Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Terrorism 'spreading beyond Iraq'

Al-Qaeda in Iraq may be spreading its influence beyond the borders of this war torn country. Last week saw a return of a significant number of car and suicide bombings within Iraq, but outside its territory there were a number of incidents which bore all the hallmarks of al-Qaeda.
In Lebanon, violence broke out between Fatah al-Islam and Lebanese security forces. Many experts say the group has strong links with al-Qaeda in Iraq. Meanwhile Turkey saw its first terror attack in several months initially blamed on Islamic extremists. The bombing targeted a shopping mall in a tourist area of Ankara killing at least 6 and injuring more than 100. The bombing was later said to have been launched by a PKK suicide bomber, Guven Akkus [BBC]. Turkey has been hit by several bombings in recent years. Some have been blamed on Kurds and others on Islamic militants. In November 2003, more than 60 people were killed by a series of suicide bombings in Istanbul which the authorities linked to al-Qaeda. Kurdish rebels also carried out a number of attacks on tourist sites in Turkey last year, killing more than a dozen people.
The al-Qaeda threat to surrounding countries appears to have been the impetus for persuading the Iranians to come to Iraq along with US officials to discuss the security situation in the country.

During the talks the violence continued outside. More than 20 died and at least 66 were injured in a Baghdad car bombing. The blast also damaged an important Sunni mosque.
CNN in a report Monday suggested that al-Qaeda in Iraq were sending trained terrorists to Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Yemen in order to spread its terror campaign. Dennis Pluchinsky, a former State Dept. Intelligence Analyst, told CNN, “Iraq is a laboratory of tactics and terrorist techniques”. It is clear, at least from claims made, and a certain amount of evidence at attack sites that the Iraqi terror groups are having a wider effect. Three bombings in Amman, Jordan which targeted western hotels have been attributed to the now deceased Zarqawi led al-Qaeda in Iraq terror group [BBC]. An audio tape, purported to be from Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, stated that three members of his group were sent to Jordan to carry out the attacks “against Jews, Crusaders and other enemies of God”. Even before his message, many were convinced al-Qaead were behind the blasts [BBC]. But as the security situation deteriorates in Iraq, it, like Afghanistan in the past, is fast becoming a terrorist training camp from which al-Qaeda and similar groups are launching attacks beyond its borders.
And the battle against the insurgency is far from over. At least 38 died in 2 car bombings Tuesday and on Monday 2 US troops died when their helicopter crashed after coming under fire. A further 8 other troops died when they went to their aid [early reports suggested only 6 had died, but CNN reported that another 2 had been confirmed dead late Tuesday]. It brings the total number of US dead to 3,363 since March 2003. The BBC also reported on Monday that five Britons had been abducted from Iraq’s Finance Ministry in Baghdad.
It was not a good week for British authorities when it emerged that a number or terror suspects on ‘control orders’ had absconded [BBC]. Within days the government were suggesting further ‘draconian’ laws in order to stop terrorism in its tracks. New so called ‘stop and quiz’ terror powers would enable police to stop and question anybody whether or not they had any suspicion or ‘reasonable cause’ to do so [BBC]. The proposals were swiftly condemned by many human rights groups and politicians on all sides [BBC]. Mr Hain, who is in the running to become Labour's deputy leader, told BBC1's Sunday AM programme, "We have got to be very careful that we do not create circumstances that are the domestic equivalent of Guantanamo Bay."
"Guantanamo Bay, which was an international abuse of human rights, acted as a recruiting sergeant for dissidents and alienated Muslims and alienated many other people across the world."
Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman Nick Clegg warned it would only increase radicalism. The proposals are seen as a ‘knee jerk’ reaction to the authority’s failure to keep hold of the terror suspects who absconded last week. When it emerged on Thursday that three men suspected of wanting to kill UK troops had disappeared, Mr Reid criticised his political opponents and judges for stopping the use of tougher measures against terror suspects. He promised new anti-terror measures and told MPs that the government could consider suspending some parts of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) so it can impose tougher control orders.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Litvinenko death - Russian faces murder charge

