30 September 2009

Exclusive - 'Our Terrorists' in New Internationalist

The Sept-Oct edition of the popular progressive magazine, The New Internationalist, is a special issue on Political Islam, carrying an exclusive feature article by me called "Our Terrorists", which summarises some of my work on Western military intelligence cooptation of al-Qaeda affiliated terrorist networks after the Cold War.

You can't read the piece online, so I'd encourage getting hold of the hard copy, and perhaps encouraging friends/colleagues to read it too as a way of raising awareness. The NI coverage is definitely a breakthrough into the mainstream for a 'deep political' perspective on the emergence of Islamist extremism and the role of Western covert operations.

The editorial by NI Editor Hadani Ditmars has been put online here, and she gives a glimpse of the substance of my piece with her own brief summary:

"... in certain quarters extremist Islamism is being actively funded and encouraged.

As 30-year-old British author Nafeez Ahmed writes (see page 17) the old Cold War relationships between certain national intelligence agencies and Islamist extremists are still alive and well.
While researching a doctoral thesis on imperialism and the ‘war on terror’, Ahmed found that in most Muslim countries where there is a significant petroleum industry, Western intelligence agencies have formed close relationships with Islamist groups – and in many cases are supplying them with arms and funds.

As strange new Wahhabist militias appear in, for example, Somalia and Chechnya , local Muslim communities with populist Sufi or other indigenous, moderate forms of Islam suddenly find their faith hijacked. Wherever sharia law is used as a tool of authoritarianism, there are often, it seems, hidden political agendas at work.

While some secular nationalist governments in majority-Muslim countries have engaged with Islamist extremists ( like Algeria’s ruling party – see page 18) to further their own agendas and co-opt the power of religion, similar tactics by Western governments and intelligence agencies can be new versions of the old divide-and-conquer imperialism.

Even as the 2003 Anglo-American invasion of Iraq empowered extremist Shi’a death squads via the new Ministry of the Interior, the CIA continued to support Salafist, Sunni militias throughout the region (see page 17). Sectarian strife would seem almost unavoidable under such circumstances..."

25 September 2009

Calibrating Fear for the Long War

The Muslim News has just published my piece on the liquid bomb plot here, which extends some of my recent analysis of the trial and its implications. The piece starts with questions about the liquid bomb plot itself, but moves on to wider geopolitical and intelligence issues relating to Anglo-American involvement in Pakistan and Afghanistan. I post some of it below:

[...]

Perhaps the biggest unanswered questions remain about individuals allegedly linked to the plot whom the police have shown no interest in arresting or prosecuting. Rashid Rauf, a British citizen of Pakistani ethnic origin, who before this plot, was already wanted by police for murdering his uncle, was described as the plot’s al-Qa’ida mastermind, coordinating it from Pakistan.

[...]

But despite Rauf’s pivotal role in the case, for over a year the British Government refused to seek his extradition to the UK to stand trial for his alleged role as the plot’s ‘mastermind’. Official British disinterest in prosecuting the alleged al-Qa’ida ‘mastermind’ of the liquid bomb plot was compounded by Rauf’s inexplicable escape from Pakistani maximum security detention, and then by his reported extra-judicial assassination by a US drone late last year.

British authorities also displayed no interest in arresting or prosecuting another individual who was allegedly central to the plot, who is under 24-hour surveillance in the UK, has been named by the US Treasury, UN Security Council and UK Treasury, as a terror recruiter and fundraiser with links to al-Qa’ida and the Taliban, who has sent men to Pakistan for terror training. Although intelligence sources say that surveillance of him led them to the airline plotters, he remains at large.

British authorities are now considering a third re-trial to try to convict several other defendants in the liquid bomb plot trial about whom the jury could not agree to a verdict of guilt. The desire to use the judicial system to vindicate the Government’s claim to having successfully foiled “Britain’s 9/11” is unfortunately not matched by an equal willingness to investigate the role of dubious US and British intelligence policies, which appear to have incubated terrorist groups in Pakistan. As noted by Craig Murray, former British Ambassador to Uzbekistan, “the key question... is who put these useless idiots up to it? How far does surveillance and penetration blend into instigation by agents provocateurs?”

