The criminal shape of terror to come

Christopher Dickey writes: He is the very model of a modern ISIS terrorist: not very smart, not very religious, certainly sadistic, hugely egotistical, a minor criminal most of his life who’s looking to kill whoever he can whenever he can to make a name for himself. The territories now held by the so-called Islamic State (aka ISIS or ISIL) were his training ground but not his battleground: He was a jailor alternately torturing Western hostages and singing to them. But his sights were set on bigger Western targets. And he became such a loose Kalashnikov that, in the view of some European counterterrorism experts, even ISIS wanted to be rid of him.

Mehdi-NemmoucheSuch a man, according to his victims and his prosecutors, is 29-year-old Mehdi Nemmouche. On May 24, the young Frenchman allegedly walked into a Jewish museum in Brussels and killed four people.

At the time, before ISIS had conquered Mosul, the second-largest city in Iraq, the attack evoked outrage but not hysteria. Today, amid the furor created by the realization that ISIS is redrawing the map of the Middle East, and after the horror evoked by the beheadings of American journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff, such an attack would have much more dramatic repercussions.

Over the weekend the French press published reports, unconfirmed, that when Nemmouche acted as one of the jailors for French hostages held in Syria in 2013, and possibly for the Americans James Foley and Steven Sotloff, as well, he bragged about ambitious plans to attack the July 14 Bastille Day parade in Paris.

There are many reasons to worry that ISIS will, at some point, try to carry out a major terrorist attack in Europe or the United States. (It will claim it was forced to do so by the American bombing campaigns, just as it says it was forced to behead American journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff.) But the immediate risk is from disorganized, undisciplined, and nonetheless very deadly characters who want to see their names go down in their own half-assed version of history.

Maybe like Nemmouche they’ve spent some “jihad tourism” time in Syria or Iraq—many hundreds of Europeans and a substantial number of Americans are believed to have done so. Or perhaps they’ve only been “inspired” by ISIS from afar. All can claim the black banner of “the Caliphate,” and in the emotionally fraught environment of today, a little terrorism goes a long way.

When President Barack Obama addresses the nation on Wednesday, not the least of his goals will be to rein in the rampant rhetoric surrounding ISIS. But it won’t be easy. Obama would rather talk about “managing” ISIL than “destroying” or “defeating” it—words he has used but with obvious reluctance. In classic Obama fashion, he wants to keep his options open, only to discover he’s lost control of the narrative altogether.

Veteran terrorism expert Brian Jenkins notes the alarmism in Washington has reached such proportions, there’s a kind of “shock and awe in reverse.” Thus, as Jenkins writes, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel proclaims ISIS is an “imminent threat to every interest we have.” A congressional staffer argues that it is “highly probable ISIS will…obtain nuclear, chemical, biological or other weapons of mass death…to use in attacks against New York [or] Washington.” Texas Governor Rick Perry claims there is a “very real possibility” that ISIS forces may have crossed the U.S.-Mexican border. Senator James Inhofe asserted, “We are in the most dangerous position we’ve ever been in as a nation,” and retired Marine four-star Gen. John Allen goes so far as to say, “World War III is at hand.” [Continue reading...]

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How the #Israeli discourse on terrorism seeks to justify blatant #WarCrimes

Rémi Brulin writes: Appearing on CNN a few days into the current offensive in Gaza, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu described Hamas as “the worst terrorists, genocidal terrorists.” He said they want to “pile up as many civilian dead as they can,” and, he added, to “use telegenically dead Palestinians for their cause.”

By contrast, Israeli strikes are said to be aimed at the “terrorists,” who are by definition legitimate targets. Any civilian casualties that may result from such uses of force are unintentional, and in fact should be blamed squarely on Hamas. Indeed, Netanyahu explained, not only do they target civilians but they also “hide behind civilians,” thus committing “a double war crime.”

According to this narrative, often embraced in toto by elected officials and political commentators in the United States, “terrorism” is a very clear, non-controversial concept. “Terrorism” is the use of violence against civilians for political purposes.

This discourse on “terrorism” is a deeply moral discourse, one that makes important normative claims about a given conflict and the parties to it.

It draws its power from a simple claim: what separates “us” from “them” is a fundamental conception of the value of innocent life. “We” respect innocent lives, demonstrated by our refusal to target civilians. In stark contrast, not only are “the terrorists” more than willing to hurt our civilians, but they also hope that we will kill theirs too.

The discourse on “terrorism” is thus an essentialist discourse: it claims to say something about the very essence of “the enemy” (cue recurring references to “barbarism”) and, consequently, about us (and our “civilized” values.)

On closer inspection however, this discourse fails precisely where it claims to be strongest. Israel’s actual practices, informed by its combat doctrine, are fundamentally at odds with how international law defines the concept of “civilian.” In actual fact, the discourse on “terrorism” and the practices it informs and justifies drastically erode the distinction between civilian and combatants as commonly understood in International Humanitarian Law. [Continue reading...]

