31 December 2007
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The phantom terrorists of the War on Terror
Part 1 - The Liquid Bombers
By Daan de Wit
This article has been translated into English by Ben Kearney
The stories we know about the most famous terrorists and the best known terrorist plots do not match up with the facts. DeepJournal created a seven part series detailing this issue, starting off with the case of the Liquid Bombers. The limitations for liquids on airports are the result of the near attack by these so-called Liquid Bombers. Their plot was foiled just in time in August of 2006. Or was it? There are still some disturbing questions to be asked regarding the terrorists and their plan. Questions that can no longer be posed to the leader of the Liquid Bombers, Rashid Rauf, now that he has escaped under suspicious circumstances.
- This series will not be published on DeepJournal beyond part 1. The series is available for newspaper, magazine or online publication. For more information contact Daan de Wit -
The European Commission announced in mid-December 2007 that it plans to lift the restriction on the amount of liquids that airline passengers can take on board with them. Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, European MP for the Dutch VVD, has for some time said that the restriction does nothing to prevent terrorism and offers only the appearance of safety. To this day, travelers at Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport are allowed to take liquid containers no larger than 100 milliliters on board with them. These restrictions apply in America and England as well. These limitations are the result of the attack by the so-called Liquid Bombers.
August of 2006. A group of about 25 terrorists, later to become known as the Liquid Bombers, takes the West by the throat with their plan to crash approximately ten airplanes simultaneously. President Bush addresses the nation: 'If these terrorists had succeeded, they could have caused death on a massive scale. The plot appears to have been carefully planned and well-advanced. They planned to bring the components of their explosives on board in their carry-on luggage, disguised as bottled drinks and electronic devices'. According to Michael Chertoff, head of America's Homeland Security Department, the attack could potentially have resulted in hundreds of thousands of casualties. The near-attack by the alleged terrorists gets a lot of publicity because of a huge operation by the police in which a number of airplanes are grounded. This is noteworthy because the suspects had already been under the radar for about one year and hadn't made any reservations, much less purchased tickets.
Big doubts over feasibility of plot
As of today the restriction on liquids remains in place at Schiphol Airport. According to Dutch Professor Carel van Eijk, the risk of terrorist attacks hasn't been diminshed by this policy. French expert Christophe Naudin of the University of Paris shares Van Eijk's opinion. Professor of International Communication Cees Hamelink is also quite clear about it: 'It's absolute rubbish. It's meant to scare the living daylights out of us, it's meant to keep us alert and to keep alive a notion that terrorism is really dangerous and it is necessary to spent an enormous amount of money'. He points out that 100 ml of nitroglycerine is enough to blow up an airplane. The Liquid Bombers wanted to make the explosive TATP (triacetone triperoxide) on board the aircraft. Gerry Murray of the Forensic Science Agency in Northern Ireland and Peter Fielden of the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory at the University of Manchester say that it would be extremely difficult to produce TATP by combining liquids in the restrooms of airplanes. A journalist from The Register consulted experts and describes the problems with the terrorist plan. Beginning with the fact that merely dumping the precursors together makes no sense, according to Professor of Chemistry Jimmie C. Oxley of the University of Rhode Island. In order to arrive at TATP, sulphuric acid has to be added to acetone and peroxide drop by drop for several hours at just the right cold temperature while stirring continuously. When the axphyxiating fumes are released, they form white crystals at a temperature of below 10 degrees C (50 degrees F) after a minimum of six hours - though probably much longer - which then have to be harvested by way of filtration and dried for several hours. The thermometer has to be closely monitored as well, as TATP is very unstable, as witnessed by its nickname, 'Mother of Satan'. 250 grams of the white crystalline powder resembling sugar is needed for a substantial explosion, which means that per airplane you need sixteen times the content of an airplanes bathroom sink in order for the plan to succeed.
Former British ambassador Craig Murray had access to some of the most sensitive documents during his career. Currently he maintains a blog on which he writes about the Liquid Bombers: 'None of the alleged terrorists had made a bomb. 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.' The online magazine Salon interpreted the situation in U.S. terms and noted in September of 2006: 'America has been scare-mongered into submission, and it's tough to tell who is more pleased, the foreign evildoers in their caves and distant laboratories or America's own leaders with their upcoming elections and color-coded instruments of control. Have we become a nation run by a faction of war profiteers, exploiting the fears of its own citizens? I don't know about you, but I'm starting to feel had'. According to The New York Times, at least one person benefited from the thwarting of the plot: President Bush, who could use a small victory during the lead-up to the midterm elections given his low approval numbers. Whatever the case, the plot was foiled. But there is still criticism.
An ideal attack?
According to The Independent, British authorities, under pressure from the U.S., acted abruptly and too quickly, and as a result not all of the terrorist suspects were aprehended. In an inside stab at Bush, the reason given in England for the overseas intervention was that it was a 'short-term success' for the Americans. That success was the arrest of Rashid Rauf by Pakistan at the request of the Americans. Because Rauf was connected to the terrorists who wanted to blow up the airplanes, MI5 and Scotland Yard felt it necessary to round up the whole gang, according to counter-terrorism sources of The Independent. One year later the U.S. role turned out to be bigger when it became clear that a number of the Liquid Bombers had been trained by Jundullah (Army of Allah), a terrorist organization which, as ABCNews suggests, is being sponsored by the U.S. in their clandestine battle against Iran. The London Telegraph is even more specific and writes: '[...] the CIA is giving arms-length support, supplying money and weapons, to an Iranian militant group, Jundullah, which has conducted raids into Iran from bases in Pakistan'. Prior to the training by Jundullah, the alleged terrorists - in connection with an earthquake relief operation - were present in camps run by the Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JUD), the parent organization of the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LET). LET gets (financial) support form the Pakistani intelligence agency ISI, which again is directly connected to the American intelligence agency - the CIA.