Lugovoi denies involvement in Litvinenko's death

Andrei Lugovoi, a former KGB operative, faces a charge of murder of Alexander Litvinenko by the British Crown Prosecution Service. Litvinenko, also a former KGB operative, was poisoned with Polonium 210 in London last November. However, despite the British Foreign Secretary saying she expected “full cooperation” from the Russian authorities, the Russians have already said there was “no chance” of the Russian being extradited to the UK. [BBC / Sky News / CNN]

Monday, May 21, 2007

Violence breaks out in Lebanon

Serious violence has broken out near to Palestinian refugee camps on the outskirts of Tripoli, Lebanon. The battles seem to be between Lebanese armed forces and Fatah al-Islam, a group described by one CNN correspondent as having links with al-Qaeda. Pictures broadcast Live on CNN, Sky News, BBC News 24 and al-Jazeera show thick black smoke rising from a number of spots across the city against a backdrop of heavy gunfire. Al-Jazeera reported that the fighting was in response to rocket attacks on the Palestinian refugee camps situated at Nahr al Bared.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Blair meets Bush in US for one last time

On his final visit to the US as Prime Minister Tony Blair met with President George W Bush. After a private meeting the two leaders addressed the press in the Rose Garden. George Bush addressed the assembled media first and acknowledged Tony Blair as a ‘friend’ and a ‘partner in peace’. The President said they had discussed, Iraq, Afghanistan and the peace initiative in the Middle East. They also discussed the need to tackle issues surrounding Africa, particularly the chaotic situation in Darfur in the Sudan. The environment was also discussed, the President said; however no great detail was given as to what plans the two countries had placed on the G8 agenda. He then handed the floor to Mr Blair. The Prime Minister said the President was “unyielding, unflinching and determined” and described the relationship as a controversial one but it was nonetheless important that the two countries stood side by side. Mr Blair said it was important to work towards a two state solution in the Middle East in order to resolve the conflict between Israel and Palestine. Mr Blair said that the two countries would continue to stand “shoulder to shoulder” as allies in the war against terrorism. “The forces we are fighting in Iraq are the same elements we are fighting everywhere… there is no alternative for us but to fight it wherever it exists,” the outgoing Prime Minister said; “This is a fight we cannot afford to lose.” There was much praise from President Bush for the Prime Minister. He said that Mr Blair was widely respected in the International Community. “When Prime Minister Blair talks, people listen”, the President said. “And he follows through on his conviction…so yes, he is the right guy to be dealing with,” Mr Bush added. This reaction came in response to a series of critical questions coming from the British media during the later part of the press conference. During these statements of support, Mr Blair appeared almost embarrassed with a broad grin across his face. It will be interesting to see the developing relationship with the new Prime Minister soon to take over from Tony Blair. Already President Bush has described Gordon Brown as a “good fellow” and says he looks forward to dealing with him. How strong their relationship will be, only time will tell.

Prince Harry prevented from fighting Iraq war

Prince Harry, third in line to the throne, is no longer being allowed to go to Iraq. Reasons cited by the MoD are that he would be a danger to his troops, and although many were prepared to take the risk, the MoD have said they were not prepared to place the extra stress upon their families. There has been criticism from other family members of those serving in Iraq suggesting there was a sense of favouritism and a lack of even handedness. The Vanessa Feltz show on BBC London drew a mixed response to the decision. Some expressed the view that there had never been the intention of sending the Prince due to the open public announcement made several months ago, which was bound to draw out the insurgent threats and intense media coverage. If there had been a real intention to send Prince Harry, he could have been sent without any mention to the media and only after his time had been served, should it have been announced. The media speculation surrounding his intended tour of duty has been intense since it was originally announced. Countless reports have surfaced that indicate insurgent groups would make the Royal a prime target. This along with increased attacks on British troops in southern Iraq as well as recent kidnappings of US troops near Baghdad were probably factors in the MoD decision which was made public late Wednesday afternoon. As for the Prince, he was said to be “disappointed” at the decision. He had said publicly several months ago he had always had a strong desire to see action and join other British troops on the frontline. “Why else would I drag my sorry arse through Sandhurst”, he said with regards his intention to fight for God, Queen and Country. It now looks as though he is caught between a desk job or making a decision to resign his post [BBC / CNN].

