Tuesday, February 20, 2007

War on Terror failing as insurgency builds

Besides prominent trials and thwarted plots, attacks continue

The war on terror might appear to many to be failing in its attempt to thwart attacks worldwide. Iraq is the main focus of many news reports as daily attacks continue to take dozens of lives. But attacks linked to Islamic groups are also occurring in many other countries.
Iraq is where the worst violence still occurs. A chemical truck blast in Iraq today seems to show a new shift in tactics employed by insurgents in the country. At least 6 were said to have been killed when a tanker carrying chlorine exploded. More than 100 were injured in the blast which CNN described as a ‘dirty bomb attack’. In Baquba, north of Baghdad, al-Qaeda in Iraq appears to be gaining strength despite best efforts by coalition initiatives to break up terror groups. Since last Monday, which saw one of Iraq’s worst terror attacks in weeks, the death toll has continued to soar dramatically. In last Monday’s attack at least 90 people were killed and 190 wounded in explosions that ripped through central Baghdad. Also on Monday, an RAF Hercules transport plane crashed injuring two British military personnel. It was not said to have been involved in any hostile action [BBC]. Friendly fire was said to be the cause of an incident a few days earlier when US helicopters fired on Iraqi military forces killing at least 8 [BBC]. It came soon after a media furore surrounding a friendly fire incident in the early days of the war in which US planes targeted a British convoy. The Sun newspaper in the UK leaked cockpit video from that incident after the US military refused to give permission for the video to be shown at an inquest of one of the soldiers. Soon after the UK tabloid named one of the pilots as Colonel Gus “Skeeter” Kohntopp [The Sun]. The reaction at the Pentagon, to the reporting of this and the leaking of the tape can only be imagined. It was later reported, that besides the widespread distribution of the video and the transcript of the dialogue between the two pilots, the evidence will still not be shown to the inquest into Matty Hull’s death.
On Friday it was reported that the leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq had been injured in clashes north of Baghdad [CNN]. But within hours the US military cast doubt on the claims which had been reported on a number of Arab TV stations quoting Iraqi military sources [BBC]. Whatever the truth of the claims, the insurgency continued to unleash its fury during the weekend. On Sunday at least 60 died in several car bombings throughout the Iraqi capital [BBC].

Outside Iraq, al-Qaeda is blamed for increased attacks in India. Monday saw one of the worst atrocities in many months with more than 60 killed in a train bomb blast. Today, Indian police released pictures of two of a possible five suspects said to have been behind the attack [CNN]. The attacks in India and recent increased attacks on coalition forces in Afghanistan are blamed on Pakistan’s inability to squash the safe havens said to exist in the north of the country. President Bush recently described parts of Pakistan as being “wilder than the wild west”. Peter Bergen, CNN’s terror analyst said that Bin Laden and his deputy Ayman al Zawahiri are likely to be living somewhere in northern Pakistan where terror camps are said to still be training al-Qaeda operatives. He painted a grim picture describing how such groups may already possess resources to launch radiological terror attacks or bring down passenger jets with missiles. It is clear that Taleban fighters have the ability to down military aircraft, but the US military dispute the claims that the insurgent groups shot down a Chinook in Afghanistan last week [BBC]. Thailand also saw an upsurge of violence these last few days with several bombs throughout southern provinces. Eight people died in those attacks [BBC].

There have been some successes in the War on Terror. But the success comes mainly in the form of terror trials. Last week saw the culmination of one such trial in Turkey which saw the conviction of seven al-Qaeda militants said to be responsible for the 2003 attacks on British interests in Istanbul, Turkey. The seven suspected al-Qaeda militants were all sentenced to life imprisonment for their part in the bombings which killed 58 Sky News reported. As they were sentenced, one defendant, Syrian born Loai Mohammad Haj Bakr al Saqa, shouted, "Hey my hero brothers. Do not worry for me. Victory is very near." He also recited verses from the Koran. He had been charged with masterminding the bombings. A total of 74 people were tried in connection to the attacks which hit the Turkish capital on the 15th and 20th November 2003. Most received lighter sentences and 26 of them were acquitted [BBC]. The court had heard the group who called themselves Warriors for Islam, had taken their orders directly from Osama bin Laden, and that some had attended terror training camps in Afghanistan. Although some defendants admitted attending such camps, only one, Harun Ilhan, admitted to plotting the attack and to being a member of the terrorist group al-Qaeda. Following the verdict, UK Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett said, "These were abhorrent acts, two of which specifically targeted British interests." The attacks were the first major attacks against coalition countries following the invasion of Iraq in March of the same year. But three and a half years on the [BBC] reports that many are unperturbed by the bombings.

Last week a court in Spain saw the start of a trial against a number of suspects said to have been responsible for the Madrid train bombing in March 2004 [BBC]. And in the UK, proceedings against 6 suspects said to be behind the 21/7 failed attacks in London, a jury saw evidence of how one of the suspects escaped London wearing a burka [BBC]. The jury at Woolwich Crown Court saw footage of what prosecutors say is Yassin Omar, 26, wearing a black full-length dress and burka with a handbag over his arm. He is said to have travelled by bus to Birmingham from Golders Green in north London on 22 July 2005 - the day after an alleged attempt to bomb the Tube. This trial continues, and several other terror trials are pending including an alleged plot to kidnap a Muslim soldier and behead him in an Iraqi style execution. A number of other terror suspects, arrested last August, await their trial for an alleged plot to blow up trans-Atlantic flights to the US [BBC]. The success of these and other trials is of little comfort for many as the threat both home and abroad continues.

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