Wednesday, January 31, 2007

UK - 'Kidnap terror plot' thwarted

Nine men have been arrested in connect with an alleged terror plot. Twenty-four hour rolling news was saturated with coverage of the arrests. CNN interrupted the repeat showing of Larry King Live in order to bring viewers the latest developments.
At 4 a.m UK time, dozens of police officers raided 12 locations in and around the Birmingham area. They arrested 8 people, but few details about the operation for several hours. Even a police press conference 12 hours after the operation was initiated revealed little. Only one fresh detail emerged, that of a further arrest on a Birmingham motorway.
Home Secretary John Reid said it was an ongoing “major operation” and urged the media to “exercise a great deal of responsibility and restraint” in their reporting of the story. The police and authorities were particularly concerned of certain details that were emerging. By lunchtime Sky news were reporting that the arrests were connected to a possible kidnap plot. The chosen victim, it later emerged, was to be a serving soldier. ITN’s 6:30 pm news bulletin revealed that the soldier was a 22 year old Muslim soldier who had served in Afghanistan. He was said to be under police protection, but the MoD would neither confirm nor deny the reports. Most media organisations were speculating the possibility that the plot was to re-enact a Ken Bigley style kidnap and execution. All would be played out in video broadcasts using the internet.
The arrests have heightened tensions in the area with many Muslims expressing their anger. Pervez Iqbal, a cousin of one suspect, insisted the arrested man would soon be released because “he has not done anything”.
Police have refused to comment on the media reports of a ‘kidnap plot’, only that the group had a "terrifying plan which was close to fruition". They also have not confirmed the ethnicity or religion of the suspects, but Sky news, as well as other broadcasters, has reported some had connection to Pakistan. Sky also named one of the suspects as 29 year old Amjad Mahmood, a local shopkeeper. [CNN / BBC / Sky News]

Monday, January 29, 2007

Asia's internet 'repaired'

Internet in Asia has been severely disrupted since 26 December

China, and the Far East, is now back on-line after telecommunications cables, damaged after December’s 7.1 quake, have been repaired [CCTV]. Several undersea cables, which connect the Far East to the US and the rest of the world, were damaged. It resulted in severe disruption to millions of internet users. Telephonic communication was also disrupted. In January, Bloomberg reported that there were delays in repairing the cables. Bad weather and a major fault in one of the cable laying ships was said to be the cause of the delay.

Re-routing of internet and telecommunications traffic has eased some of the disruption, but international communications have been slow or non-existent. Over the last month, a Chinese internet page accessed in the west has taken several minutes to load. On many occasions the page failed to load at all. Similar conditions have also hit Chinese internet users. This has resulted in a slowing of business affairs as well as the more mundane uses of the world wide web. On the day of the earthquake, several financial institutions ground to a halt.

China Netcom and China Telecom said today that further repairs still need to be completed but work should be completed by mid-February. According to Bloomberg, five of the seven cables are now repaired. Repairing the cables is a delicate and time-consuming operation. Divers must hook both ends of the ruptured cables from the ocean floor to 1,000 metres below the surface. After connecting the two ends, they must then test the cable before lowering it to the ocean floor. Eight repair ships were sent, and reports suggested that the cables would be fixed within two to three weeks. However, another earthquake measuring 5.2 on the Richter scale shook the same waters on Jan. 17, bringing further damage to the cables.

Many analysts have speculated that the disruption has been exacerbated by a lack of investment to the internet infrastructure. However,, in a report published in early January, says this is a myth, and that the existing cable infrastructure is only operating at 15% capacity, leaving plenty of room for growth. Whatever the truth, the disruption to the internet by December’s earthquake sends a clear signal that more needs to be done in maintaining communications which hold together the modern world.

Friday, January 26, 2007

US concern over China's military modernization

A new cold war may be brewing as the US continues to raise concerns over China’s military plans. In the last week the United States led representations to the Chinese government over the test firing of a ‘space weapon’. The test involved the firing of a ballistic missile at a redundant Chinese weather satellite. The satellite was destroyed. It left behind space debris which the US is concerned may pose a risk to its own satellites. It is true that space debris poses a risk to satellites, and even the space shuttle and International Space Station. However the resulting debris left behind from China’s ‘space weapon’ test is minute compared to the space junk already floating around the Earth.

There is a concern amongst military analysts in the US, that the weapon poses a more direct threat to its satellites. China have already been accused of ‘blinding’ US spy satellites over the past few years, and the threat or potential threat of this new satellite destroying technology is ruffling many feathers in Washington.