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Sarkozy wins French Election

Nicolas Sarkozy has won the Presidency of the French Republic, defeating the other leading candidate Marie-Ségolène Royal. According to early results Sarkozy took 53% of the vote. But while France celebrates or commiserates in the news, Newsjunky is crawling back to bed with pneumonia. Au revoir...

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Al Qaeda 'thriving' despite 'War on Terror'

Despite high profile court cases and the breaking up of terror cells, al Qaeda is ‘thriving’ according to a high ranking chief at Scotland Yard. In an article published in the Guardian newspaper [25/04/2007], Deputy Assistant Commissioner Peter Clarke said that despite the six year long “war on terror”, al Qaeda and other terrorist groups still retained the ability to launch attacks on Britain. “It [al Qaeda] is global in origin, reach and ambition. The networks are large, fluid, mobile and incredibly resilient,” he said. He dismissed critics who claimed the threat was overblown and said that more than 100 people awaited trial for terrorist offences. But he said many arrests were brought about by “technical means” [intrusive bugging devices or video surveillance] as well as a flow of information from foreign intelligence agencies. With this in mind it was important to “increase the flow of intelligence coming from [Muslim] communities.”
His comments came as six men were held after terror raids in the early hours of Tuesday [24/04/2007]. Five were arrested in London and another in Luton. Their names were not released to the media, but Abu Izzadeen who is well known for his outspoken views, was believed to be amongst those arrested. Scotland Yard said, “The arrests form part of a long-term, proactive and complex investigation into alleged incitement and radicalisation for the purposes of terrorism, as well as alleged provision of financial support for international terrorism.” Several days later all were charged with terror related charges [BBC]

Abu Ayyub Al Masri, al Qaeda in Iraq’s leader, has been killed according to reports on CNN. However, his body has not been recovered and there was no absolute confirmation of the news [BBC]. It was too early to say if his death, if true, would slow down the insurgency. However there has already been a slight decline in civilian deaths throughout April, despite several ‘spectaculars’ which drew international headlines. In a decline from the previous month, 1,501 Iraqi civilians lost their lives in sectarian and insurgent violence in April, the Iraqi Interior Ministry said Tuesday. March saw 1,872 civilians killed, and 1,646 died in February. There were 2,334 Iraqi civilians wounded during April, compared with 2,708 the month before, the ministry said. Other figures released today showed a general increase over 2006. CNN reported that there was a 25% increase in attacks from the previous year, amounting to 14,000 deaths.

Fertiliser bomb plot saw 5 convictions on Monday [BBC] [30/04/2007]. But there was little celebration. Instead the trial served only to show the widespread terror network in existence. Links to the 7/7 attacks in London in 2005 became apparent, but at the time of police investigations authorities did not see the bombers as a threat. But families of those killed on 7/7 believe there was incompetence in the investigations and demanded an inquiry [BBC]. This has been rejected by Prime Minister Tony Blair s well as other top officials. The war on terror continues to be fought elsewhere too. In Australia a number of men are due to appear before court charged with planning attacks there. According to a report on CNN the nine men had stockpiled chemicals for bomb-making purposes.
The fight against terrorism is also emboldening the terrorists, at least according to one political pundit. The ‘War on Terror’ phrase was all too often making terrorist more important than they were, Hillary Benn said in early April [BBC]. Mr Benn said, "In the UK, we do not use the phrase 'war on terror' because we can't win by military means alone. And because this isn't us against one organised enemy with a clear identity and a coherent set of objectives." The British Director of Public Prosecutions Sir Ken MacDonald, said in January this year that no such war existed and, further, that the very concept of a "war on terror" was dangerous. "It is critical that we understand that this new form of terrorism carries another more subtle, perhaps equally pernicious, risk. Because it might encourage a fear-driven and inappropriate response. By that I mean it can tempt us to abandon our values. I think it important to understand that this is one of its primary purposes," he said.
The phrase may have been dropped from common use [BBC], but the war against terrorists and terrorism continues, even if it only has a marginal effect.

[editorial note: apologies to regular readers for a lack of reporting over the last fortnight. This has been due to a number of factors. Foreign assignments, other work related issues and illness have all taken their toll on regular commentary.]