Last year, this newspaper noted that the plotters had reportedly travelled to Pakistan under cover of doing humanitarian work, where they underwent terrorist training in camps in the Balochistan province run by terrorist organisation Jundullah. Jundullah, an al-Qa’ida linked group formerly headed by alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, has reportedly “been secretly trained by American officials” due to their carrying out cross-border raids against Iran. A central player in these policies is the Pakistan’s intelligence services (ISI), which Anglo-American authorities insist not only on protecting, but on supporting. Pakistani sources said that while in Pakistan, the plotters had been “exploited by agents provocateurs” amongst ISI, who wanted to “guide them to carry out attacks.”

The troublesome role of the ISI is highlighted by recent revelations that the agency has continued to provide military and financial support to al-Qa’ida and Taliban forces in northern Pakistan and Afghanistan. Current Pakistani Army chief, Gen Pervez Kiani, served as head of the ISI from 2004 to 2007, during which according to a NATO report, the ISI administered two training camps for the Taliban in Balochistan.

For a single offensive in Kandahar in September 2006, the ISI had provided Taliban forces with 2,000 rocket-propelled grenades and 400,000 rounds of ammunition. Evidence of the ISI’s covert assistance to the Afghan insurgency under Kiani’s leadership has been circulated to the highest echelons of the US Government and the White House.

Despite this, reports US national security expert Dr Gareth Porter, “Senior officials of the Barack Obama administration persuaded the US Congress to extend military assistance to Pakistan for five years without any assurance that the Pakistani assistance to the Taliban had ended.”

Although officials claim that the military operations in northern Pakistan and Afghanistan are about fighting terrorists, a more likely motive is the Trans-Afghan pipeline planned to run from across southern Afghanistan, across Pakistan to Caspian reserves - bypassing US-British rivals like Iran, Russia and China. Current NATO operations are focused on clearing the area where the pipeline will run.

Three months before 9/11, US officials warned the Taliban that they would face military action if they failed to make peace with the Northern Alliance in a federal government that would provide stability to allow the pipeline project to go through. This still raises questions about continued Anglo-American support for the ISI despite its ongoing support for the insurgency.

According to a confidential report to the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs by Professor Ola Tunander of the International Peace Research Institute in Oslo (PRIO), the US strategy is to “support both sides in the conflict” so as to “calibrate the level of violence” in Afghanistan to prolong the war.

This strategy is instrumental to a wider geopolitical objective of protecting a US-dominated unipolar order against escalating trends toward economic multipolarity and the rising power of major rivals. “The U.S.A.’s superior military strength and intelligence hegemony could only be translated into power and real global strength if there were ongoing conflicts – wars and terrorist attacks – that threatened the multipolar power structure of the economic-political world order,” continues the Norwegian report.

“Accordingly, from a European or Chinese or Japanese point of view, every US war, wherever it is fought, is not just directed against a local insurgent or an anti-American ruler, it is directed against the economic-political multipolar power structure that would give Europe, China and Japan a significant position in the world.” By fanning the flames on both sides in Afghanistan, US forces are able to “increase and decrease the military temperature and calibrate the level of violence” with a view to permanently “mobilize other governments in support of US global policy.”

In this sense, the ‘War on Terror’ functions as an ideological narrative that underpins the capacity of the British and American states to sustain geopolitical dominance over an increasingly fragile and changing international system. While the threat of al-Qa’ida terrorism should not be underestimated, solutions focusing on the expansion of military and police powers are counterproductive, serving only to buttress these dubious geopolitical agendas.

If the liquid bomb plot trial shows anything, it is that our out-of-control state intelligence policies continue to foster the enemy we are supposed to be fighting – both in supporting networks and agencies that back terrorist groups, and in continuing to generate the overwhelming civilian casualties that extremists exploit to recruit to their unholy cause.

9 September 2009

Liquid Bomb Plot Conviction

In response to this Evening Standard leader yesterday, letters editor Josh Neicho asked me to respond. The following letter was printed:

---
Efforts to showcase the airline bomb plot trial as "Britain's 9/11" being foiled are less than convincing. For the plot to work, hydrogen peroxide would need to be present in at least 30 per cent concentration, a state in which it is highly unstable; and it is unclear how the plotters would have supplied the necessary input of oxygen at high concentration.

