November 28, 2015
[isis] 7 Things I Learned Reading Every Issue Of ISIS’s Magazine
… ‘Dabiq is an area in Northern Syria where, according to prophecy, Allah will do the whole “pillar of salt” thing on the armies of the West. For that to happen, we need to actually put our armies in Dabiq first. One thing reading 11 issues of Dabiq makes very clear is that ISIS considers a future U.S.-led invasion to be inevitable. They view the regional powers around them as destined to fall and, when that happens, in rides Uncle Sam and out pops the apocalypse.’
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October 12, 2015
[terrorism] Did Ken Dornstein Solve the Lockerbie Bombing?
… The engrossing story of one man’s attempt to resolve who murdered his brother on Pan Am Flight 103
over Lockerbie …
Dornstein ushered me up to the third floor, where two cramped rooms were devoted to Lockerbie. In one room, shelves were lined with books about espionage, aviation, terrorism, and the Middle East. Jumbo binders housed decades of research. In the other room, Dornstein had papered the walls with mug shots of Libyan suspects. Between the two rooms was a large map of Lockerbie, with hundreds of colored pushpins indicating where the bodies had fallen. He showed me a cluster where first-class passengers landed, and another where most economy passengers were found. Like the coroner in a police procedural, Dornstein derives such clinical satisfaction from his work that he can narrate the grisliest findings with cheerful detachment. Motioning at a scattering of pushpins some distance from the rest, he said, “They were the youngest, smallest children. If you look at the physics of it, they were carried by the wind.”
July 7, 2015
Evening Standard Billboard Flashback: The Olympic 2012 Bid Win and 7/7 as Breaking News
Over ten years ago, in 2004, I started taking photographs of Evening Standard headline billboards as I left work or at lunchtime. If the headlines were interesting I would post them to Flickr. I carried on taking the pictures regularly till late in 2010.
Early in July 2005 two big breaking news events happened to London on consecutive days. Firstly, on July 6th the UK won its bid to host the 2012 Olympics in London. You can see the news story develop during that day in the sequence of photos below…
The next day, on July 7th a gang of terrorists detonated three suicide bombs on London Underground trains and later a further bomb on a bus. 52 people were killed and 700 were injured. It was the UK’s first suicide bombing.
I didn’t manage to get into Central London that day because the travel system shut down but the next day I snapped a photo of an empty billboard – no papers or posters had been delivered in Shepherd’s Bush where I worked. Underneath the posters the boards themselves said: “London’s Paper”. It seemed appropriate somehow.
Unsurprisingly, during the next few weeks the Evening Standard’s billboards focussed on the bombings, the victims, the terrorists themselves and the causes of terrorism.
By August, things had calmed down in London and the headlines had to returned to normal. Although, the Evening Standard logo had gained a “London Stands United” tag line. (We need reminding?)
What I didn’t realise at the time was that I was recording the last years of the posters. In 2010, the Evening Standard went free and the development of smart-phones and social media killed the posters as a breaking news source. The boards these days (if you see them at all) seem to lack a certain something. You can find the whole set of billboard photos here on Flickr
if you’re interested in more.
February 18, 2015
[war] What ISIS Really Wants
… great long read on the ideology of ISIS …
Our ignorance of the Islamic State is in some ways understandable: It is a hermit kingdom; few have gone there and returned. Baghdadi has spoken on camera only once. But his address, and the Islamic State’s countless other propaganda videos and encyclicals, are online, and the caliphate’s supporters have toiled mightily to make their project knowable. We can gather that their state rejects peace as a matter of principle; that it hungers for genocide; that its religious views make it constitutionally incapable of certain types of change, even if that change might ensure its survival; and that it considers itself a harbinger of—and headline player in—the imminent end of the world.
The Islamic State, also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), follows a distinctive variety of Islam whose beliefs about the path to the Day of Judgment matter to its strategy, and can help the West know its enemy and predict its behavior. Its rise to power is less like the triumph of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt (a group whose leaders the Islamic State considers apostates) than like the realization of a dystopian alternate reality in which David Koresh or Jim Jones survived to wield absolute power over not just a few hundred people, but some 8 million.