Today, CNN broadcast a report which may raise further concerns in the west. China’s military budget has risen significantly over recent years. In 2000, China’s military spend was $14 Bn [¥415 Bn]. According to recent figures released it has risen by more than 200% to $30 Bn [¥855 Bn]. The rise may seem significant, but China’s military force should also be seen context. China is seen by some analysts as just trying to play catch-up. David Lampton, a military analyst, said their standing should not be overstated. “They are still far behind [the technological standing of] America” he told the American news broadcaster. Indeed if statistics are compared with other ‘world powers’,

China is far from the top of the list with regards military might. The US alone has 9 aircraft carriers and at least 1 in production []. China has no aircraft carriers but is believed to have made a decision to build one. The Chinese have reportedly held discussions with the French and Russians concerning design and construction of new carriers, and have considered purchase of ex-Russian ships. When it comes to destroyers, warships and frigates, the numbers reach little above double figures compared to the US fleet consisting of more than 100. China’s airforce too stands way behind other industrialized countries. The Chengdu J-10 is one of the country’s newest acquisitions to a substantial airforce consisting of over 2000 combat aircraft []. However, the US possess more than 15,000 aircraft [wikipedia]. When it comes to nuclear weapons, the US comes out on top with up to 12,000 warheads. China is believed to possess around 150 [wikipedia].

China’s increased military strength could be seen more as a sign of posturing. Russell Moses, a political commentator, told CNN he thought it was a “Signal to show it [China] won’t be pushed around”. China confirmed the space weapon’s test this week, but a Chinese foreign ministry spokesman said the test was “not targeted at any country nor threatening any country”. Andrew Brookes, an Aerospace Analyst, said “The Americans can do what they like and that seems to be their remit, but if the Chinese do something in order to demonstrate their technological prowess suddenly they’re being offensive, they’re being provocative. All around the world the United States is being incredibly provocative. And if I was in the Chinese military I’d be saying, ‘Look, If you want to interfere in the Far East ... you’ll have us [China] to deal with’ ”. However, China and pundits alike have to convince a more than sceptical US administration.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Bush's rallying call fails to impress Democrats

Give war a chance - Bush asks for support in his new Iraqi strategy
After nearly an hour of introduction and debate on CNN’s Late Edition, President George W Bush last night gave his State of the Nation address to a largely sceptical congress. CNN’s Wolf Blitzer was bubbling with excitement as he went over the details of what the President might say and alongside him Paula Zahn described the upcoming address as a ‘tough assignment’.
Iraq, immigration, health insurance, and the environment were the issues the President had to address as he walked a ‘political tightrope’ according to these two political pundits. Zahn asked whether his words would “unite or further divide a new congress and a sceptical country”. The Presidential approval rating has taken a continuous slide over the last 5 years. According to a CNN/USA Today poll his approval rating slipped from 84% in January 2002 to 60% in January 2003. The war in Iraq has only pushed the support for the President lower still. By January 2004 the percentage had fallen to 53% and by January 2006 it had fallen further still to 43%. The most recent figures show President Bush has only a 34% approval rating, the lowest ever approval rating for a President at this time in office. Specifically with relation to his proposal to send more troops to Iraq, polls indicate more than 60% of the country against such a decision. With regards the effort to win the global ‘War on Terror’, many were are just as disillusioned. According to a CNN poll, 28% thought the US was winning in the ‘War on Terror’. However, 54% believed neither side was winning, and 17% thought the terrorists were winning. William Schneider, or Bill as he is sometimes referred, CNN’s senior political analyst, described the ‘War on Terror’ as being like the Cold War, in as much as it was “a long a protracted conflict against an elusive enemy with no discernable or decisive outcome in the foreseeable future”. He said that support would “ebb and flow according to events”. But events are not going well at all in the long war which has seen thousands killed and maimed. The United States have lost 3,062 since hostilities begun nearly four years ago. Over 47,000 troops, airmen and navy personnel have been injured over the same period. By comparison other coalition countries have collectively lost 253 personnel since March 2003. Britain, which has been one of America’s closest allies, has lost 130 []. Violence in Afghanistan still continues, although not on the same scale as seen in Iraq. A total of 358 US armed forces have died since 2001. Other coalition losses doubling the overall total to 518 []. But although not on the scale of Iraq, attacks in the country have increased in recent months. There were 139 suicide attacks in 2006 compared to 27 the year before.
After flipping between other correspondents around Washington, the President eventually arrived to deliver his much awaited speech. As he entered, Wilson Livingood, the Sergeant of Arms, introduced him to a House of Representatives led for the first time by a woman Democrat. He shook Nancy Pelosi’s hand and that of vice president Dick Cheney before turning to the applauding audience. Pelosi made the opening introduction saying, “Members of Congress, I have the high privilege and the distinct honour of presenting to you the President of the United States”.
“Thankyou very much, and tonight I have the high privilege and distinct honour of my own as the first president to begin the State of Union message with these words; Madam Speaker”
Nancy Pelosi beamed from ear to ear. And a rapturous applause followed as the president turned once again to shake her hand.

