of the cockpit recordings from the black boxes being examined by Egyptian officials. Interfax said that the cockpit recordings from the Metrojet flight revealed "unusual sounds" at the moment the plane went off the radar and went on to say that no distress call was issued from the pilots.

Heat flash

US officials maintained that the plane had not been shot down.

"There is no way it was brought down by a missile or anti-aircraft fire," the official told Fox News.

However, by Tuesday 3rd November there were reports that US satellites had detected a "heat flash" at the same time the plane disappeared from radar [Fox News].

The US intelligence community believed that a fuel tank explosion or bomb may have been the source of the heat signature, NBC News reported.

Concerns were heightened further by the plane's owner, Kogalymavia, which uses the brand name Metrojet, who insisted that neither human error nor a technical malfunction could have caused the crash, and cited an "external force" as the cause of the crash [RT].


Indeed just days after authorities dismissed claims that ISIL brought down a Russian passenger jet, a US intelligence analysis suggested that the terror group or its affiliates planted a bomb on the plane [CNN / CNN]

Reports gradually surfaced suggesting that intelligence agencies had 'intercepted communications' which indicated Islamic State fighters had played a role [Daily Mail].

US officials said intelligence suggests the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant [ISIL] or another terrorist group may have had "an assist from someone at the airport" and the British security services have discovered evidence of a plot to carry out a major atrocity.

Photographic evidence

Furthermore the latest photographs of the wreckage of flight 9268 appear to show holes in the fuselage punched from the inside out, suggesting an explosion inside the Airbus A321.

Internal components including part of a door also appeared to have been peppered with shrapnel from inside the cabin [Telegraph].

Bomb "more likely than not"

By Thursday the British PM David Cameron announced that it was "more likely than not" that a bomb downed the Russian plane. As a result he made the executive decision to stop all flights in and out of Sharm el-Sheikh.

According to various sources MI5 had intercepted "chatter" from extremists in the Sinai Peninsula which further reinforced the theory that ISIL or associated groups had brought down the plane.

UK intelligence found evidence of the plot in intercepts picked up as part of a review of material carried out in the wake of the 31st October disaster, Sky News reported [BBC / Telegraph / Daily Mail]

Criticism & anger

The grounding of flights while prudent, has been criticised by Russia and Egypt. Russia has said the British assertion that the crash was terror related was premature adding that the investigation into the cause could take several months.

Egypt have also criticised the move which will undoubtedly have a negative effect on the country's lucrative tourist industry.

The UK government decision left thousands of British tourists stranded in Sharm el-Sheikh.

Speaking at Sharm el-Sheikh airport on Friday 6th November the British Ambassador to Egypt John Casson said the aim was "to get as many people as home as soon as possible." However Over capacity as well as increased security was slowing things down leaving many people uncertain as to when they might be returning to the UK.

Early Friday Easyjet said that Egyptian authorities had suspended UK airlines from flying into Sharm El Sheikh and that this would result in the cancellation of its flights from the holiday resort. However it later emerged the delays and problems were less political and had more to do with capacity at the airport [Sky News].

The lack of information as well as cancelled or delayed flights resulted in tense scenes at the airport, with a confrontation between angry passengers and Britain's ambassador to Egypt John Casson.

The ambassador said the situation in Egypt was "complex and difficult" but the Government was working with the Egyptian authorities to get holidaymakers home safely as quickly as possible.

However only 8 of 29 scheduled flights left on Friday and the passengers were only allowed to take small amounts of hand luggage. Check-in bags were to be sent on separate flights.

Security rethink

Airline security since 9/11 has primarily focused on the passenger and their baggage. Security checks have increased with a number of items being banned from carry-on bags.

But following the downing of flight 7K9268 the focus has shifted to personnel who work airside.

Indeed the personnel who work behind the scenes at airports around the world may be the weak link. How stringent are the checks on those who work airside, such as baggage handlers? These are the questions now being raised by airlines and security agencies.