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How Israel — as humane as the IRA — uses warnings to terrorize civilians

I grew up in Britain during the era when the Provisional IRA was conducting a bombing campaign in Northern Ireland and on the mainland. I don’t remember the Provos ever being praised for the fact that they would typically phone the police to issue a warning before their bombs detonated. No one ever dubbed them the most humane terrorist organization in the world.

Danny Morrison, a former IRA prisoner interviewed on the BBC shortly after 9/11 wanted to emphasize, however, that the IRA should not be compared to Al Qaeda:

“Certainly there were civilians killed in the course of this last 30 years, but by and large the IRA made attempts to issue warnings before bomb attacks. That’s the distinction between the people who carried out the attacks in America.”

By the same standard, those who accuse Israel of engaging in state terrorism, should be absolutely clear: Israel’s acts of terror are more like those of the IRA (except on a vastly larger scale), than Al Qaeda’s attacks.

During its 30-year campaign, the IRA killed about 650 civilians. In the last 11 days, Israel has killed about 230 civilians.

Sharif Abdel Kouddous writes: Gamal Magdi Mushtaha had been up all night, unable to sleep, when his cell phone rang at 7:30 a.m. on Friday. The man on the other end of the line identified himself as an Israeli military officer. “Gamal,” he said, addressing the father of three by his first name, “you have to leave your house.”

To anyone other than a resident of Gaza, the call would be baffling. But Mushtaha, a 39-year-old contractor from Shejaiya, a town east of Gaza City, knew what this was about. The Israeli military was going to bomb his home.

He argued with the officer, explaining to him that five families live in the three-story house, including 15 children. “I told him I’m not wanted, that I’m a civilian,” Mushtaha says. “He just said my house was a target and I had five minutes to get out.”

Mushtaha woke up his family and rushed them out the door and down the street. A few minutes later he watched as his home was reduced to rubble in a double airstrike — one missile falling after the other. “I don’t know where to go or what to do. I have no home now,” he says.

Israel has lauded its warnings to Palestinians ahead of bombing their homes as a humanitarian act, a magnanimous gesture towards its enemy and a tactic designed to minimize civilian casualties. But in Gaza, it is a cruel reminder of how powerless residents are in the face of Israel’s military machine and their inability to prevent the wanton destruction of their lives. From Gaza City in the north to Khan Younis in the south, Palestinians in Gaza are being told to leave their homes, businesses, even hospitals to make way for Israeli bombs. Too often, they have nowhere to go. [Continue reading...]

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Whatever Israel wants to call it, this is state terrorism

AFP reports: Twenty-year-old Palestinian Sally Saqr lies in a hospital bed in Gaza’s Shifa hospital with burns that have turned her cheeks an angry pink beneath her ventilation tube.

She survived an Israeli strike in the early hours of Saturday morning that hit a care home for Palestinians with special needs.

Two of her fellow residents were not so lucky.

Thirty-year-old Ola Washahi and 47-year-old Suha Abu Saada were killed when the rocket slammed into the home, destroying it.

The two women’s body parts were still being pulled from the rubble hours later, causing initial confusion over whether another person had been killed.

The facility’s director, Jamila Alaywa, is unable to contain her fury as she describes the tragedy that has befallen the centre she set up in 1994.

“Both Ola and Suha had severe mental and physical handicaps, and had been living at the centre since it was founded,” she told AFP.

The building in northern Gaza’s Beit Lahiya housed 13 residents, including some who were on weekend visits at their family homes when the strike hit.

Five residents and a helper were inside, screaming in terror as the building collapsed around them.

“They didn’t understand what was happening and they were so frightened,” Alaywa said.

Al Jazeera adds: Saturday was the bloodiest day since the conflict erupted on Tuesday, with at least 52 Palestinians killed.

With the Palestinian death toll reached at least 154, and with no Israelis killed, the UN Security Council unanimously urged Israel and Hamas to respect “international humanitarian laws” and stop the loss of life.

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Syria on our minds — fear of youth radicalisation across the European Union

By Didier Bigo, Francesco Ragazzi, Emmanuel-Pierre Guittet, and Laurent Bonelli, Open Democracy, June 4, 2014

The deadly attacks in Madrid (2004), London (2005), Glasgow (2007) and Stockholm (2010), followed by the foiled attempts and arrests in Copenhagen (2010) and Berlin (2011) have together moved the issue of violent extremism and
‘radicalisation’ back onto political agendas at the European Union and across its member states.

Fear of ‘radicalisation’ has taken a turn for the worse since 2011 with the publication of alarmist intelligence reports and the multiplication of news reports about European citizens flocking to Syria to fight, mostly alongside the Syrian opposition.

Almost unnoticeably, the representation of Syria has moved from chaotic images of civil war to a monstrous cradle for a resurgent Al-Qaida, a powerful magnet for confirmed Jihadists and a key location for nurturing new generations of violent individuals.

The fear that European citizens travelling to Syria to fight the Assad regime may be influenced by groups linked to Al-Qaida and the spectre of dozens of battle-hardened, experienced extremists returning to their European homes full of anger and resentment and prepared to stage deadly attacks is an anxious thought stuck in our minds.