January 16, 2015
[charlie_hebdo] When Art Is Dangerous (or Not)
… Tim Kreider On Charlie Hebdo …
Much as I admire Steve Bell’s caricatures of George W. Bush as a dung-flinging chimpanzee, it’s hard to imagine them landing the former president in The Hague. Most daily editorial cartoonists in the United States produce work about as incisive as a prime-time sitcom, and the rest are consigned to niche markets where they preach to their demographic choirs. I have to wonder whether any of my colleagues felt the same queasy mix of emotions I did on hearing about the assassinations in Paris: beneath the outrage, sorrow and solidarity, a small, irrational twinge of guilt that we’re not doing anything worth shooting us over.
Kurt Vonnegut Jr. likened the cumulative firepower of all the art and literature directed against the Vietnam War to “the explosive force of a very large banana-cream pie — a pie two meters in diameter, 20 centimeters thick, and dropped from a height of 10 meters or more.” A lot of artists in America tend to be self-deprecating futilitarians, because we’ve grown up in a culture in which art doesn’t matter except, occasionally, as a high-end investment. When art has been controversial here it’s most often been because it’s deemed obscene. (Sex is our tawdry Muhammad, the thing that cannot be depicted.) But it’s hard to think of a time in our recent history when art gave any cause for alarm to anyone in power.
January 7, 2015
[crime] Steve Bell on the Charlie Hebdo Magazine Attack
… ‘Why are the fuckers still laughing at us?’
March 14, 2012
[terrorism] The Dubai Job
… a fascinating look at a semi-botched assassination of a high-ranking Hamas leader by Mossad…
‘The rest of the investigation that Tamim conducted, however, was meticulous and efficient in a way that no one, least of all the Mossad, had expected. A source close to the investigation said that the moment Tamim concluded that Al-Mabhouh had not died of natural causes, he ordered his people to search Dubai’s extensive databases and identify everyone who had arrived in the emirate shortly before the killing and left soon after. This list was then cross-referenced against the names of visitors who had been in Dubai back in February, March, June, and November of 2009, all the times of Al-Mabhouh’s previous visits. The short list that emerged was then checked against hotel registers, and footage from hotel security cameras at the times these individuals checked in made it possible to put a face to each name. Tamim then compared these visual identifications to the footage from the Al Bustan Hotel at the time of Al-Mabhouh’s death, which gave him the names of the assassins. And searching databases of financial transactions gave him the identities of the rest of the team, all of which Dubai authorities posted online for the world to see.’
May 5, 2011
[ObL] For 10 Years, Osama bin Laden Filled A Gap Left By The Soviet Union. Who Will Be The Baddie Now?
… Adam Curtis On The Death Of ObL … ‘With Bin Laden’s death maybe the spell is broken. It does feel that we are at the end of a way of looking at the world that makes no real sense any longer. But the big question is where will the next story come from? And who will be the next baddie?’
[via Feeling Listless
May 2, 2011
[obl] Osama bin Laden: It Took Years To Find Him But Just Minutes To Kill Him
… ‘The trail that led the CIA to Osama bin Laden began with his most trusted courier. It had taken the CIA years to discover first his name and then the home where he was hiding the al-Qaida leader. But it took only 40 minutes on Sunday for US special forces to kill both the courier and Bin Laden.’
July 2, 2009
[conspiracy] Unmasking the Mysterious 7/7 Conspiracy Theorist
… BBC News on a supposedly pursuasive conspiracy theory about London’s 7/7 bombings … ‘In the absence of a public inquiry into the 7 July bombings, conspiracy theories have filled the vacuum. One of the more inflammatory involves a man hiding behind an Arabic-sounding pseudonym taken from a sci-fi film starring Sting. […] The 56-minute homemade documentary opens with a view from space and the words: “A message from Muad Dib”.’
November 14, 2005
[blogs] Rachel from North London
… ‘This blog was started to provide a place to continue my online diary that I started after surviving the 7/7/2005 London bombings, when I was travelling in the first carriage of the Picadilly line tube from Kings Cross to Russell Square. The bomb went off in my carriage, 7 feet behind me in carriage 1. 26 people died in that blast and dozens were maimed and wounded.’
November 10, 2005
[comics] Alan Moore on Terrorism, America and Britain
: ‘…You have to remember that over here there were teenagers being taken out of cellar bars in separate carrier bags all through the ’70s and ’80s because of the war in Northern Ireland. In that case, the IRA were largely being supported by donations from America. That was why I was a bit worried when George Bush said he was going to attack people who supported terrorism, I thought, oh my god, Chicago is going to be declared a rogue state and they’ll hunt down Teddy Kennedy.’