After the formalities he gently entered into first lines of his message. “The right of custom has brought us together at a defining hour where decisions are hard and courage is needed”.
“We enter 2007 with large endeavours underway and others that are ours to begin”. He then went on to outline the importance of a growing economy and said that 41 months of “uninterrupted job growth” showed the strength of America’s economy. “Unemployment is low, inflation is low, wages are rising,” he said, “and our job is to keep it that way, not with more government, but with more enterprise.”
He said he could “eliminate the federal deficit within five years” and without increasing taxes. He pledged more support for the welfare system, particularly with respect to health care. It was “important that all of our citizens have available and affordable health care.” He said that proposed tax thresholds would make “health insurance more affordable” to those on low wages. He also said more funds should also be made available to the educational system. Mr Bush then urged for full support for his “no child left behind act” and to help make it law.

Moving on to the contentious issue of immigration the President said he would “double the size of border patrols” to keep the country secure. The lack of secure borders harmed the “interests of our country” he said. “We should establish a legal and orderly path for foreign workers to pass into our country to work on a temporary basis” which, he said, would stop them “trying to sneak in”. This he said would leave “our agents free to chase down drug smugglers, criminals and terrorists”.

On energy he proposed less reliance on foreign supplies of oil which left America “more vulnerable to hostile regimes and to terrorists who could cause huge disruptions of oil shipments and raise the price of oil and do great harm to our economy”.
He said it was in our “vital interest to diversify America’s energy supply” and that the “way forward was through technology”. Greater use of “clean coal technology, solar and wind energy, and clean safe nuclear power” should be employed to achieve this goal, he said. He said further research was needed to increase the use of hybrid vehicles and those running on bio-diesel fuel. “We must continue investing in new methods for producing ethanol…using everything from wood-chips, to grasses and agricultural waste”. He then urged congress to help reduce gasoline usage by 20% over the next decade. He said this would achieve a reduction of up to 75% the oil imported from the Middle East. But environmentalists would be concerned at his follow up statement in which he said that America “must step up domestic oil production in environmentally sensitive ways”. He said, however, that America was on the verge of technological breakthroughs that would make the country less reliant on oil. “These technologies”, he said, “will help us be better stewards of the environment and they will help us to confront the serious challenge of global climate change.”

The President then moved on to issues of homeland security. “Five years have come and gone since we saw the scenes and felt sorrow that terrorists can cause. We’ve had time to take stock of our situation.” He added that “the horrors that we experienced that September morning were only a glimpse into what the terrorists intend for us, unless we stop them”, and “to win the war on terror we must take the fight to the enemy”.
“The enemy knows that the days of comfortable sanctuary, easy movement, steady financing, and free flowing communications are long over”, but, “our success in this war is often measured by the things that did not happen, we cannot know the full extent of the attacks that we and our allies have prevented”.

George W Bush then outlined some of the achievements in the global War on Terror. “We stopped an al-Qaeda plot to fly a hijacked aeroplane into the tallest building on the west coast, we broke up a south-east Asian terror cell who were grooming operatives for attacks inside the United States. We uncovered an al-Qaeda cell developing anthrax to be used in attacks against America. And just last August, British authorities uncovered a plot to blow up passenger planes bound for America over the Atlantic Ocean. For each life saved we owe a debt of gratitude to the brave public servants who devote their lives to finding the terrorists and stopping them.”
He said the “evil that rejoiced in 9/11 is still at work in the world and so long as that is the case, America is at war”. The threat to America came not only from al-Qaeda and Sunni extremists but also fro Shi’ite extremists who were “determined to dominate the Middle East”. He added that many take their “direction from the regime in Iran which is funding and arming terrorists like Hezbollah, a group second only to al-Qaeda in the amount of lives it has taken.”
“In the six years since our nation was attacked I wish I could report to you that the dangers have ended, they have not. So it remains the policy of this government to use every lawful and proper tool of intelligence, diplomacy, law enforcement, and military action to do our duty, find these enemies, and to protect the American people.”

He acknowledged the shift of violence in Iraq to one of sectarianism. “This is not the fight we entered into in Iraq, but it is the fight we’re in. Everyone wishes this war were over and won. Yet it would not be like us to leave our promises unkept, our friends abandoned, and our own security at risk.”

He said the battle could be won and asked for support, “Let us find our resolve and turn events towards victory”.

