Monday, June 26, 2006

Tall story of terror a chilling warning

The alarming news flashed across television screens in the United States on Friday: Government agents had thwarted an al Qaeda plot, using home-grown American terrorists, to blow up the Sears Tower in Chicago in a ghastly repeat of September 11.

When the dust had settled barely 24 hours later, a rather more modest version of events had emerged. The seven young black men arrested in Miami and Atlanta had never been in touch with al Qaeda, and had no explosives.

Their "plan" to destroy the tallest building in the US was little more than wishful thinking, expressed by one of them to an FBI informant posing as a member of Osama bin Laden's group.Even the FBI admitted as much. Deputy director John Pistole described the plan on Friday as "aspirational rather than operational" and admitted that none of the five US citizens and two Haitian immigrants arrested had ever featured on a terrorist watch list.

In essence, the entire case rests on conversations between Narseal Batiste, the apparent ringleader, with the informant, who posed as a member of al Qaeda but in fact belonged to the South Florida Terrorist Task Force.At a meeting "on or about December 16", according to the indictment made public as the men made their first court appearance in Miami, Batiste asked his contact to supply equipment including uniforms, machineguns, explosives, cars and US$50,000 in cash for an "Islamic Army" that would carry out a mission "just as good or greater than 9/11".

In fact, the conspiracy seems to have extended little further than those words. By last month, it had all but fizzled out amid internal squabbling.Even their religious leanings are in dispute. Neighbours say they were part of a group, Seas of David, that mixes Christian and Islamic elements.

That did not deter the US Attorney-General, Alberto Gonzales, from summoning a press conference in which he denounced an attempt to "wage war against America". But the threat, even he admitted, was not immediate - and those who posed it were in fact merely a few semi-unemployed men, most of them petty criminals, from Liberty City, a poor, black Miami district.If the case has any significance in the "war on terror", it is not as a present danger, but as a harbinger of possible future risks.

Despite countless scare stories in the media, colour-coded alerts from the Department of Homeland Security and grim official warnings of al Qaeda sleeper cells waiting to do their worst, the US has not suffered a single terrorist attack since September 11, 2001.

Nor have the authorities unearthed much of a threat. The Justice Department claims 401 people have been charged with "terrorism-related offences" since the 2001 attacks, and 212 have been convicted. In fact only a tiny number were real terrorists. The tendency - duly followed last week by Gonzales - has been to hype. The precedent was famously set by his predecessor, John Ashcroft, who called a press conference during a visit to Moscow in 2002 to announce the arrest of Jose Padilla, the "dirty bomber" said to be preparing to attack Washington with a radioactive device.

Padilla languished incommunicado in a Navy brig without charge for over three years. He has been transferred to a civilian prison, and faces trial in Miami this year on different, much vaguer, terrorist charges.

An alleged sleeper cell was unearthed in Detroit, but those convictions were quashed in 2004 when it emerged that prosecutors had manipulated evidence.

In December 2005, the trial of Sami al-Arian, accused of links with Islamic Jihad terrorists, ended in embarrassment when the Florida university professor was acquitted.

The biggest successes have had little to do with US law enforcement. Richard Reid, who tried to blow up an American Airlines plane with a shoe bomb in December 2001, was stopped by alert flight attendants, while Ahmed Omar Abu Ali, the Virginia student serving a 30-year sentence for threatening to kill President Bush, was caught by police in Saudi Arabia.

Source Here

Also worth reading : FBI Exploits Mentally Ill in “Homegrown” Terrorism Effort


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