Even though it is difficult to ascertain the number of European citizens who have gone to or are still in Syria since March 2011 – the figures fluctuate between 400 to 2000 – the need for an assessment of the threat posed by these assumed radicalised European fighters heading back home is largely shared across the European Union member states. The recent French anti-radicalisation strategy presented by the French interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve, in April 2014 and inspired by the British strategy, is a reaction against the growing ranks of French youth joining alleged jihadist groups in Syria. However, what is the logical link – if any – between an engagement in Syria – whatever it might be – and the likelihood of future attacks in Europe?

[Read more...]

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Syria seen through the eyes of a British journalist and a Dutch jihadist

Emblematic of the feeble condition of Western political thought these days are the indications that there is more agreement about the evil of terrorism than there is about the value of democracy.

Witness an observation made recently by Patrick Cockburn, a British journalist admired by many on the Left, who wrote in The Independent:

The “war on terror” has failed because it did not target the jihadi movement as a whole and, above all, was not aimed at Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, the two countries that had fostered jihadism as a creed and a movement.

For those who want to distance themselves from the crude lexicon of Bush and Cheney, jihadism is supposedly a word with less charge, signalling that the term’s user is not on a crusade. Yet under this veneer of objectivity there is sometimes a surprising concordance with the neoconservative perspective.

Over a decade ago, I wrote:

Richard Perle, in quasi-theological terms, posits a “unity of terror.” In the same spirit, an editorial in Sunday’s Jerusalem Post, in reference to the terrorists who killed three Americans in Gaza this week, goes so far as to say:

Whether it was Hamas, Islamic Jihad, or perhaps even al-Qaida itself matters little and in fact tends to distract from what the West knows but often does not like to admit: The tentacles all belong to the same enemy.

Within this conception of terrorism, a phenomenon that is scattered across the globe has been turned into a beast of mythological proportions. The explicit connection is militant Islam, but whether the “tentacles” linking Islamic terrorists amount to concrete connections through finance and organization, or whether we are looking at bonds that have no more substance than a common cause or simply the common use of particular techniques of terrorism, these are all distinctions that the unitarians dismiss as distractions.

Cockburn now writes:

These days, there is a decreasing difference in the beliefs of jihadis, regardless of whether or not they are formally linked to al-Qa’ida central, now headed by Ayman al-Zawahiri. An observer in southern Turkey discussing 9/11 with a range of Syrian jihadi rebels earlier this year found that “without exception they all expressed enthusiasm for the 9/11 attacks and hoped the same thing would happen in Europe as well as the US”.

When a veteran reporter makes this kind of observation, even though he does not identify his source in any way at all, there will be many readers who treat Cockburn’s word (and thus that of an unidentified “observer”) as definitive. In so doing, they ignore the fact that this characterization of the Assad regime’s opponents perfectly mirrors the regime’s own propaganda.

One can treat Assad’s claim that he is fighting terrorists as a statement of fact. Or, one can treat it as a cynical and effective piece of political messaging — messaging one of whose purposes is to corral some sympathy from those in the West who, paradoxically, both vehemently reject the military adventurism that the neoconservatives initiated after 9/11 and yet also fully embrace a neoconservative view of unified terrorism.

When labels like jihadist and terrorist get used with sufficient frequency, the mere fact that the terms are used so frequently solidifies the sense that we know what they mean.

Any label applied to a person, however, calls out for a corrective: the voice of that person — a voice which may reinforce or undermine the stereotypes that repetition has created.

When it comes to the jihadists in Syria, we rarely hear what they have to say about themselves and if Cockburn is to be believed there’s little reason why we should be interested in hearing such individuals speak, since they all think alike and are all enemies of the West.

Earlier this year, a rare glimpse of foreign jihadists in Syria came in the form of an interview with a Dutch jihadist. Speaking in English, he provided a more nuanced picture of what has led young men like him to leave their families and join the fight against the Assad regime. Indeed, he spoke at length characterizing this more as a fight for Syrians than as one against their government.

His is just one voice. To what extent he can be taken as representative of others is open to question. Young men can easily be blinded by their own convictions or become servants of the agendas of others.

But while it’s perfectly reasonable to view with skepticism anyone’s claim that Islamic law would provide the panacea that can heal all of Syria’s wounds, the account that this former Dutch soldier gives of himself suggests to me that he knows his own mind.

He’s the kind of jihadist that both Patrick Cockburn and Bashar al-Assad would have you believe does not exist.

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Defense: FBI wanted marathon suspect as informant

n13-iconThe Associated Press reports: Lawyers for Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev say the FBI asked his older brother and fellow suspect to be an informant on the Chechen and Muslim community.

In court filings Friday, the defense asked a judge to order federal prosecutors to turn over any evidence on brother Tamerlan Tsarnaev, arguing that it could help persuade a jury to spare Dzhokhar Tsarnaev the death penalty if it supports the defense theory Tamerlan was the “main instigator” of the deadly bombing.