On Iraq he said he was “giving our troops the reinforcements they need to complete their mission… a democratic Iraq that upholds the rule of law”. Most of the promised 20,000 troops would secure Baghdad from “the roaming insurgents and death squads”. But he insisted that a proportion of responsibility lies in the hands of the Iraqi government.
“I chose this course of action because it provides the best chance for success”. An early withdrawal could, he suggested, end in a wider conflict and embolden the enemy. “For America this is a nightmare scenario, for the enemy it is the objective”. He then spoke to those who opposed his plan, saying, “Our country is pursuing a new strategy in Iraq and I ask you to give it a chance to work, and I ask you to support our troops in the field and those on their way”.

At the end of his 50 minute address he said, “This is a decent and honourable country, and resilient too. We’ve been through a lot together. We’ve met challenges and faced dangers, and we know more lie ahead. Yet we can go forward with confidence because the state of our union is strong. Our cause in the world is right. And tonight our cause goes on. God bless.”

The request for support in his latest offensive has already fallen on deaf ears. Today Democrats have already taken the first steps to repudiate the President’s Iraqi strategy [CNN / BBC]

Monday, January 22, 2007

'Looters' scavenge Devon's coast after shipwreck

Hundreds have stripped the beach of the stricken cargo

The MSC Napoli which is listing off the Devon coast continues to cause concern for environmentalists. The ship which encountered heavy storms on the 18th of January, is carrying a variety of goods including 158 containers described as ‘hazardous’. The other risk to the environment is the fuel oil and engine which threatens marine and birdlife. At least 200 tonnes of engine oil has already spilt into the sea. But it is the cargo of consumer items that have drawn hundreds of ‘looters’ who have swarmed over the beach collecting anything they could find. BMW motorcycles were amongst the more expensive items taken, but nappies were also being carried off by beachcombers drawn to Branscombe beach. Police have warned that it may be an offence to carry items away without reporting to authorities. The Merchant Shipping Act 1995 says it is an offence for people to remove items from a wreck if they conceal or keep possession of cargo and refuse to surrender it. The Act itself is exceedingly complex, but Wikipedia has this to say on the issue: “under the Merchant Shipping Act 1995, jetsam, flotsam, lagan and all other cargo and wreckage remain the property of their original owners. Anyone, including recreational divers and beachcombers, removing those goods must inform the Receiver of Wreck to avoid the accusation of theft… It is a legal requirement that all recovered wreck landed in the United Kingdom is reported to the Receiver of Wreck, whether recovered from within or outside UK waters and even if the finder is the owner. The Receiver of Wreck will investigate ownership. The owner has one year in which to come forward and prove title to the property. During this period it is common for the finder to hold the wreck on behalf of the Receiver of Wreck while investigations are carried out. Wreck which remains unclaimed after a year becomes the property of the Crown and the Receiver of Wreck is required to dispose of it. Often the finder is allowed to keep items of unclaimed wreck in lieu of a salvage award.” Police were last night handing out forms in the area but have also asked the public to stay way from the area [BBC]

Carnage in Iraq as sectarian violence increases

The civilian death toll in Iraq continues to rise despite the execution of Saddam Hussein and other prominent figures. This weekend has also seen further coalition casualties. On Saturday several attacks on coalition troops left more than a dozen dead. Thirteen US troops died when their helicopter was downed by hostile fire north-east of Baghdad and a further 5 were killed in gun battles in Karbala, soutyh of the capital. It brings the US death toll to 3,054 since hostilities begun [BBC]. A British soldier was also killed over the weekend by a roadside bomb near Basra. Private Michael Tench became the 130th British soldier to be killed in the country. But civilians still suffer the most in this war torn country gripped by sectarian violence [Facts & figures].

Today saw one of the deadliest attacks so far this year. At least 80 were killed and more than 150 injured in a double car bombing in one of Baghdad’s poorest districts [BBC/CNN]. Later in the day another bombing occurred in Baquba. Early reports suggested around 40 injured. There seems to be no slowing of the violence besides initiatives by Iraqi police and coalition forces to break up insurgent groups. Less than a week ago 70 died in an attack at Baghdad University this on a day that the UN announced the death toll in Iraq throughout the country in 2006 exceeded 34,000 [BBC]. George W Bush’s plan to send 20,000 troops to the country to quell the violence has been met with much criticism, both from his own party as well as the Democratic Party. His recently appointed Secretary of Defence, Robert Gates, broadly supported the bolstering of troop numbers but said he wanted it increased to 90,000 [Bush speech in full].

Thursday, January 18, 2007

China tests 'space weapon'

Not yet 'Star Wars' but it is thought to be the first weapons deployment in space

China has tested a weapon in space much to the dismay of Canada, Australia and the USA. The United States have said the Chinese sent up a ballistic missile to destroy an ageing weather satellite and that the test went against the spirit of co-operation both countries aspire to in the area of civil space. There are also reports saying that Britain, South Korea and Japan were expected to express their concerns to China soon [BBC].