August 14, 2004
[al.qaeda] Inside Al-Qaeda’s Hard Drive
— a look at the files from a computer looted from Al Qaeda after the fall of the Taliban in Afghanistan … ‘Renovating our computer doesn’t mean buying a new one but making sure that adjustments are made to suit Abdullah’s [bin Laden’s] work. There were many technical problems with the computer.’
November 14, 2002
[tech] How al Qaeda put Internet to use
— article looking at al Qaeda’s use of computers and the internet … [via Guardian Weblog
‘Al Qaeda operatives struggled with some of the same tech headaches as ordinary people: servers that crashed, outdated software and files that wouldn’t open. Their Web venture followed a classic dot-com trajectory. It began with excitement, faced a cash crunch, had trouble with accountants and ultimately fizzled.’
‘While fiercely hostile to any religious or social norms tinged by modernity, Islamists “have no problems with technology,” says Omar Bakri, a radical cleric from Syria who lives in Britain. “Other people use the Web for stupid reasons, to waste time. We use it for serious things.” (U.S. officials say Islamists weren’t always so earnest: Many computers the CIA recovered from suspected al Qaeda operatives in Afghanistan and elsewhere contained pornographic material.)’
October 16, 2002
[terrorism] Don’t blame The West
— Clive James on the events in Bali and the reaction in Australia … Australia’s pundits on 9-11: ‘Imperialist America was not only treating the helpless Middle East as its personal property, it had racist Australia for its lackey. No wonder al-Qaida was angry. On Christmas Eve, in the Melbourne Age, another pundit, Michael Leunig, called for a national prayer for Osama bin Laden on Christmas Day. “It’s a family day,” Leunig explained, “and Osama’s our relative.” It is not recorded whether the aforesaid Osama, sitting cross-legged beside his Christmas tree somewhere under Afghanistan, offered up a prayer for Michael. He might have done: after all, they were on first-name terms.’
[Related: We should try to love bin Laden, for Christ’s sake
by Michael Leunig]
September 30, 2002
[stars] Osama Bin Laden’s Star Bio Horoscope
… ‘Few things bring you greater happiness than a successful, close, personal relationship. You have an innate understanding of the interconnectedness and interdependence of all forms of life. Empathy, compassion and emotional rapport can be your strongest virtues. However, not many people are ready to merge the way you are. Learn to recognize and respect other peoples’ boundaries.’
[kinda, sorta via Dave Gorman
September 27, 2002
— intriguing article about Flight 93
contrasting the events on board with American Defense Policy … ‘It may be worth taking note of the fact that the hijackers themselves correctly foresaw that the threat to their mission would come from the passengers and not from a military source external to the plane. The terrorists left behind them multiple copies of a manual, five pages in Arabic. The manual does not tell the terrorists what to do if an F-15 or F-16 approaches the planes they have seized. It instead gives elaborate instruction on what to do if passengers offer resistance. We should not ordinarily let ourselves be schooled by terrorists. But terrorists who seek to carry out a mission successfully have to know what the greatest threat to their mission will be.’
[via Red Rock Eater Digest
September 11, 2002
 A View From The Patriotic Left
— Christopher Hitchens looks back on 911 … [via Junius
‘It is important to realize at the outset that a victory for those forces, of which bin Ladenism is only the most extreme, is in two senses of the word impossible. Impossible, obviously, from a moral point of view and from the viewpoint of survival. It has taken us a long time to evolve a society that, however imperfectly, respects political pluralism and religious diversity and the emancipation of the sexual life. A society that attempts to employ the objective standards of scientific inquiry and that has brought us the Hubble telescope and the unraveling of the chain of DNA. Clearly, there can be no compromise between this and the ravings of those who study dreams and are deluded by wild prophecies and who regard women as chattel and unbelievers as sacrificial animals. For them, the achievements of science are nothing, while the theft of weapons of mass destruction counts as a holy task. Their degradation is bottomless’
August 18, 2002
[war] The Search for Osama bin Laden
… ‘CIA officials have highly reliable reports that al-Qaeda’s leader managed to cross into northwest Pakistan and is hiding in or near the city of Peshawar, where he commands the loyalty of local tribes and is protected by thousands of armed men. Bin Laden has managed to elude capture by one of the largest concentrations of special-operations forces, airpower and satellite surveillance ever mustered. Blunders at the U.S. command level, lack of coordination between coalition partners, poor intelligence and the unreliability or outright treachery of local allies have contributed to the failure, which now threatens to unleash civil war in Pakistan as al-Qaeda gears up for another attack on the United States.’