Dzhokhar’s lawyers say they want records of all FBI contact with Tamerlan based on information from the Tsarnaev family and others that the FBI “questioned Tamerlan about his Internet searches, and asked him to be an informant, reporting on the Chechen and Muslim community.”

The defense notes that a report issued earlier this week by the House Homeland Security Committee suggests that government agents monitored Tamerlan and his communications during 2011 and possibly 2012. The report said the FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force conducted a threat assessment of Tamerlan, an ethnic Chechen from southern Russia, in response to a 2011 alert from the Russian government that he was becoming radicalized.

Dzhokhar’s lawyers wrote: “Any surveillance, evidence, or interviews showing that Tamerlan’s pursuit of jihad predated Dzhokhar’s would tend to support the theory that Tamerlan was the main instigator of the tragic events that followed.” [Continue reading...]

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British ex-Guantanamo inmate denies Syria-related terror charges

n13-iconReuters reports: A British man once held at Guantanamo Bay turned human rights campaigner told a court in London on Saturday he would plead not guilty to providing training and funding terrorism in Syria, police said.

Moazzam Begg, 45, who was released without charge from the U.S. military prison in Cuba in 2005, was detained at his home in Birmingham in central England last week and charged with terrorism offences dated between October 2012 and April 2013.

He appeared at Westminster Magistrates Court on Saturday and was remanded in custody to appear at London’s Old Bailey criminal court on March 14.

It is the first time he has ever faced any charges.

Begg was held by the U.S. government at Bagram detention center in Afghanistan, then Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, for nearly three years after being arrested in Pakistan in February 2002 suspected of being a member of al-Qaeda.

After his release, he founded Cage, a human rights organization that campaigns for the rights of people detained during counter-terrorism operations.

Cage accused British authorities of “retraumatising” Begg by refusing to grant him bail, saying this was part of a campaign to criminalize legitimate activism. [Continue reading...]

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The murders before the Boston Marathon

f13-iconSusan Zalkind writes: It’s nearly midnight in a nondescript condo complex a few blocks from Universal Studios in Orlando, and Tatiana Gruzdeva has been crying all day. Though neither of us knows it yet, as she sits on the corner of her bed and sobs in tiny convulsions, the fact that she’s talking to me will lead to her being arrested by federal agents, placed in solitary confinement, and deported back to Russia.

Next to us on the bed are nine teddy bears. Eight of them came with her from Tiraspol, Moldova. The ninth was a gift from her boyfriend, Ibragim Todashev. Today would have been Ibragim’s 28th birthday, but he is not here to see it, because in the early hours of May 22, 2013, a Boston FBI agent shot and killed him in this very apartment, under circumstances so strange that a Florida state prosecutor has opened an independent investigation. According to the FBI, just before Ibragim was shot—seven times, in two bursts, including once in the top of the head—he was about to write a confession implicating himself and alleged Boston Marathon bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev in a brutal triple homicide that took place in Waltham, Massachusetts, in September 2011.

I’m sitting awkwardly at one end of the twin bed. She’s crying quietly, cross-legged at the other end, wearing shorts and a white shirt with sequins. Most of her outfits have sequins or rhinestones. She’s 19. I’m 26. We both have long blond hair. We’ve both been close to men who were in trouble with the law, and lost them violently. We’ve been talking for about an hour, mostly about men, and parties, and moving forward after a tragedy. Ibragim was a good man, she says. He could never have committed a murder.

“I’m here alone,” she cries. “I hope it never can be worse than this.”

I try to comfort her, but it’s complicated. We both want to know why Ibragim Todashev was killed. She wants to clear his name. For me, and for the families of the Waltham murder victims, Ibragim’s shooting may have snuffed out the last chance at finding out what really happened that night. In the back of my mind is this question: Did her dead boyfriend kill my friend Erik? [Continue reading...]

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Orwell was hailed a hero for fighting in Spain. Today he’d be guilty of terrorism

o13-iconGeorge Monbiot writes: If George Orwell and Laurie Lee were to return [to Britain] from the Spanish civil war today, they would be arrested under section five of the Terrorism Act 2006. If convicted of fighting abroad with a “political, ideological, religious or racial motive” – a charge they would find hard to contest – they would face a maximum sentence of life in prison. That they were fighting to defend an elected government against a fascist rebellion would have no bearing on the case. They would go down as terrorists.

As it happens, the British government did threaten people leaving the country to join the International Brigades, by reviving the Foreign Enlistment Act of 1870. In 1937 it warned that anyone volunteering to fight in Spain would be “liable on conviction to imprisonment up to two years”. This was consistent with its policy of non-intervention, which even Winston Churchill, initially a supporter, came to see as “an elaborate system of official humbug”. Britain, whose diplomatic service and military command were riddled with fascist sympathisers, helped to block munitions and support for the Republican government, while ignoring Italian and German deployments on Franco’s side.