Earlier, a report in the American Aviation Week magazine said that US spy agencies had concluded that China conducted a successful test of a satellite-killing weapon on January 11.

It said China knocked out the weather satellite with a "kinetic kill vehicle" launched on board a ballistic missile. The impact occurred at more than 800 km above Earth.

In May 2005 China said it opposed all weapons in space. "Space belongs to the commonwealth of all humanity." China's Foreign Ministry spokesman Kong Quan told Xinhua the state news agency. "China has always held the opinion that space should be utilised for peace to benefit humankind. China opposes putting weapons into space."

Besides the unprecedented nature of this weapons test, there was no mention of it on the Chinese National Space Agency website.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

UK TV show spurs protests in India

Big Brother, a voyeuristic television show in the UK, has made headlines and prompted questions in parliament after ‘racist’ behaviour. The show, which has placed a mix of celebrities together in the so called Big Brother house, has incensed viewers. Ofcom, the broadcast regulatory body, has received nearly 20,000 viewer complaints and Channel 4 has received at least 4,000 complaints. There have even been threats against three of the Big Brother housemates who have allegedly made racist slurs against Bollywood star Shilpa Shetty. Gordon Brown, Britain’s Chancellor of the Exchequer, has been drawn into the row and was today bombarded with questions by reporters during his visit to India. There have also been a number of protests in the country with effigies of the shows producers being burned. Ms Shetty’s mother has also spoken exclusively to Sky News and aired her concerns. The Prime Minister, Tony Blair, was today forced to give his response to the allegations. He said he could not comment specifically on the programme, which he hadn’t seen, but added that he “opposed racism in all its forms”. The Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone has described the behaviour of Jo O’Meara, Jade Goody and Danielle Lloyd as being “completely unacceptable”. Others that have spoken out against Shilpa Shetty’s ‘bullying’ is a former Big Brother contestant Jodie Marsh [Sky News]. The issue is unlikely to go away with sponsors, producers and broadcasters, coming under pressure to act. So far there has been a muted response. Carphone Warehouse has so far declined to pull out of its sponsorship of the show. The programme’s producer Endemol has yet to make a public statement, but Channel Four has said there has been “no overt racist behaviour towards Shilpa Shetty”. But many viewers remain unconvinced. In one outburst, Lloyd asked Shetty: "Do you get stubble?" In another, Jackiey Budden, Jade’s mother, who constantly called her "the Indian", asked: "Do you live in a house or a shack?" The actress has also been called a "dog" and contestants have complained about her touching their food. Jo O’Meara declared that Indians were thin because they were always ill as a result of undercooking food. Shetty’s accent has also been mocked. Channel 4 has denied reports that Jack Tweed, Jade’s boyfriend, has called the actress a "f***ing Paki". The increased publicity this issue has generated has however only served to increase viewing figures.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Lack of sympathy for tube deaths

Initial shock and a certain amount of recrimination in some papers over the deaths of two men killed by a train on Friday has brought little sympathy from many members of the public. The two men, Daniel Elgar, 19, and Bradley Chapman, 21, were killed as they ‘ran’ from security guards and into the path of a west-bound District Line subway train. Some witnesses to the commotion aired their shock at the deaths. Mr Leitch, a local resident, described it as a “tragedy that someone wouldn’t be returning home”.
He had watched from his flat as police and emergency crews cleared the scene of the two bodies. He said one of the victims legs had been ripped off by the train’s impact. Police have denied the victims had been chased but that an investigation had been launched to determine all the facts. Meanwhile two other men, arrested soon after the incident, have appeared in court and bailed until February. Neither have yet been named.
But as investigations continue, the chatter in the ‘Blogosphere’ and elsewhere is one of general condemnation. Some refer to the incident as “poetic justice” whilst others describe the victims as “just the sort of people Barking doesn’t need”.
In a post at LibertyScott.blogspot the writer from News Zealand says, “Two men died being run over by a tube train as they were attempting to graffiti a building - how sad! They are exactly the type of people Barking needs rid of, the ones that help make it look run down.” []. Another blogger,, said it was “fantastic” that “two useless lives” were “snuffed out”. The blogger who goes by the name of Stephen claimed that “100% of people asked said the vandals got what they deserved. And it is only a pity that innocent commuters were delayed on their journeys”. Other bloggers took issue on how the men were described. said the BBC was biased in calling the men “graffiti artists”. A comment posted on the same site says, “Suppose vandals spray-painted the homes of BBC officials and reporters. Do you think the BBC would describe them as artists? I don't think so.” Another comment describes the incident as “Darwinism in action” whilst the whilst the writer at Biased-BBC referred readers to what can happen to those who play on railway lines [Warning: graphic content - archived at]. There are some comments of sympathy for the two men killed, some from friends and fellow ‘taggers’. One tagger who describes himself as being ‘passionate about graffiti’ writes on [link]. Referring to the tube deaths he says, “R.I.P OZONE AND WANTS.......YOU WILL BE MISSED."
"It was jokes seeing you spitting at ezkas party and having it had a true passion for graffiti..........blessy”. OZONE is believed to be the tag of Bradley Chapman, and WANTS the tag belonging to Daniel Elgar. Another tagger who goes by the name of Mowgli shows a picture of a ‘graffiti artist’ in a tube tunnel on his myspace website. On Sunday 14th he posted “RIP OZONE, RIP WANTS” [link].
Cheffy Baby from Croydon in South London writes on her myspace website, “Daniel Elgar was 19 and lived in Southend. I knew him since playschool and we only lived a road away. The Friday just gone he was killed by a tube at Barking station after getting caught vandalizing a train. He had a child and worked at the Post office with my Uncle. It’s weird ‘cause I haven’t spoken to him or seen him in years but I feel sad. I’ve known of him all my life and his parents were friends with my parents and members of my family. I’m still shocked after hearing it was him this morning. It’s weird though cause I saw the story on the news and I watched it all (which I never do). I thought maybe it’s because Barking is where my Mum comes from and my family live there but now I know it’s because I actually knew one of the guys who got killed. Strange huh!?"
"But in a good way his death will show kids out there who vandalize in dangerous places to think twice. Well I hope it does anyway" [Link]