[via Robot Wisdom
August 7, 2002
[terrorism] How to make a Dirty Bomb
— Jon Ronson attempts to make a Nuclear Weapon … ‘The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists writes: “Producing either uranium-235 or plutonium-239 in the quantities needed to make nuclear weapons is extraordinarily difficult and expensive. [Nuclear-bomb makers] must be prepared to spend hundreds of millions of dollars, or even billions.” I consequently downgrade my ambition to building a dirty bomb – a conventional bomb mixed with radioactive material – instead. I am a novice in this matter. Not only is my knowledge of the necessary physics sketchy at best (I got 9% in my mock physics O-level) but my resources are extremely limited. The Guardian has told me not to go crazy with the expenses. I don’t even have a garage or a basement; those things are pricey in north London.’
August 6, 2002
[war] One Hell of a Big Bang
— Studs Terkel interviews Paul Tibbets the man who piloted the Enola Gay
‘ST: One last thing, when you hear people say, “Let’s nuke ’em,” “Let’s nuke these people,” [al-Qaeda] what do you think?
PT: Oh, I wouldn’t hesitate if I had the choice. I’d wipe ’em out. You’re gonna kill innocent people at the same time, but we’ve never fought a damn war anywhere in the world where they didn’t kill innocent people. If the newspapers would just cut out the shit: “You’ve killed so many civilians.” That’s their tough luck for being there.’
December 16, 2001
[war] Al-Qaeda loses itself in dream world
— brief look at the “dream world” of a terrorist network. ‘… the dreams of bin Laden’s followers are more rooted in a perverted surrealism than the study of Islamic history or tradition. While the surrealists used dreams to enrich reality, the fundamentalists pursue their dreams to abandon it altogether. For bin Laden and company the reality of the modern world is a chaos where soccer, aircraft, skyscrapers, moonlight deserts and pilots converge. They reject it to build a new ontological structure, this time made of bits of modernity and antiquity, nature and artifice; magical realism and a fascination with gadgetry.’
October 15, 2001
[bioterroism] How to spread terror for the price of a stamp
… what it’s like to be in the middle of an anthrax scare.
‘…I had visited the decaying laboratories in once secret cities and interviewed some of the tens of thousands of Soviet scientists who had worked to perfect mankind’s most vicious, efficient killers. I was now familiar with the stench of such places – the haunting mix of bleach, dust, animal waste – the smell of death. The research had terrified me at first. Not even the terrorism I had covered as a correspondent in the Middle East in the 1980s had so unnerved me. But I had remained, through it all, detached from the reality of my often awful subjects. To do our work, journalists had to be. We were trained to be the cool, professional observers that our business requires and readers demand. Yet now I was no longer covering a story. I was the story.’
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May 5, 2001
— Jon Ronson on Timothy McVeigh and the Oklahoma City Bombing. ‘April 19 is holy day for anti-government activists and conspiracy theorists. On April 19, 1993, Federal agents ended the siege at Waco. David Koresh’s Branch Davidian church went up in flames. On April 19, 1775, 400 British government troops attempted to disarm the citizens of Lexington, Massachusetts. A hundred colonists shot back, the first shots of the American Revolution, the “shots heard around the world”. (When I visit American militias and patriots and neo-Nazis, they often ask me what I, a Brit, thinks of the Lexington uprising. I explain that I’m not au fait with the ins and outs. They are scandalised that our syllabus doesn’t teach this pivotal moment in British history.)’
April 22, 2001
[news] The Observer profiles Timothy McVeigh’s last days
… ‘It has always puzzled investigators why McVeigh would leave such a trail behind him, including using his own name at a motel the night before the blast and using the same card when ordering the fertiliser and fuel. “I have never caught Tim out on a lie,” insists Michel. “Strange as that may sound, he is very proud of what he has done. Talking of it, he has the enthusiasm of a high-school kid describing a science project he has just completed.” Michel quotes McVeigh as telling him: “Because the truth is, I blew up the Murrah building and isn’t it kind of scary that one man could reap this kind of hell?”‘