In fact, despite earlier criticism of Britain's decision to ground flights to Sharm el-Sheikh, Russian intelligence has said it is "reasonable" to suspend flights to Sinai region until the cause of the crash of flight 7K9268 is established.

It is a feeling echoed by those who work in the airline industry too. "We cannot afford to be complacent about security issues" former British Airways pilot Alastair Rosenschein told Victoria Derbyshire on the BBC on Friday morning.

Already, baggage handlers, catering staff and other airport workers are being interrogated to determine whether one of them may have been given a bomb to place on board the aircraft.

But it is likely that security at other airports will also come under the spotlight in the days to come.

tvnewswatch, London, UK

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Xi Jinping - out of the frying pan & into the fire

Xi Jinping's visits to the West are an attempt to drum up business and investment. But even his US visit didn't come without a fair share of controversy and criticism.

But his upcoming visit to the UK is likely to be far more uncomfortable for the Chinese president than his American tour.

Human rights

Reports on Chinese television insisted Xi's visit was all about fostering business relationships and boosting investment [CNTV].

However, Labour's new leader Jeremy Corbyn is reportedly planning an awkward welcoming party for the Chinese leader and is expected to raise questions about China's human rights record [BBC / Guardian / Express / Daily Mail / Channel 4 NewsSCMP].

Corbyn, who has been branded 'incompetent' by one of his own shadow ministers [Telegraph], has promised to raise the issue of human rights though whether he'll break protocol and raise such issues during the state banquet remains to be seen.

Dumping steel

Xi also faces criticism over unfair dumping of steel which many say is contributing to the devastation of the UK steel industry [FT].

There has been mounting criticism concerning dumping by China of steel on world markets which some say is contributing to falling prices and creating havoc in Europe.

Anna Soubry, the business minister, revealed this week that she did "talk about Chinese dumping and many other things related to the steel industry" when she visited China last month. However it is not clear whether China will soften its approach and drawback on its dumping.

The problem is not new. Over the past decade the European Union and China have clashed several times over the alleged dumping of products ranging from wine to solar panels to steel pipes. Indeed a World Trade Organization report published in 2010 cited China as being the top offender for dumping [Economy in Crisis].

And while the EU announced in March this year that it would impose anti-dumping duties, the policy was set to last only six months [EurActiv].

China has continually protested against protectionist policies, but has itself often imposed increasing protectionist measures of its own.

Unlevel playing field

Since China's opening up policy trade has certainly improved on the previous half century when the West was essentially shut out of the Middle Kingdom. But while there have been some benefits, the playing field is far from level when it comes to doing business.

This is particularly true of the tech industry where due to Internet restrictions, censorship and legal requirements, Western firms find themselves excluded.

In a speech delivered by Xi Jinping during his US visit he spoke of the development of an Internet "in line with their [China's] national realities," a phrase that many critics feel is in contrast to the open Internet in the West.

Such statements created much consternation and even anger amongst many attendees of an Internet forum sponsored by the Chinese and Microsoft.

"They say they will allow American businesses to compete on a level playing field in China," said Spencer Rascoff, chief executive of Zillow, a real estate website, who was at the technology meeting. "They are saying all the right things. But the American business community is still skeptical — actions speak louder than words." [NYT]

One-way streets

China often allows Western companies to bring along expertise but few are allowed to fully establish themselves in China in the same way Chinese companies are able to elsewhere.

Many foreign business executives also complain that increased restrictions favour Chinese companies and smack of protectionism.

Even as far back as 2010 some business leaders were pondering their position and even contemplated leaving China because they were weary of slogging through what some referred to as an unpredictable business environment [VoA].

Recent concerns surrounding China's economy has also raised stakes and resulted in at least some capital outflow [FT].

Fingers in pies

China's influence is growing however and the footprint of investment is getting larger.