War on Terror: Terror trials & hangings

'Failed bombers' on trial, but at least 30 terror plots still threaten the UK

Six men have appeared before a court in London charged with terror offences. The charges relate to failed terrorist attacks on 21st July 2005. Media reports since then have only referred to 4 individuals. One had fled to Italy and was subsequently extradited. Two others were arrested after an armed siege in north London.
On this, the first day of the trial, the jury was told how the suspects had assembled their devices from chapatti flour and chemicals. The prosecution showed videos of bomb replicas being exploded. The six men, Muktar Ibrahim Said, Manfo Asiedu, Yassin Hassan Omar, Hussain Osman, Ramzi Mohammed and Adel Yahar, are charged with conspiracy to murder and conspiracy to cause explosions [BBC]. Sky News also reported that one of the individuals had fled to Birmingham wearing a burka. The trial at Woolwich Crown Court is expected to last up to six weeks.

It has been a week of trials against those taking part in terror related offences. In Germany, Mounir El Motassadeq has been sentenced to 15 years for his part in the 9/11 conspiracy [BBC]. The sentence comes after two failed by authorities to secure a conviction. The jailing of Motassadeq did not create as much press coverage as might have been expected. Fox News in the US and CNN had only scant coverage. The BBC and Sky News also lacked the coverage of this high profile suspect, the second suspect to have been connected to the terror attacks on 11th September 2001. Motassadeq has appealed the conviction so far the Germany’s high court has refused to hear the case [Spiegel]. It expected that the Moroccan’s defence team will launch another appeal both to the German courts and the European Court of Justice.

Today two of Saddam Hussein’s co-defendants met their fate. Saddam’s half brother and former head of the secret police, Barzan al-Tikriti, and Awad Hamad al-Bandar were both hung early Monday morning. One was said to have been decapitated as he fell through the trap door. As to whether there was an orderly assembly at this execution can only be speculated. Strict controls to prevent unauthorised filming will prevent the release of footage to further embarrass the majority Shi’ite government.
By the afternoon some journalists had been shown the official video of the execution. A short silent video showed the bodies dropping at the end of the hangman’s noose. The BBC’s Andrew North said the video showed the men both dressed in orange boiler suits and wearing hoods dropping through the trapdoor. Barzan’s head was said to have been decapitated as he plummeted through the trapdoor, apparently flying off across the room. Barzan al-Tikriti, Saddam’s half brother, and Awad Hamad al-Bandar were both convicted for their part in the killing of 148 Shia in the 1980s.
CNN described the video as gruesome but had not viewed it themselves, saying that only a select group of journalists and officials had seen the film. The execution of the two men is unlikely to quell the increasing violence in the country, however. Indeed the revelations that one was decapitated may only serve to increase sectarian tensions. The debate over capital punishment be also be rekindled. Amnesty International, who maintain its opposition to the death sentence, have not yet commented on this high profile case. Condoleezza Rice has said she was “disappointed” in the way Saddam’s aides were hanged, adding that she had hoped greater dignity had been afforded to them. There are 69 countries worldwide who implement the death penalty [BBC]. Meanwhile the threat to the UK mainland remains high. Fueled by events in Iraq, homegrown terrorists are posing a greater risk to UK and US interests. And the efforts by authorities to catch them before they act is being stepped up. According to MI5, Britain's security agency, there are some 30 terror plots currently being investigated [BBC].