On the other hand, the plotters’ murky international connections have been underplayed. Under cover of doing humanitarian work the plotters travelled to camps in Pakistan run by terrorist organisation Jundullah. Jundullah has reportedly “been secretly trained by American officials" due to their carrying out cross-border raids against Iran.

According to Pakistani sources, the plotters had also been members of extremist group al-Muhajiroun, which re-launched in Britain this June. In Lebanon, group founder Omar Bakri - who still radicalizes British followers over the internet - has allied himself with Saudi financed, al-Qaeda linked groups to which the US has turned a blind eye.

British police worked well to foil a scheme that was operationally flawed, but greatly facilitated by US intelligence strategies. Ministers must now take concerted action against al-Muhajiroun activists with a track record of incitement and exert greater scrutiny over our Atlantic ally's policies.

Dr Nafeez Mosaddeq Ahmed, author, The London Bombings: An Independent Inquiry.
---

Followers of this blog will note that I've been writing critically about the government's narrative around the liquid bomb plot consistently since August 2006. Last year I wrote more detailed piece on the liquid bomb plot after the farcical output emerging from the first trial, for the Muslim News (26th September 2008). Although the outcome of the re-trial in this September's convictions indicates that the convictees did indeed bear intent to carry out attacks, disturbing questions about the networks in which they operated and the role of intelligence services remain unanswered. I think the issues raised in this piece remain as pertinent as ever, and put the government's (and media's) self-congratulatory triumphalism in sharp relief. So I repost it in full here:

---
Arming the enemy? Fact and fiction in the liquid bomb plot

By Nafeez Mosaddeq Ahmed

In the long awaited verdict of the liquid bomb plot trial, three men, Abdullah Ahmed Ali, Assad Sarwar and Tanvir Hussain, were convicted on September 8 of conspiring to commit mass murder. Yet after a £10 million investigation and a trial lasting more than two years, the jury could not agree on the Crown’s main allegation - that the eight Britons on trial had planned to blow up at least seven airliners across the Atlantic in 2006, using chemical explosives concealed in drink bottles, to be smuggled on board from Heathrow airport.

The jury also failed to reach a verdict on four other defendants, who had earlier admitted conspiracy to cause a public nuisance by making al-Qa’ida style suicide videos. Another defendant, Mohammed Gulzar, alleged by the Crown to have flown into Britain from Pakistan to oversee the plot, was acquitted of all charges. While ample evidence of the criminal intent of the convicted plotters seems to have emerged in the trial, less certain was their technical ability to actually carry out the grandiose scheme.

In the original story put out by security officials, liquid explosives - TATP (Triacetone Triperoxide) - were to be made on board the planes by mixing sports drinks with a peroxide-based household gel and then detonated using an MP3 player or mobile phone. Former British Army explosives expert Lt Col. Nigel Wylde dismissed that story as an impossible “fiction” that would take up to 36 hours to complete, emitting noxious fumes in the onboard lavatory that would trigger alarms in the aircraft air change system, and cause the plot to be quickly neutralised.

Given the absurdity of this scheme, the Crown later changed tact, opting for an alternative scenario: The alleged plotters planned to bring on board drink bottles containing a pre-prepared explosive - hydrogen peroxide mixed with Tang. The explosives would be connected to detonators made from hollowed-out AA battery cases filled with HMTD (hexamethylene triperoxide diamine), that could be set off using the flash circuits of a camera.

Yet the prosecution’s case remained problematic. Hydrogen peroxide would need to be present in purified form - at least 30 per cent concentration - which is a highly unstable state prone to accidental detonation even in a sealed bottle. According to James Thurman, a former FBI explosives forensic expert, HMTD is also “exceptionally sensitive” to “impact, friction and electrostatic discharge”, and is thus considered an “exceptionally hazardous explosive” that is extraordinarily difficult to handle. Even if the plotters managed to get passed these hazards, they wouldn’t make it pass the final clincher: for hydrogen peroxide to function as an explosive, it requires a large input of oxygen in high concentration, either as liquid oxygen or as part of the explosive itself. Neither was feasible on board a plane. Hence, a large explosion would be impossible unless conducted as a highly controlled experiment. Government scientists attempting to demonstrate the viability of the plot undertook 30 attempts in stringent laboratory conditions before pulling off a sufficiently large explosion to show the jury. They also consistently used a mechanical arm to attach the detonators to the explosive material to avoid premature detonation, because its components were too volatile. In any case, the prosecution conceded that the men had failed to construct a viable bomb.

