Officials claim they foiled an al-Qaeda plot
The truth about the British “terror” scare
August 25, 2006 | Page 5
NICOLE COLSON exposes the hype surrounding the British “terror” plot.
CNN AND the rest of the mainstream media went on “red alert” this month from the moment that British and U.S. officials announced they had foiled a vast terrorist plot to blow up transatlantic airline flights.
Anchors and correspondents seemed to take a perverse sense of joy in chewing endlessly over the trickle of details that emerged from authorities. “Remember when a bomb was a few sticks of dynamite wired to a timer or a plunger?” said one anchor. “Well, those were the old days.”
Following a series of raids in Britain in the early morning hours of August 10, security officials announced that they had uncovered an alleged al-Qaeda plot involving as many as two dozen British Muslims, who were planning to use liquid or gel explosives to blow up planes bound for the U.S., potentially by using cell phones or other electronic devices as detonators.
Transatlantic and domestic flights were cancelled. In the U.S., airline passengers were barred from packing soda, shampoo, hair gel and other liquids in carry-on luggage brought into plane cabins.
CNN actually warned, “Don't use your cell phone within 50 feet of a suspicious object, you might detonate something.” And that was far from the only hysterical pronouncement on the 24-hour-a-day cable TV coverage.
Never mind the fact that none of the suspects arrested had even purchased a plane ticket.
Experts say that crafting a liquid-explosive device in midair would take a large amount of material and skill, yet the news networks were packed with analysts using shampoo bottles and AA batteries to demonstrate how “terrorists could build a bomb.”
Nor did the media pause to consider the implications of the fact that the supposed “break” in the case came from an interrogation of Rashid Rauf, the alleged “ringleader,” while in Pakistan--where torture is often a preferred method of extracting information from suspects.
British and U.S. authorities said that a terrorist attack was “imminent.” That’s a lie, according to Craig Murray, the former British Ambassador to Uzbekistan.
“None of the alleged terrorists had made a bomb,” Murray wrote on his Web site. “None had bought a plane ticket. Many did not even have passports, which given the efficiency of the UK Passport Agency would mean they couldn’t be a plane bomber for quite some time...Be skeptical. Be very, very skeptical.”
In a subsequent article, Murray added, “The idea that high explosives can be made quickly in a plane toilet by mixing at room temperature some nail polish remover, bleach and Red Bull, and giving it a quick stir, is nonsense.
“Yes, liquid explosives exist and are highly dangerous, and yes, airports are ill-equipped to detect them at present. Yes, it is true they have been used on planes before by terrorists. But can they be quickly manufactured on the plane? No. The sinister aspect is not that this is a real new threat. It is that the allegation may have been concocted in order to prepare us for arresting people without any actual bombs.”
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THE HYPE over the supposed bomb plot has added to a vicious wave of anti-Arab and anti-Muslim racism.
The British tabloid newspaper The Sun, for example, proclaimed that “alleged ‘baby bombers’ were among those arrested...The discovery prompted fears that there were fanatical mothers in secret al-Qaeda cells in Britain ready to become suicide bombers--and to die with their tots in their arms.”
“What could be more unexpected in Western eyes than women willing to die with their babies?” the Sun quoted one anonymous intelligence official as saying. As if Arab or Muslim women somehow care less about their children’s lives.
Meanwhile, in Italy, in a series of raids supposedly connected with the British plot, police marched into Internet cafes, money-transfer offices and long-distance phone call centers catering to Muslims in Rome, Milan, Venice, Florence, Naples and other cities.
More than 4,100 people--almost exclusively Muslim--were stopped for identification checks. Instead of capturing “terrorists,” Italian authorities arrested 28 people for residence permit violations and another 12 for “property” crimes.
As Dacia Valent, a spokesperson for the Italy’s Islamic Anti-Defamation League, told the Italian news agency Apcom, “More than 4,000 people were stopped and humiliated to allow police to arrest 12 chicken thieves and 28 clandestine” migrants.
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THE BUSH administration seized on this latest “terror” scare to try to drum up support for the failing U.S. occupation in Iraq and its increasingly unpopular “Big Brother” policies at home and abroad--just as growing numbers of Arabs and Muslims across the U.S. have felt more confident to openly protest U.S. policies in the Middle East.
Bush, for example, told the media that the British plot is “a stark reminder that this nation is at war with Islamic fascists who will use any means to destroy those of us who love freedom, to hurt our nation.”
One senior administration official told the New York Times that news of the British plot would “add momentum” to efforts to create military tribunals for Guantánamo detainees that would limit defendants’ rights, and would also help the White House push a bill through Congress protecting its secret wiretapping program.
Not to be outdone, Democratic hawk Sen. Joe Lieberman, fresh off a primary loss to challenger Ned Lamont, told reporters, “If we just pick up like Ned Lamont wants us to do, get out by a date certain, it will be taken as a tremendous victory by the same people who wanted to blow up these planes in this plot hatched in England.”
The revelations prompted open calls for racial profiling by some politicians. “I think it’s time to end political correctness,” Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) told ABC News. “To me,” he continued, “if a person is of Middle Eastern descent, it’s legitimate for the screener to ask more questions.”
But Arabs and Muslims in the U.S. are already living with racial profiling and the smear of being labeled “terrorists.” Consider the media frenzy surrounding the recent case of 11 Egyptian students who failed to report to their study program at Montana State University.
FBI officials have repeatedly said that none of the students posed any “credible threat” or had any connection to terrorism, but that didn’t stop some news outlets from posting mug shots with the word “captured” across their faces as they were arrested. It’s hard to believe that a similar manhunt would have occurred for missing white students from Britain.
Likewise, the FBI admits there is no evidence that two groups of Arab-American men in Michigan and Ohio were doing anything wrong when they were arrested earlier this month after buying cell phones.
In the Ohio case, authorities initially charged two men with “soliciting or providing for an act of terrorism” and money laundering after they acknowledged buying about 600 phones in recent months. The men said they were planning to resell the phones to make money, and prosecutors were later forced to admit that there was no evidence to go forward with the charges.
In Michigan, however, prosecutors are continuing to charge three Texas men who were arrested the day after the British terror plot hysteria when they purchased a large number of cell phones at a Wal-Mart--also, they say, to resell for profit.
In the wake of their arrest, prosecutors speculated that the men were “targeting” the Mackinac Bridge--while the police chief of Caro, Mich., told reporters that cell phones can be untraceable and used as detonators. News reports focused in on the fact that the men were of “Palestinian descent.”
FBI officials say the men were tourists, not terrorists--but the government has refused to drop charges against the men.
Attorney General Alberto Gonzales himself has helped to keep the hype going, telling reporters, “I don’t know how many of you have ever gone to a store to purchase 80 to 100 cell phones at a time. I would consider that somewhat unusual, and I think it would be perfectly legitimate to say, ‘Hey, is there something going on here?’”
According to Salon’s Mark Benjamin, when the initial case against the men began to collapse for lack of evidence, they then became “the first people ever federally charged with fraud for the bulk reselling of cell phones”--a common practice that seems only to arouse suspicion from authorities or the media when done by Arab or Muslim men.
As their attorney Nabih Ayad told Salon, “If their name was Bill, we would not be talking.”