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Bush commits 20,000 troops to Iraq

A worried looking President addresses the nation.

Coming two days after US planes struck Al Qaeda targets in Somalia, George Bush has made a speech to the nation. It was not just the nation that was watching. Many in Iraq were also watching as the President presented his new strategy for the war in Iraq. Prior to the President's first main address since Saddam’s hanging CNN’s Wolf Blitzer presented a special edition of the Situation Room. Emails from viewers suggested a general sense of dissatisfaction which has swelled against this President. Many feel he has not only failed in the war in Iraq, but also in the war on the environment, in industry with the loss of jobs and failures to control borders from drugs and illegal aliens. At 02:00 GMT the President addressed the world.

As he started his half hour address he stood rigidly at a rostrum, not seated unlike many other Presidential addresses. “The armed forces are involved in the war in terror,” he said as he opened. “When I addressed you over a year a go elections had just taken place” which Mr Bush said may have brought a better future for Iraq. “But the opposite happened,” he said, “Al-Qaeda terrorists saw the threat posed to their cause and made calculated efforts to attack … with death squads and sectarian violence.” This, he said, was “Unacceptable” and that “We need to change our strategy in Iraq.”
He acknowledged some of the findings in the recently released Iraq Study Group Report, particularly the much quoted line, “There is no magic formula”, but he said, “Failure is not an option”.
“On September 11th 2001 we saw what terrorists could do on the streets of our cities … and the violence in Baghdad is shaking the confidence of all Iraqis.” He then pointed to one reason why the US was failing. “There have been too many restrictions on our troops ", he said. He then went on to outline his new strategy in which “new Iraq forces” would be deployed throughout Baghdad. US forces would also be increased by 5 brigades in Baghdad alone. The total commitment to Iraq would number 20,000 troops “to help protect the population and create security.”
Another area in which the US strategy had failed was to not properly secure areas cleared of insurgents. “In earlier operations we cleared areas and left, only for the terrorists to return.” He said the renewed efforts “will be different, as areas cleared will be secured.”
“Now is the time to act …This new strategy will not immediately stop the suicide attacks and IED attacks” but the continued effort was “necessary”.
“Al-Qaeda has made al-Anbar province the most violent of all the provinces.” But, he said, “Our forces have killed and captured many terrorists…and I am increasing by 4000 the number of troops deployed in Al Anbar.”

Not all rested on force however. “The successful strategy goes beyond a military strategy.” He spoke of the Iraqi government “sharing oil revenues”, but with whom it was unclear. He said the US would “change its approach” and “accelerate the building of Iraqi forces and double reconstruction teams.”
President Bush said that Secretary Rice would oversee some of this and would be travelling to the region on Friday.
His wider concerns for the region were also aired. “We will interrupt support from Iran & Syria … and I have ordered a regional attack strike team to the region”. And there was a brief mention of the continued stand-off between Iran and the international community over their nuclear policy. “We will stop Iran developing a nuclear weapon,” he said.
As he neared the end of his address, President Bush emphasised the importance of the fight in the defence of freedom. “We stand in the defence of the ideology of democracy” he said. But he warned that the fight may still bring dangers for a time as “Deadly attacks will continue”. Even “Victory will not look like ones our fathers saw,” but, he said, “It will bring a democratic Iraq offering hope to the wider region”.
“If we help the Iraqis break the cycle of violence we hasten the day we can welcome our troops home.”

He ended with a series of punctuated sound-bites. “In these dangerous times, the advance of freedom is the calling of our time … we mourn the loss of every fallen American … but, we can and we will prevail. Thankyou and Goodnight.”

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

US target al Qaeda in Somalia

US planes taking off from Djibouti have bombed several strikes against Al Qaeda targets in Somalia. AC-130 Gunship is said to have been involved in the strikes. CNN’s Wolf Blitzer broke into regular programming at around 00:30 GMT with the Breaking News. The information was said to come from a senior Pentagon Official. Al Qaeda has been very active over the past decade in the region. Two notable events were the 1998 U.S. Embassy bombings in Nairobi, Kenya and in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. Over 250 died.
The missile strike is believed to be the first US action in the region since the infamous ‘Black Hawk Down” incident [or Battle of Mogadishu] in which 18 marines died and dozens more injured. This recent strike is said to have taken place in the southern part of the country and according to CNN may be connected with the 1998 bombs. Of all the so called rolling-news channels only CNN had reported the even by 01:00 GMT. Sky continued to show the taped CBS news broadcast whilst the BBC were showing World Business Report. Al Jazeera in English also continued with regular programming. The most recent addition to the 24 hour news broadcasters, France 24, continued with rolling news but did not mention the recent strike.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Saddam execution video angers Sunnis

