Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Terror threat real and growing

In the week following Britain's commemoration of those who died in the country's deadliest terror attack there have been some grim reminders that the terrorist threat remains. While some of the reports are concerning, others are less than credible. In Britain the terror threat level is 'Severe' while in the US it is 'Elevated'. 

For some countries the risk posed by an attack is far higher, though governments don't always publish such advisories. Uganda suffered the worst terrorist atrocity in years last week when a crowd watching the World Cup final was targeted by bombers [BBC]. At least 74 died in the attack in Kampala, and more than 70 others were injured. Al-Shabab, a group closely aligned with al Qaeda, claimed responsibility for the blasts and threatened further attacks [BBC].

While there have been few serious incidents in the west for several years, there are reminders that some are intent on perpetrating atrocities. Several individuals were arrested last week in connection with terror related activities and others have been convicted of plotting to launch terrorist attacks. This week three people were sentenced for their part in the liquid bomb plot which had targeted trans-Atlantic planes. Ibrahim Savant, Arafat Khan and Waheed Zaman, of east London, were convicted of conspiracy to murder by a jury at Woolwich Crown Court last week [BBC].

Last week three people were arrested in Norway in connection with an alleged al-Qaeda bomb plot [BBC]. And one day earlier British authorities detained Abid Naseer after the US issued a warrant for his arrest. Naseer is said to have planned attacks on the US [BBC]. There were setbacks in the on going war on terror however. 

The European Court of Human Rights ordered a halt to the extradition to the US on terror charges of radical cleric Abu Hamza al-Masri. Abu Hamza, jailed in the UK for soliciting to murder and racial hatred, and three other British men complained about the length of sentence they may face if convicted in the US. The three other men facing extradition are Babar Ahmad, Syed Ahsan and Haroon Rashid Aswat. Ahmad and Ahsan were allegedly involved in raising funds for exremists. Aswat and Abu Hamza are both accused in relation to attempting to set up a terror training camp in Oregan [BBC].

As the radical preacher Abu Hamza won his appeal there were calls for more research into radicalisation, as the UK's counter-terrorism strategy came under fresh scrutiny in the week of the London bombings anniversary [BBC].

Afghanistan - the frontline in the War on Terror

According to politicians Afghanistan poses the biggest threat to the west since it provides a breeding ground for terrorists. And for those fighting the Taliban and affiliates to al Qaeda the dangers faced is particularly real. Several British troops have died in the last week and the death toll is now 318 [BBC / icasualties]. In fact Afghanistan is becoming more deadly year on year. But the British Prime Minister was unnerved and insisted the work must continue to continue to train the Afghan army. "There should be no knee jerk reaction and no change to our strategy," PM David Cameron told the UK parliament.

And there are new threats emerging. On Tuesday a rogue Afghan soldier killed a company commander and two others before making his escape [BBC]. Some reports say the Taleban is currently sheltering the gunman and a manhunt is under way [BBC].

Claims of 'monkey terrorists'

Meanwhile The People's Daily in China claimed there was a new threat coming out of Afghanistan. In an article which was picked up by several other news organisations, it said that the Taliban were attempting to train monkeys to launch terror attacks. A Taiwan broadcaster, Apple Daily, made computer animated simulations while the New York Post ran with the headline Jihad Monkey. One blogger even suggested the monkeys might scream 'banana akhbar' [bananas are great], a sign of how seriously some were taking the story. CNN placed the item in its 'and finally' slot and premised it with a mention of the so called 'silly season'. The term refers to a period lasting for a few months, usually starting in mid to late summer, and typified by the emergence of frivolous news stories in the media.

The original source of the story is not clear. The People's Daily originally published the story on June 28th and claimed it was reported by British media on June 27, 2010. On a reworking of the same story The People's Daily republished the item on July 9th with a claim that "reporters from the media agency spotted and took photos of a few "monkey soldiers" holding AK-47 rifles and Bren light machine guns in the Waziristan tribal region near the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan." The name of the media agency was not named in the report. 

Meanwhile NATO spokesman Lt. Col. Todd Breasseale said, "We have absolutely nothing that leads us to believe that this tale could be even remotely based in reality." When asked about the veracity of the report a Chinese Embassy spokesman Wang Baodong did not answer directly.

"I took note of the fact that the People's Daily's story was based on a recent report by a British-based media agency," Baodong said in an e-mail. "What I want to stress is that the Chinese government is opposed to terrorism of any forms, and this stand is consistent and clear."

While the story has been question, a photo of a monkey shooting a gun has been dismissed as fake. "To my eye at least, it is a baboon, which lives in Africa," said Christopher Coe, director of the Harlow Primate Laboratory at the University of Wisconsin, Madison."The more common monkey that lives in that part of the world is a rhesus monkey. They live in India and can also be found in China. But this photo is not [of] a rhesus monkey."

In fact it seems the Chinese paper may have been duped by a satirical report. It would not be the first time. Xinhua once picked up on a fake report in the supermarket tabloid the Weekly World News which claimed sexy school teachers helped students study better. Xinhua published the story on its Chinese service complete with a picture of a sexy teacher! Although the Weekly World News did not report the Taleban monkey story it seems evident that that someone has once again made a money out of the Chinese media.

The Sun recently claimed one man was attacked by monkeys he was training to perform Kung Fu. The Chinese man was repeatedly attacked according to the Sun. Training monkeys to use an AK-47 could prove just as dangerous as the animal may not only shoot the enemy. 

The monkey terrorist story is doing nothing for the credibility of the Chinese media. Dr Sian Evans, a scientist with Monkey Jungle in Miami, Florida, told CNN the idea of a Jihad monkey was "absurd". Unfortunately such absurdity diverts attention from the real terror threat.

tvnewswatch, London, UK

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