From building roads and mobile telephone infrastructure in Africa to the construction of nuclear power stations in other parts of the world, China is developing well beyond its borders. But there have been concerns raised over China's growing tentacles into parts of the developing world and its increased use of soft power.

Indeed critics say that China is only interested in Africa's resources, that its exports to Africa threaten local industries, and it's role on the continent is displacing Africa's traditional partners, like the United States [CarnegieEndowment].

Buying up Britain

China has many business interests in Britain too. In fact Britain is one of the more popular destinations for Chinese investment [BBC / Telegraph].

The latest deal is to build a Chinese designed nuclear power station. But with this deal comes a great deal of controversy.

The costs of decommissioning as well as safety concerns have called into question the current government's commitment to nuclear power. The accident at Fukushima is still fresh in many people's minds, and while Britain may never see a massive earthquake or tsunami that resulted in the Japanese nuclear disaster, the accident does nonetheless raise important concerns at how a nuclear accident might be contained.

Accidents aside, the cost of decommissioning is often forgotten about and ignored when it comes to nuclear power. The cost of decommissioning at Sellafield, the site of the 1957 nuclear accident when it was still called Windscale, is set to exceed £53 billion [BBC], but was nonetheless lower than earlier reported figures of £70 billion [BBC].

Such costs, as well as the risks of safely containing nuclear material that remains unsafe for hundreds of thousands of years, is often conveniently ignored when weighing up the costs of electricity production from nuclear plants [New Statesman].

Security threats

Despite concerns raised by the anti-nuclear lobby the Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne has sealed a deal with China to build Britain's next generation of nuclear plants.

But with the ink barely dry concerns have been raised over national security [BBC].

Security sources told The Times that the scheme posed a threat to national security - and a senior Tory MP has called for an inquiry.

Caroline Baylon, a cyber security specialist at the Chatham House think tank, said that while Chinese investment is a "good thing" for the UK, "when it comes to very sensitive sectors of the economy we have to be very, very careful".

It is not the first time Chinese business deals have raised eyebrows concerning state security.

In the UK, Huawei has established a significant and influential presence. This is despite the fact that Huawei is said to have close links with the Chinese government and its military.

Indeed a US congressional panel have failed to be satisfied by statements from the companies concerned [Sky / BBC].

Huawei, which began operating in Britain in 2001, has invested over £150 million and created 650 jobs in the UK resulting in deals with almost every major company in the UK's telecoms industry.

Huawei's technology has been used in broadband distribution equipment used by BT. TalkTalk, another major client, uses Huawei technology to run HomeSafe, a system to monitor Internet use by its customers in order to offer content filtering and the blocking of adult and other "unsuitable" content.

Huawei also produces set-top boxes for YouView, the digital service backed by several UK Internet service providers and broadcasters, including the BBC. And much of EE's commercial 4G network is powered by Huawei technology [BBC / BBC / tvnewswatch: Mixed response to Huawei ZTE security threat / Guardian

Royal 'snub'

In a further set back to diplomatic relations, Prince Charles is reportedly skipping the state banquet during President Xi's visit. The Palace said that he would nonetheless attend other events where the Chinese president would be in attendance.

Prince Charles is a supporter and friend of the Dalai Lama, whose real name is Tenzin Gyatso, and has had a difficult relationship with China's leadership in the past. However it is not clear whether his failure to attend the state banquet is a direct snub to President Xi [Belfast Telegraph].

However it appears that the Prince himself backed down from a pow-wow with his old friend the Dalai Lama in September in order not to create friction with the Chinese because of the upcoming presidential visit [Daily Mail].

Brave faces

Of course the Chinese, a race known for not wishing to lose face, have insisted that many of the issues raised in the media are of little concern.

Liu Xiaoming, China's ambassador to the UK, said over the weekend that his country does not "shy away" from discussing human rights and doubted Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn would raise the issue at the state banquet [BBC / Guardian / Telegraph].