But the act was unworkable, and never used – unlike the Crown Prosecution Service’s far graver threat to British citizens fighting in Syria. In January 16 people were arrested on terror charges after returning from Syria. Seven others are already awaiting trial. Sue Hemming, the CPS head of counter-terrorism, explained last week that “potentially it’s an offence to go out and get involved in a conflict, however loathsome you think the people on the other side are … We will apply the law robustly”.

People fighting against forces that run a system of industrialised torture and murder and are systematically destroying entire communities could be banged up for life for their pains. Is this any fairer than imprisoning Orwell would have been? [Continue reading...]

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NSA phone record collection does little to prevent terrorist attacks, group says

The Washington Post reports: An analysis of 225 terrorism cases inside the United States since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks has concluded that the bulk collection of phone records by the National Security Agency “has had no discernible impact on preventing acts of terrorism.”

In the majority of cases, traditional law enforcement and investigative methods provided the tip or evidence to initiate the case, according to the study by the New America Foundation, a Washington-based nonprofit group.

The study, to be released Monday, corroborates the findings of a White House-appointed review group, which said last month that the NSA counterterrorism program “was not essential to preventing attacks” and that much of the evidence it did turn up “could readily have been obtained in a timely manner using conventional [court] orders.” [Continue reading...]

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Fight poverty, not terrorism

Kennedy Odede writes: Terrorism is a global reality, and for me as a Kenyan, this struck close to home in September with the siege of the Westgate mall. Yet in many ways, growing up in Nairobi I was always in the midst of terror. As a boy living in extreme poverty in Kibera, one of Africa’s largest slums, I learned early on that I was disposable, that human life is not equally valued. Life expectancy in Kibera is estimated at 30 years, compared with 64 in the rest of Kenya and 70 worldwide. In Kibera, people are desensitized to death. Living is understood to be the exception.

I am 29 years old — on the threshold of a new decade of life. All my close friends from childhood, save for two, were robbed of this experience. Some took risks to feed their families; for stealing bread or charcoal, they were shot by the police. Others, who worked for as little as $1 per day, fell from construction sites or burned in factory fires. Still others perished in the violence after the 2007 election. Violence and loss became part of day-to-day life.

These are more than singular tragedies; they contribute to the psyche of being poor. This psyche inculcates hopelessness, dispels a belief in the possibility of tomorrow’s being better than today, compels a resignation to the fact that you may suffer the same tragic fate as your peers, and fuels anger because there is no escape and you did not choose this — you simply drew life’s short straw.

This, perhaps, is terrorism’s fertile ground. Because if you grew up as I did, self-protection requires coming to terms with violence and terror. Violence becomes a vehicle of survival. My friend Boi was 16 when he joined a gang with the goal of supporting his mother and sister. If stealing or fighting was the only way, he was ready. In the end, he was shot dead.

An environment in which you cannot get a job despite ability, ambition and persistence fosters anger. My friend James and I used to leave the slum together each morning to look for work as day laborers. We always hoped we’d be lucky, only to be told “not today” — day after day after day. Then one day, James and I got construction jobs. While carrying heavy stones, two of James’s fingers were crushed. He was not compensated and was out of work for more than two years. Later, James caught another break and got a job as a security guard at an upper-class estate. The estate was robbed, and James was fired and never paid.

Something broke in James. In the constant degradation he saw that for people like us there was no justice. He joined a local group infamous for terrorizing the community, robbing and stealing. James was ready to die, willing to do anything to provide what he could for his family. Today, this world of violence and uncertainty remains his reality.

News reports inform us that Kenya’s slums are ripe for terrorist recruitment. No one is born a terrorist. But being paid a reported $1,000 to undergo militant training in Somalia is more than enough financial incentive; the young people in Nairobi’s slums are accustomed to taking risks that pay far less. [Continue reading...]

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How Zionist terrorism threatened Britain after World War Two

Calder Walton writes: Recently declassified intelligence records reveal that at the end of the war the main priority for MI5 [Britain's domestic counterintelligence and security agency] was the threat of terrorism emanating from the Middle East, specifically from the two main Zionist terrorist groups operating in the Mandate of Palestine, which had been placed under British control in 1921. They were called the Irgun Zevai Leumi (“National Military Organization,” or the Irgun for short) and the Lehi (an acronym in Hebrew for “Freedom Fighters of Israel”), which the British also termed the “Stern Gang,” after its founding leader, Avraham Stern. The Irgun and the Stern Gang believed that British policies in Palestine in the post-war years — blocking the creation of an independent Jewish state — legitimized the use of violence against British targets. MI5’s involvement with counterterrorism, which preoccupies it down to the present day, arose in the immediate post-war years when it dealt with the Irgun and Stern Gang.

MI5’s involvement in dealing with Zionist terrorism offers a striking new interpretation of the history of the early Cold War. For the entire duration of the Cold War, the overwhelming priority for the intelligence services of Britain and other Western powers would lie with counterespionage, but as we can now see, in the crucial transition period from World War to Cold War, MI5 was instead primarily concerned with counterterrorism.