What did America want to achieve with the arrest of Rauf? The exact reason is unknown, but what we do know is that the arrest did not lead merely to a short-term success, but also to a large-scale terror alert which continues to have consequences to this very day in the West. The thwarting of the terrorist plot had the advantage of both of these successes, and prevented the damage that would have occured if it had been demonstrated that the plot could not possibly have become reality. This combination of factors made it an important step forward for the War on Terror.
Prime suspect escapes
The person who was supposed to be in charge of carrying out the plan was the Brit Rashid Rauf. Rauf was picked up in Pakistan by the Pakistani intelligence service when the plan was disrupted by the authorites. Rauf hereby became England's 'most wanted' terrorist. England requested his extradition - not because of any involvement in the plan to blow up the airplanes - but because he allegedly murdered his uncle in 2002. On Sunday December 16 Rauf escaped from custody in Pakistan, most likely because his handcuffs had been removed by his guards, who wanted to let him pray in a mosque. Rauf was being transported after appearing in court for extradition proceedings. Prior to his visit to the mosque, his handcuffs had also been removed so that he could eat a hamburger from a local McDonalds franchise. President Musharraf was informed of the escape and ordered Rauf's arrest. The question is whether Rauf is the only one who is happy that he escaped.
Rauf was about to be extradited to England in exchange for eight Pakistani criminals. His lawyer Hashamat Habib immediately called it a 'mysterious disappearance': 'It comes at a time when the British government is trying to extradite him. And it all looks very suspicious to me.' Khalid Khawaja, a former Pakistani intelligence agent who at one time shared a cell with Rauf, described him as a simple man who did not have the wherewithal to plot an escape. He said he believed that Rauf might have been 'taken away by the ISI' and feared that his friend might be shot dead while 'on the run'. Rauf's lawyer Habib: 'In my estimate it's an organised disappearance. They don't want to hand him over. [...] He was fixed up and the government is now afraid that he would become an embarrassment if sent to the UK because they hyped up his involvement. [...]'. What ever may be, Rauf's escape is a benefit not only to him; what if it had been proven in court that the plan to explode ten or more airplanes with bombs manufactured on the spot was impossible, and all of the anxiety and security measures that followed were actually unnecessary?
Problems with the War on Terror
Even though it is for modern man easier to fall victim to a peanut or to lightning than to a terrorist, the notion of terror is still a reality of daily life. Terrorism is at the top of the agenda. The interests are huge. Large sums of money have been invested, whole careers are at stake and ad agencies - the same people who market everyday products such as deserts and insurance - make a lot of money off of expensive anti-terrorism campaigns, such as The Netherlands against terrorism. But do the facts upon which governments base the distribution of all that money for anti-terrorism really add up?
Despite all these investments, it's not going well with the War on Terror. In the course of just one week we learned that the prime suspect from the group of Liquid Bombers escaped, that the case against the 'Miami Seven' - who wanted to blow up the Sears Tower in Chicago - ended in a hung jury, that any number of videotapes containing coercive interrogations by the CIA appear to have been erased, and that the case against the failed German-train terrorists is about to begin. These terrorists made bombs with faulty detonators in response to the misunderstood Danish cartoon affair. This plot from Germany is reminiscent of what happened in July of last year. London and Glasgow have 'escaped a bloodbath', wrote the Dutch NRC Handelsblad in its editorial. 'A new tragedy has failed to materialize', reported the newspaper with relief. In the Dutch national daily news show, reporter Tim Overdiek presented the events as being near-catastrophes and a serious terror offensive, even though the CIA and Scotland Yard had explained one day earlier that there was really nothing to worry about, even if the explosives had detonated.
The first signs that there was something going wrong with the War on Terror were the revelations over the torture practices carried out by America around the world. People were plucked right off the street in Western European countries and to be tortured in far-flung corners of the globe. It then turned out that many of the prisoners in Guantanamo Bay had been taxi drivers and greengrocers who found themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time and had been sold to the Americans for tens of thousands of dollars. One of the cases that attracted a lot of attention was the case against the American 'Dirty Bomber' Jose Padilla. After three and a half years the verdict has been postponed until January of 2008, but the punishment has already been meted out: Padilla has been subject to so much abuse that he will never be the same again.
Alongside the little fish there have also been a number of big fish that have been swept up in the net that has been cast. It supplied some familiar names such as Al Zarqawi (Al Qaida in Iraq) and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (mastermind of 9/11). Besides these names, there is still a wish list that contains the big prize: Osama bin Laden. There's only one problem. The stories we know about the attacks and the terrorists often don't match up with the facts.
The Phantom Terrorists of the War on Terror
Part 1: Liquid Bombers
Part 2: Miami Seven
Part 3: Al Zarqawi
Part 4: Osama bin Laden
Part 5: JFK Pipeline Plot
Part 6: Khalid Sheikh Mohammed
Part 7: Fort Dix Six
This series will not be published on DeepJournal beyond part 1. The series is available for newspaper, magazine or online publication. For more information contact Daan de Wit.
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