Liu said Sino-UK relations were "at their strongest" and appears to be unfazed by the media furore over Xi's visit and criticism of China [Telegraph].

President Xi Jinping's state visit would focus on "partnership" and "co-operation" between the two countries, Liu insists.

Meanwhile Xi Jinping has said that Britain has made a "visionary choice" in establishing stronger ties with China [Guardian]. 

However, only time will tell if things work out in the long term.

tvnewswatch, London, UK

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Google's 17, but what would life be like without it?

Today is Google's Birthday [Telegraph]. The tech giant has now been with us for 17 years and brought innovation and tools that many of us take for granted.

But what would life be like without Google?

For some the question "What would life be without Google?" is a no brainer. Life would be more awkward, more expensive and frustrating.

Of course there are the protagonists who claim Google has become too big and that its monopoly pushes out competition. Others claim the search giant has become Big Brother and is actively aiding the NSA.

Google has certainly become big, and indeed it does monopolise many people's lives. However its place in the online world has only been achieved due to the quality of products it supplies.

So can one really live without Google and is the competition really up to the job.


Let's start with search.

Once upon a time there was no such thing as Google. Even Bing had not even been conceived. People instead had to rely on the likes of the now defunct AltaVista. All too often good results were not returned and there were even old fashioned books sold and given away with useful Internet links published.

One such example is The Internet The Rough Guide. Published in 2000 it is a nearly 500 page book containing advice about the Internet, explaining the likes of email, Voip and web browsers.

This was at a time when Google had only been in existence for about 2 years. But it was beginning to become noticed. In the Rough Guide's section on search engines it refers to AltaVista, Northern Light, HotBot, Excite, GoTo, InfoSeek, Lycos, Snap and Webcrawler and notes that "not all search engines are equal".

AltaVista launched in 1995 but use waned as Google gained dominance. Yahoo bought up the company in 2003 but the search engine was eventually shut down. On June 28, 2013, Yahoo announced that AltaVista would be closed on July 8, 2013. Since that day, visits to AltaVista's home page have been redirected to Yahoo's main page. There is an irony that Yahoo was initially offered Google but the company turned down the offer [CNET].

GoTo has also faded from view having become incorporated into Yahoo's portfolio

Northern Light no longer offers NLSearch as a public news search engine and the company has moved to providing more specific needs to business users [Northern Light Group]. 

HotBot still exists however. But there will be few that head to this Lycos owned search engine.

Webcrawler is still active, though it, like many others, has changed hands and Webcrawler is now owned by Excite.

But while some of the search engines remain, albeit returning combined results from the main three - Google, Bing and Yahoo - others have fallen by the wayside altogether. Infoseek for example no longer exists in its original form since it was gobbled up by Disney. Snap has also disappeared into the ether.

'A future champ'

Google arrived at a time when the gaggle of other search engines provided varied and often useless results. Even as early as 2000 it was creating a stir and was drawing significant attention.

"Google is a promising newcomer," the 2000 Rough Guide said, referring to its "large database, an intelligent system of ranking hits by relevancy, and local cache access to pages that have disappeared."

"Check it out," the guide advised, "it looks set to become a future champ." Prophetic indeed. Nowadays people don't say "do an Internet search" they merely say "Google it".

Of course, Bing, Microsoft's answer to the search engine, and Yahoo do offer some competition, but Google remains the top search engine of choice. In certain countries Google has made less inroads, but this is often more to do with local politics. For example censorship and Internet blocks have all but pushed Google to the sidelines in China as most people are forced to use the home grown Baidu.

Google Maps

Google has moved on a long way since just offering search. Indeed search itself has been split into several categories.

Once search was just words. Now it is images, videos, news, shopping, books, flights and maps.