As World War II came to a close, MI5 received a stream of intelligence reports warning that the Irgun and the Stern Gang were not just planning violence in the Mandate of Palestine, but were also plotting to launch attacks inside Britain. In April 1945 an urgent cable from MI5’s outfit in the Middle East, SIME, warned that Victory in Europe (VE-Day) would be a D-Day for Jewish terrorists in the Middle East. Then, in the spring and summer of 1946, coinciding with a sharp escalation of anti-British violence in Palestine, MI5 received apparently reliable reports from SIME that the Irgun and the Stern Gang were planning to send five terrorist “cells” to London, “to work on IRA lines.” To use their own words, the terrorists intended to “beat the dog in his own kennel.” The SIME reports were derived from the interrogation of captured Irgun and Stern Gang fighters, from local police agents in Palestine, and from liaisons with official Zionist political groups like the Jewish Agency. They stated that among the targets for assassination were Britain’s foreign secretary, Ernest Bevin, who was regarded as the main obstacle to the establishment of a Jewish state in the Middle East, and the prime minister himself. MI5’s new director-general, Sir Percy Sillitoe, was so alarmed that in August 1946 he personally briefed the prime minister on the situation, warning him that an assassination campaign in Britain had to be considered a real possibility, and that his own name was known to be on a Stern Gang hit list.

The Irgun and the Stern Gang’s wartime track record ensured that MI5 took these warnings seriously. In November 1944 the Stern Gang had assassinated the British minister for the Middle East, Lord Moyne, while he was returning to his rented villa after a luncheon engagement in Cairo. Moyne’s murder was followed by an escalation of violence in Palestine, with incidents against the British and Irgun and Stern Gang fighters being followed by bloody reprisals. In mid-June 1946, after the Irgun launched a wave of attacks, bombing five trains and 10 of the 11 bridges connecting Palestine to neighboring states, London’s restraint finally broke. British forces conducted mass arrests across Palestine (codenamed Operation Agatha), culminating on June 29 — a day known as “Black Sabbath” because it was a Saturday — with the detention of more than 2,700 Zionist leaders and minor officials, as well as officers of the official Jewish defense force (Haganah) and its crack commandos (Palmach). None of the important Irgun or Stern Gang leaders was caught in the dragnet, and its result was merely to goad them into even more violent counteractions. On July 22, the Irgun dealt a devastating blow, codenamed Operation Chick, to the heart of British rule in Palestine when it bombed the King David Hotel in Jerusalem, which housed the offices of British officialdom in the Mandate, as well as serving as the headquarters of the British Army in Palestine.

The bombing was planned by the leader of the Irgun, Menachem Begin, later to be the sixth prime minister of Israel and the joint winner of a Nobel Peace Prize. On the morning of July 22, six young Irgun members entered the hotel disguised as Arabs, carrying milk churns packed with 500 pounds of explosives. At 12:37 p.m. the bombs exploded, ripping the facade from the southwest corner of the building. This caused the collapse of several floors in the hotel, resulting in the deaths of 91 people. In terms of fatalities, the King David Hotel bombing was one of the worst terrorist atrocities inflicted on the British in the twentieth century. It was also a direct attack on British intelligence and counterterrorist efforts in Palestine: both MI5 and SIS — the Secret Intelligence Service, also known as MI6 — had stations in the hotel. [Continue reading...]

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Feinstein and Rogers try to scare Americans with ooga booga terrorism threats

Mike Masnick writes: It appears that the heads of the Senate and House Intelligence Committees, Senator Dianne Feinstein and Rep. Mike Rogers, are recognizing that their strategy for keeping their co-dependent relationship with the NSA going is failing and that the American public and an increasingly large segment of Congress no longer believes their bogus claims. Perhaps that’s because every time they open their mouths, it takes all of about an hour before many of their claims are completely debunked, if not outright mocked for obviously being bogus. So their latest strategy? To basically yell “Ooga Booga Terrorists!” as loud as they can to try to scare people based on absolutely nothing. [Continue reading...]

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Drone warfare as a form of terrorism

In their efforts to deflect criticism of drone warfare, President Obama and senior officials overseeing strikes in Pakistan and Yemen have repeatedly insisted that missiles are only fired when there is minimal risk to civilians and that the primary virtue of this weapons system is its precision.

This week, after Rafiq Rehman and his two children came all the way from Waziristan to testify before Congress on the impact of drone warfare, only five lawmakers bothered to show up. The assumption among campaigners seems to have been that the consciences of ordinary Americans would be stirred if they were to hear children describe what it’s like witnessing your 67-year-old grandmother getting blown up in a drone strike.

The death of Momina Bibi exactly a year ago illustrates how little value precision has if the target is a nameless figure on a computer screen. Yet the testimony of the Rehman family seems unlikely to have much impact on public opinion when Washington finds it so easy to ignore.

Al Jazeera reports:

[E]ven after what his family has been through, Rafiq Rehman said he does not resent the United States. In fact, even after witnessing his first Halloween weekend in the States, he does not believe all that much separates him from Americans.

