Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Summer of (something other than) love

Forty years ago, it was flower power. In 2007, we hope it isn't flour power (chapati flour, that is). US officials are very nervous about the coming summer season, knowing how much al-Qaeda loves its summer avocation of blowing people up.

WASHINGTON (AP) -- U.S. counterterror officials are warning of an increased risk of an attack this summer, given al-Qaida's apparent interest in summertime strikes and increased al-Qaida training in the Afghan-Pakistani border region.

On Tuesday, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff told the editorial board of The Chicago Tribune that he had a "gut feeling" about a new period of increased risk.

He based his assessment on earlier patterns of terrorists in Europe and intelligence he would not disclose.

"Summertime seems to be appealing to them," Chertoff said in his discussion with the newspaper about terrorists. "We worry that they are rebuilding their activities."

Other U.S. counterterrorism officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, shared Chertoff's concern and said that al-Qaida and like-minded groups have been able to plot and train more freely in the tribal areas along the Afghan-Pakistani border in recent months. Osama bin Laden and his top deputy, Ayman al-Zawahri, are believed to be hiding in the rugged region.

One hopes (probably in vain) that the Lal Masjid takedown in Islamabad has opened the door to more counterterrorism operations on the Pakistani side of the Pak-Afghan border.

One also hopes (probably also in vain) that the al-Qaeda cells operating in the USA at present are as inept as the 7/21 bombers in Britain, who couldn't get their recipe right.

Four men who were given sanctuary in Britain after leaving their war-torn countries were yesterday found guilty of a plot that would have killed hundreds of people on the London transport system two years ago.

Muktar Ibrahim, 29, the leader of the suicide gang, was seen by officers on at least four occasions before the bombings, Woolwich Crown Court had heard and was on bail after being arrested on suspicion of extremism.

London was saved only by Ibrahim's lack of basic arithmetic. A scribbled note found at the bomb factory showed that Ibrahim, who had failed maths GCSE, had wrongly calculated the ratio of ingredients, rendering the bombs harmless.

Despite having a criminal record, he was given British citizenship even as he plotted the potentially murderous attacks.

And certanly one hopes -- perhaps with a bit more realism -- that the police in the USA are currently doing a better job of tracking suspected terror cells than the British were doing prior to the 7/21 plot, even after the successful 7/7 bombings.

The fact that they came so close to causing carnage when they had been known to the police will raise fresh questions over the value of the intelligence available to the security services and whether it was properly acted upon.

In January and August 2003 Ibrahim was seen with Mohammed on police surveillance video at Finsbury Park Mosque, where Omar and Osman also attended regularly.

In May 2004, police watched all four bombers on a camping trip at a farm in Langdale in the Lake District running up and down carrying rucksacks. In October the same year, Ibrahim was arrested by police for breach of the peace while handing out extremist literature in Oxford Street.

He jumped bail and a letter was sent to his flat saying: "Come to us before we come to you."

In December, Ibrahim was stopped by Special Branch officers at Heathrow airport before boarding a flight to Pakistan. They found his luggage included cold weather clothing, a sleeping bag and a video camera along with £2,000 in cash. One of his companions had £2,200, a military first aid kit and a manual on how to deal with ballistic injuries.

A Port Stop Request form recording the incident was filled in but the three men were allowed to go on their way.

Ibrahim flew to Pakistan, where he is said to have learned his bomb-making skills alongside Mohammed Siddique Khan and Shezhad Tanweer.

And, of course, closing the circle, San Francisco certainly has to be on the short list of potential targets for al-Qaeda in the USA. Not only is it the city whose mores are most likely to offend Muslim funadmentalist values, but its political leadership is all but dismissive of the threat of Islamofascist terror.

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