To take the last of these first, Google Maps is almost taken for granted now. But it was not so long ago that people relied on books. Computers changed that with things like Microsoft's Autoroute which was a stand alone mapping program covering parts of Europe. However is was finally discontinued in December 2014

While useful, Autoroute had disadvantages in that one would need to update software regularly given the building of new roads. Thus began various attempts to create online versions. Some may remember Mapquest or Multimap. Multimap was eventually bought up by Microsoft and became Bing Maps while Mapquest still exists. However Google's mapping solution has surpassed the competition despite being a relative latecomer to the party.

Indeed Google Maps is almost ubiquitous when it comes to finding one's way around the globe, even incorporating bus, train and tram timetables.

GMail & Docs

The list of products has grown exponentially. Word, a product costing in excess of $100, has been made almost redundant with Google Docs which has also incorporated spreadsheets, powerpoint presentations and other functions which were previously only available through stand alone programs.

GMail forced the competition, Yahoo and Hotmail, to change its ways both through functionality and size limits. Yahoo and Hotmail also lost their hold on the webmail market.

Of course there's no such thing as a free lunch, and Google funds its free services through analysing user data in order to target advertising, the core of its business model.

And in recent years Google has begun to make more money through the selling of Music, eBooks, Movies and Apps through platforms built into Android and its web infrastructure.

A life without Google

So where would we be if Google suddenly disappeared.

First you can say goodbye to your Android phone, at least in its current state. Android might continue, but there would be no Google sign-in and one would have to look towards new providers for app content. Gone too would be all your contacts, currently synced across all devices in one Google account.

Back to the good old days when one had to reprogramme a new phone with all those numbers once again!

The same would apply to all the other synced information stored in Google servers.

Chrome bookmarks, web history, years of Gmail messages, docs, picture back-ups, videos, purchased and saved books and music etc. They'd all be gone.

And of course there'd be no more YouTube. So no more watching endless videos of cats!

Rebuilding from scratch

After the initial shock one would have to pick oneself up and try to rebuild one's online life from scratch and find new online tools.

First off you'd need a new email account. The obvious choices would of course be Yahoo and Microsoft's Outlook - formerly Hotmail.

So far so good, though of course you'd have to rebuild your contacts list once again and install the App on your mobile device.

Loss of media

With the loss of Google many users would be without their large collection of books, music, films and TV programmes. Aside the inconvenience and financial loss, there are alternatives, though not necessarily under the same umbrella.

Apple offers a large collection of music to purchase and users may even store their own music in the cloud. However Apple charge $25 per year for 25,000 user-uploaded songs in iCloud while Google's current offering is 50,000 songs for free.

As regards books only Amazon is a serious competitor to Google Books and does have a few of the facilities such as uploading facilities, though not epubs.

When it comes to online video content there lots of providers but not all offer the ability to buy. There is Flixster which facilitates keeping a copy of a bought DVD in its online storage locker by way of tie-up with UltraViolet, and there is Amazon which offers purchase options. Sky TV also offers a DVD and cloud locker option.

However Google's offering is neater in that everything is under one roof. Furthermore the company regularly throws out a few freebies to its consumers.

Data and storage

One thing most people would miss aside of search and GMail would by Google Docs and Drive.

Microsoft of course offer some online alternatives, but Google Docs and Drive are far more intuitive. And of course there's the price one pays for all of these online services.

With 15 Gb free and 1 terabyte for a little over $100 per year Google offers the best value for online storage. What's more Google Drive works in a tree like structure so that one can simply upload folders within folders within folders. Microsoft's SkyDrive only allows files to be uploaded so folders have to be created first within the cloud.

There are certainly alternatives to most of what Google has to offer. And mankind would certainly adapt and move on without the Chocolate Factory, as it has been dubbed by some tech news outlets. But would using the Internet be as sweet. Probably not. Some have tried to live their life without it [BBC / Onedaywithoutgoogle.org / How I divorced Google], but the reach of Google is far reaching and almost impossible to avoid. 

tvnewswatch, London, UK