“It’s very peaceful here. For the most part, there’s a lot of freedom and people get along with each other. They’re nice, they respect each other, and I appreciate that,” Rafiq told Al Jazeera.

“We’re all human beings,” he said. “I knew that Americans would have a heart, that they would be sympathetic to me. That’s why I came here — I thought if they heard my story, they would want to listen to me and influence their politicians.”

The attitude of the Obama administration seems to have been reflected in the decision to prevent the family’s lawyer, Shahzad Akbar, from accompanying them on their visit.

Akbar, a legal fellow with Reprieve, the U.K.-based advocacy organization that helped bring the family to the Washington, believes that his work has something to do with the denial. He only had trouble obtaining a visa after he started to litigate on the behalf of drone victims.

In an interview at his Islamabad office, Akbar told me that he was first denied entry to the United States in 2010, even though he had an open visa at the time. He said that the head of visa services at the U.S. embassy in Islamabad told him his visa could not be processed there because of his history. “And I looked at her and I said what do you mean by history? She just smiled and she said, ‘You know very well what I mean by history.’”

He assumes she was referring to his decision that year to sue the CIA station chief in Islamabad. “It’s very simple,” Akbar said. “You mess with [the] CIA and they mess with you to the extent they can.”

Even if Akbar had been there and even if the hearings had been well attended, I suspect that many lawmakers and other Americans would find it easy to marginalize the Rehman family’s experience.

America never tires of expressing its good intentions. We mean well. Accidents happen. Momina Bibi’s death was a mistake.

This month the Obama administration decided to release more than $1.6 billion in military and economic aid to Pakistan and in what looks like a rather transparent quid pro quo, the Pakistani government today issued a statement drastically reducing its claims about the number of civilians killed in drone attacks.

They now say that since 2008, 2,160 militants and 67 civilians have been killed.

There was no indication why the new data seem to differ so much from past government calculations and outside estimates.

A U.N. expert investigating drone strikes, Ben Emmerson, said this month that the Pakistani Foreign Ministry told him that at least 400 civilians have been killed by drone attacks in the country since they started in 2004.

Emmerson called on the Islamabad government to explain the apparent discrepancy, with the Foreign Ministry figure indicating a much higher percentage of civilian casualties.

The Bureau of Investigative Journalism, based in London, has estimated that drones have killed at least 300 civilians in Pakistan since 2008, while the Washington-based New America Foundation puts the figure at 185 civilians. Such estimates are often compiled from news media reports about the attacks.

Having made drone warfare one of the signatures of his presidency, Barack Obama’s level of comfort in utilizing this form of technology can be seen both through his willingness to joke about it, and his insistence on its judicious use. In his mind, the drone has somehow been turned into a symbol of restraint. Shock and awe has been replaced by carefully calibrated violence — even while it employs the far too infrequently cited brand: Hellfire.

The propaganda campaign the Obama administration has engaged in — now with the collusion of the Pakistani government — has always been a numbers game. It attempts to justify drone warfare on the basis of its supposed efficiency. Through a false equivalence — that drone strikes kill far fewer people and do less damage than air strikes — the drone is cast as the lesser of two evils. (This is a false equivalence because drone strikes are rarely employed as an alternative to an air strike. The 317 drone strikes in Pakistan Obama has authorized could not have been substituted by 317 air strikes.) And the measure of the drones’ success can be reduced to a numerical formula such as the one Pakistan just produced.

The effect of claiming that “just” 67 civilians have been killed (leaving aside the issue that this number is implausibly low) is that it masks the wider effect of drone warfare: that it has terrorized the populations in the areas where its use has become prevalent.

A reporter for the Washington Post interviewed a journalist in Pakistan and tried to get a sense of the psychological impact of drones. Was it, she asked, like living somewhere where there are lots of drive-by shootings? (Fear of random acts of violence might usefully offer some common ground, though the comparison might be a bit more realistic if one imagines a neighborhood where the shooters are armed with shoulder-launched missiles rather than handguns.)

Kiran Nazish describes what the presence of drones really means: that the fear of sudden death becomes ever-present.

Along with the few victims that Washington acknowledges, there are thousands more. Facing the risk of missile strikes, these are people afraid to go to market or to leave their own homes. And when the sky is blue, the danger rises, as high above, unseen but constantly heard, drones circle like vultures in search of their prey.

Powerless and with nowhere to flee, for the living victims of drone warfare, America has become an invisible and blind executioner.

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The deadly fury that demonization unleashes

Katrin Bennhold writes: From a comfortable couch in his London living room, Sean O’Callaghan had been watching the shaky televised images of terrified people running from militants in an upscale mall in Kenya. Some of those inside had been asked their religion. Muslims were spared, non-Muslims executed.

“God, this is one tough lot of jihadis,” said a friend, a fellow Irishman, shaking his head.

“But we used to do the same thing,” Mr. O’Callaghan replied.

There was the 1976 Kingsmill massacre. Catholic gunmen stopped a van with 12 workmen in County Armagh, Northern Ireland, freed the one Catholic among them and lined up the 11 Protestants and shot them one by one.