British police and security officials, deeply disappointed at the verdict, blamed the US Government for the weakness of the case. US officials, they said, pressured Pakistani authorities to pre-emptively arrest Rashid Rauf, a Briton operating in Pakistan and the alleged al-Qa’ida ringleader of the liquid bomb plot terror cell. The arrest forced British police to crackdown on the members of the cell far earlier than they would have liked to. Indeed, in 2006 long before the trial, British security officials were already complaining that an associated team of suspected terrorists “escaped capture because of interference by the United States.” This second group, they told the Independent (November 25, 2006), is “still at large.”

Questions arose when it emerged that Rauf, the alleged al-Qa’ida go-between for the group, had been tortured in the custody of Pakistan Inter Services Intelligence (ISI), which described him as the main planner of the attacks. Pakistani intelligence sources had reportedly penetrated the liquid bomb plot cell since late 2005, on behalf of MI6 and the CIA. According to Syed Saleem Shahzad, Pakistan bureau chief of Asia Times (August 15, 2006), Pakistani intelligence and ‘jihadist’ sources told him that the men “were exploited by agents provocateurs” in the ISI who wanted to “guide them to carry out any attack on US interests.”

The pre-emptive arrest of Rauf, however, prevented British investigators from uncovering the role of the Pakistani ISI and the wider network under its tutelage. US interference may have been designed to protect ongoing illegal relationships with intelligence assets of dubious moral stature.

Intelligence sources say that at least four of the alleged liquid bomb plotters had gone to Pakistan after the earthquake in October 2005 under the cover of humanitarian relief work. The men were reportedly then taken to camps run by Jundullah (Army of Allah), a terrorist organisation loosely linked to al-Qa’ida in the Waziristan area along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, where they were trained in the fabrication and use of explosives.

Yet, according to ABC News (April 3, 2007), citing US and Pakistani intelligence sources, Jundullah “has been secretly encouraged and advised by American officials since 2005,” to stage terrorist attacks inside Iran. To avoid Congressional oversight, the Pentagon has funnelled assistance to Jundullah through Afghan military and Pakistani intelligence services. The dual US-ISI sponsorship of Jundullah was, say Pakistani sources, agreed between Vice-President Dick Cheney and former President Pervez Musharraf. As of February 2008, American national security journalist Andrew Cockburn reported that an official Presidential Finding authorized a further $300 million to finance covert operations against Iran from Lebanon to Afghanistan - among the beneficiaries is Jundullah.

Across the Middle East, to counter regional Iranian influence the Bush administration has covertly sponsored al-Qa’ida affiliated terrorist networks since at least 2005, largely through Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states, according to Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter Seymour Hersh. Covert US sponsorship of terrorist groups linked to the liquid bomb plot, as well as other terror plots including 9/11, has no doubt undermined national security. The dubious role of American and Pakistani intelligence in sponsoring the same extremist groups we are supposed to be fighting, although ignored in the trial, raises awkward geopolitical questions about Western security and foreign policy in the “War on Terror.”

Update

I'm back!!!!

April this year I finally obtained my Doctorate.

Although I had hoped to spend more time on this blog thereafter, unfortunately it wasn't to be. I've been thrown into the deep-end on a variety of different projects.

The biggest is my forthcoming book, The Crisis of Civilization: How Climate, Oil, Food, Finance, Terror and Warfare will Change the World, to be published by Pluto Press, either late this year or, more likely, early next year.

I'm also currently working as strategy director for creative education at Arts Versa, where we're developing new educational projects related to inter-faith and cross-cultural dialogue, specifically concerning Islam and British Muslim communities.

And the IPRD website, after a complete makeover last year, and after undergoing serious technical and security difficulties for many months due to being hacked repeatedly, is now secure and operational - and is still in transition... we're currently working on a better more functional and user-friendly site, which we'll be updating very regularly, hopefully by next year.

And lots of other bits and pieces going on...

here's hoping to spend a bit more time on this blog from now on.

Blog Archive