The controversial video footage has caused anger amongst Sunnis

An Iraqi national security advisor has told Sky News that they were not in control of the guards who had mobile phones and abused Saddam in his final moments. Mowaffak Al Rubaie however dismissed rumours that Moqtada al Sadr was present at the former dictator’s execution.
He said the filming of the execution and the abuse “was terrible and disgusting” but refused to apologise to Saddam’s family. He said the execution of Saddam’s half brother would be better organised but to many commentators the damage has already been done. On the 30th December he told Sky News that the execution was carried out in an orderly way and in accordance with Islamic tradition. But the subsequent release of the footage contradicted this and forced his condemnation of the humiliation of a condemned man. He added that the hanging and the controversy surrounding it must be balanced with the crimes the former Iraqi leader had committed.

The timing of Saddam Hussein’s execution has enflamed sentiments amongst the Sunni population coming at the beginning of Eid al Adha. The fact that the trap door was released during Saddam’s second recitation of the Shahadah has also been seen as an insult by many Sunni. The Shahadah is an Islamic creed, recited daily by followers of the Islamic faith, and is considered to be one of the five pillars of Islam. At best it was bad etiquette that the lever was pulled as Saddam said, “There is no God but Allah and Mohammed is his messenger”. At worst it is an insult which will enflame many Sunnis. Already there have been a significant number of protests in Sunni areas of Iraq following the execution and in a number of other countries, most notably Jordan and Palestine. It was in Jordan where Saddam’s daughter broke her silence to condemn the hanging and the baying mob who hurled insults as her father was executed. In Palestine hundreds condemned the execution. Many Palestinians see Saddam as a saviour. He had funded the Palestinian cause for many years and would give money to families of suicide bombers.
Much of the criticism surrounds the filming of the execution and the Iraqi government has ordered an inquiry saying they will leave no stone unturned to find those responsible. It has to be said, however, that the manner in which Saddam met his death, together with insults and the impression of a lynch mob hanging, would not have been conveyed to the public had the illicit filming not taken place.
This was a point that the editor of Al Quds newspaper raised on Al Jazeera English during Inside Story. Abdel Bari Atwan said, “We need to thank the man who filmed the execution” for showing the truth. There has been a mute response from leaders throughout the international community. President Bush has yet to make any comment but a military spokesman, Major General Caldwell, said “If you’re asking if we’d have done things differently of course we would have”. Tony Blair, currently on holiday in Florida, has made no official comment but his deputy minister, John Prescott, has condemned the way in which Saddam was executed. The general discussion on most news stations hinges around the inability of the Iraqi government to behave in a disciplined manner.

The footage emerged just 24 hours after it was announced that Saddam had been executed. It also came after official footage had been released. Official footage came without sound.
Before the execution, continued violence took more lives in the war torn country. A bombing in a Baghdad market killed 7 and injured dozens more. In a roadside bomb at a petrol station 10 were killed and attacks on US troops also continued. The toll for US troops in December exceeded 100. Amidst this violence George Bush insisted “good progress” was being made in the country. After Saddam’s appeals failed, a letter emerged from the former dictator calling on Iraqis to unite. By Friday evening it had been announced by Saddam Hussein’s lawyers that he had been handed over to Iraqi authorities. However, the US State Department denied this had yet happened. As the execution neared there was debate as to whether the timing was appropriate with the religious holiday of Eid due to start on Saturday. A curfew was imposed as the execution neared. At 03:30 hours Baghdad time it was announced that Saddam would be hung before dawn. As new of the impending execution neared, threats emerged on the internet warning of “grave consequences” for the US. The Department of Homeland Security also issued alerts for authorities to be vigilant but stressed they had no specific threat of attack.
At 03:49 Baghdad time CNN said that some Arabic networks had reported that Saddam had already been executed. However the official line was that Saddam would meet his fate at 06:00 hours. As the former leader was hanged the violence in the capital escalated with at least 66 killed and more than 100 injured in three bomb blasts.

As Saddam was buried in his home town of Awja, near Tikrit, unofficial footage emerged of the execution. The footage, which appeared to have been shot on a mobile phone, swiftly spread around the internet. Arab TV news networks quickly picked up on the images and before long even western networks were showing portions of the footage [Reuters]. Due to Ofcom restrictions Sky News and the BBC were prevented from showing the entire 3 minutes of footage, though they had already made an editorial decision to show only a part. Fox News did make the entire clip avaible via its website, but from a third party source []. CNN also had the footage available via its website but they took the decision to cut the footage at the point the trap door opened. As Eid started there were celebrations and protests over the grainy film. The recriminations will continue for some time to come.