Mr. O’Callaghan, a former paramilitary with the Irish Republican Army, has particular insight into such coldblooded killing.

On a sunny August day in 1974, he walked into a bar in Omagh, Northern Ireland, drew a short-barreled pistol and shot a man bent over the racing pages at the end of the counter, a man he had been told was a notorious traitor to the Irish Catholic cause.

Historical parallels are inevitably flawed. But a recent flurry of horrific bloodletting — the attack in Nairobi that left 60 dead, the execution by Syrian jihadis of bound and blindfolded prisoners, an Egyptian soldier peering through his rifle sight and firing on the teenage daughter of a Muslim Brotherhood leader — raises a question as old as Cain and Abel: Do we all have it in us?

Many experts think we do. For Mr. O’Callaghan, it was a matter of focus.

“What you’re seeing in that moment,” he said in an interview last week, “is not a human being.”

It is dangerous to assume that it takes a monster to commit a monstrosity, said Herbert Kelman, professor emeritus of social ethics at Harvard. [Continue reading...]

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For Americans, al Qaeda is less deadly than cantaloupe

Michael Meurer writes: One of the most important revelations from the international drama over Edward Snowden’s NSA leaks in May is the exposure of a nearly lunatic disproportion in threat assessment and spending by the US government. This disproportion has been spawned by a fear-based politics of terror that mandates unlimited money and media attention for even the most tendentious terrorism threats, while lethal domestic risks such as contaminated food from our industrialized agribusiness system are all but ignored. A comparison of federal spending on food safety intelligence versus antiterrorism intelligence brings the irrationality of the threat assessment process into stark relief.

In 2011, the year of Osama bin Laden’s death, the State Department reported that 17 Americans were killed in all terrorist incidents worldwide. The same year, a single outbreak of listeriosis from tainted cantaloupe killed 33 people in the United States. Foodborne pathogens also sickened 48.7 million, hospitalized 127,839 and caused a total of 3,037 deaths. This is a typical year, not an aberration.

We have more to fear from contaminated cantaloupe than from al-Qaeda, yet the United States spends $75 billion per year spread across 15 intelligence agencies in a scattershot attempt to prevent terrorism, illegally spying on its own citizens in the process. By comparison, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is struggling to secure $1.1 billion in the 2014 federal budget for its food inspection program, while tougher food processing and inspection regulations passed in 2011 are held up by agribusiness lobbying in Congress. The situation is so dire that Jensen Farms, the company that produced the toxic cantaloupe that killed 33 people in 2011, had never been inspected by the FDA. [Continue reading...]

To note that Americans face more threats related to food safety than terrorism may be a useful way of highlighting the miniscule threat posed by terrorism, but it doesn’t mean we should start getting more afraid of food.

Fear is a bigger problem than food safety.

The more we learn about the ecology of the human body, the more apparent it becomes that a significant number of modern health problems are a result of excessive cleanliness. In our effort to produce pathogen-free environments we are destroying the bacteria upon which good health depends.

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Damn Rolling Stone — for what?

Shortly after 9/11, Osama bin Laden appeared on the cover of Time magazine. What later became an iconic image — the embodiment of evil, global terrorist #1, the face of Islamic extremism, or however else Americans came to view this face — did at the time show a man with an indisputable look of serenity.

Since the icons of terrorism were at that juncture still in the process of being manufactured, America’s first glimpses of Public Enemy Number One portrayed — dare I say it — a rather Christ-like figure.

Even though this was still a nation very much in shock, the appearance of a flattering image of the prime suspect behind the attacks was apparently something that America could handle.

Twelve years later and Rolling Stone’s use of a flattering image of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is now supposedly beyond the pale.

Michelle Malkin, outraged that the magazine’s choice of cover image shows that its “editors are as muddle headed as ever about our war with Islam,” suggests that Rolling Stone is telling America’s youth that Tsarnaev “is just like you!

And she’s probably right — not on the issue of her war with Islam, but on the idea that Tsarnaev should be seen as an American youth.

He’s just turned 19, he’s a U.S. citizen, he likes hip hop, he’s smoked a lot of weed and he obviously thinks it’s cool to look cool.

This isn’t a land of saints and to belong to the ranks of American youth does not preclude the possibility of doing some awful things before even reaching adulthood. Does ‘cool’ connote any particular virtues? Not that I’ve noticed.

If there’s one thing worth highlighting more than anything else about Tsarnaev, it is precisely his normality. He doesn’t seem to have been unhinged like James Eagan Holmes, Jared Lee Loughner, or Adam Lanza.

Is it disturbing that an ordinary American kid could be involved in a bombing that killed three people and injured many more? Sure.

But that doesn’t mean we now have to plunge into denial and pretend that he wasn’t really an American kid or that there are horns concealed under his locks of hair or that his name or religion makes him foreign.

Osama bin Laden had some Christ-like features and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev looks a bit like Jim Morrison.

Maybe the problem isn’t the images — it’s the simplistic ideas we have about terrorism.

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