Posts Tagged ‘Terror’

Terrorists: Publish Their Photos or Not?

July 29, 2016


Christopher Lee

29July London

A terrorist slits the throat of a French priest. Newspapers and broadcasters throughout the world publish and show high definition photographs of the murderer and his partner. We know what they look like, their names, ages, something of their history and a nice quote from the knifeman’s mother who says that at heart he was a good boy.

The leading French daily Le Monde has announced (after the Nice terrorism)  that it will not give terrorists publicity and so will not publish their photographs.  The murder of Father Jaques in Normandy confirms that decision according to Le Monde.

The argument at Le Monde is that by publishing photographs the paper is in some way glorifying the terrorism. The terrorist becomes a celebrity.

By taking such a decision Le Monde’s editors have stepped aside from the code of so-called journalistic impartiality. Most societies regard the hounding, capture and even the destruction of terrorism as a role for the military, the intelligence agencies, the policy and the elected politicians.

By banning pictures – in theory starving terrorism of the oxygen of publicity – Le Monde has joined the fight against terrorism or at the very least changed editorial policy in the hope of helping to capture those who killed Father Jaques.

Le Monde’s editor Jerome Fenoglio says “We have to do this for all victims of the criminal organisation known as the ‘Islamic State’.”

The decision of an admired newspaper to publish or not sets it aside from other papers in democratic society. The Turkish government has this past week ordered the shut down three news agencies, 16 television channels, 23 radio stations, 45 daily newspapers, 15 magazines and 29 publishing houses. It is not uncommon for a government to restrict the media in a crisis.  It is very uncommon for a newspaper to impose self-censorship.  Moreover, the Le Monde decision is not a one-off.  There could be more to come because the editorial board recognise IS and other groups are not passing ideologies.

As Fenoglio puts it, “After the Nice Attack, we are publishing no more images of terrorists, perpetrator of killings and massacres, to avoid potential posthumous glorification. Other debates about our practices [as a newspaper] are ongoing.”

What about other news outlets?  Le Monde has not been followed. Le Figaro says it shall wait and see. British papers will publish everything it can other than the act of killing.  Equally, the head of the Quilliam Foundation (a think tank of radicalisation analysts) says it has been a great decision.It reduces the propaganda value of the terrorist.

So what are the practical ambitions and consequences?

It is a purpose of IS to gain publicity from an act of violence. Publicity tells a global audience that IS can do something and is willing to do something and that no one is safe from such acts.  This induces a varying stage of terror – a large part of any terrorist ambition.

Secondly, by running pictures, names and backgrounds of the perpetrators the news outlet may spread among readers further disgust about what had happened but identity of the terrorist suggests a cause rather than an anonymous event of violence.

Withdrawing names etc reduces any possibility of a neutral public understanding of why as opposed to what has happened. In a bizarre sense, no picture no name removes an imagined chance of hero worship.

Yet all this is an argument of times past.

Le Monde’s decision is taken in an internet age where all is revealed and where there are few rules of what is right and wrong to publish.  The importance of the decision of Fenoglio and his editorial board is that a great newspaper is attempting to take part in what is a state venture – the prevention and eventually the destruction of terrorism.  It is not enough to rant in a newspaper editorial. Le Monde in its honourable way is being counted. Very few in these times will have the moral debate with themselves.


Terror is Just a Train Ride Away

March 22, 2016


22 March 2016


Ever since the attacks in Paris last year, most cities within a train ride have been anticipating another atrocity.

The Belgians caught Salah Abdeslam last Friday. He was part of the Paris attacks. But the second man they wanted, everyone wanted, Najim Laachraoui, the bomb maker slipped through the net. So did the getaway driver in Paris, Mohamed Abrini. The two on the run meant others were free covering them. That meant another attack was “on the clock” – likely.

The security alert in London and other cities is Severe – the counter-terrorism agencies have covered all known bets. But the Belgian authorities have warned at the highest levels that something was about to happen.

This morning it was Zaventem airport. An hour later Maelbeek metro station was hit. Brussels Midi train station was closed. Eurostar from London was terminating at Lille in Northern France. What is special about Lille? Modern terror is just a train ride away.

Sickenly, terror means more than corpses and wounded.

Terrorism also means the bringing to a standstill or diversion of systems we take for granted. So this morning (22 March) flights were cancelled or diverted. Railroads halted. People did not get where they expected to be.

But for most who were not in the airport and not on the metro there are two concerns: am I all right and when can I get to wherever I was heading?

Therefore the greater unlikelihood is the relationship between the Western urbanite and the poor wretches trapped in the origins of terrorism, Iraq, Syria and wherever. A Syrian child observes then plays in the rubble of that morning and a late for conference all expenses paid executive checks the board for the next flight to wherever she or he was supposed to be that afternoon.

We have now a world between the longitudes of the Tigris and Euphrates and the Iberian Peninsular that is fighting for its identity. That is what terrorism is.

Every police and security agency this day in Western Europe (hardly ever Eastern Europe) is running double checks on the terror state of its capital. Terrorists like capitals. They are less obvious and the target is more terror-efficient. Anyone, especially the nervous who avoids the carriage with the guy with a Muslim look and a backpack, who rides any subway knows this.

So if we know all this and more, what now? Now is the test of a counter-terror adage. When a terrorist team strikes they are for 48 hours on the run. When they run they are, if the intelligence report system is in place, vulnerable to capture. Najim Laachraoui and Mohamed Abrini prove some escape the net, especially the Belgian net. The Belgians are particularly bad at counter-terrorism. But the rule is reasonable sound. The terrorist team is vulnerable. But if one goes down another will form. This morning’s terror attack was successful.
Many dead. Many wounded. Many scattered. The best we can think is that more attacks have been prevented than have got through. The worst we can think is that Najim Laachraoui and Mohamed Abrini are still out there. The network that supports them is still out there. For all our habit of “carrying on” we should remind ourselves that the next act of terrorism is rarely more than a train ride away.


Terrorism: The UK on Standby as ISIS Plans Hits

January 31, 2016


1 February 2016


British Intelligence believes ISIS is planning to hit the UK sometime soon.  ISIS likes that.  It like MI5, MI6, GCHQ, police counter terrorism groups, Europol and the other agencies working overtime. It says to the people that it is a threat.

Simply warning of an attack when a Minister says the Security State is, say, Severe is part of the deal for ISIS.  Terrorism is about terrorising. A bit of video apparently showing the Paris attack organiser Abdelhamid Abaaod saying “we are already in your lands.  We will slaughter you inside your homes” is terrifying enough for many and therefore is terrorism succeeding in some form.

Even more terrorising would have ISIS saying we are coming to get you in your National Gallery where you show the Christian Adoration of the Magi. Or how about we’re coming to get you in your City of Birmingham Concert Hall?  Or try this: we are going to slaughter you and your Queen on her 90th birthday in April.

All of this is credible because in a generation brought up on IRA atrocities anything terrorism promises often comes to pass in some form. The dark side of that is that a nation like the British recover inside the week.

After 9/11 it was not uncommon for a few Muslim-looking guys, smartly dressed, to pretend they had lost their wallet on a train, then spot it and then tell their clearly English carriage companion that as a thank-you for helping to find the wallet they would break an oath and warn them to stay away from the tube on the coming first anniversary of 9/11. Some probably fell for it.

But what about a Paris-type hit.  Do the British believe it?  Sure they do. The newspapers tell readers this is so.  The reader believes it because there is evidence world wide that it happens. No one suggests that the story  is nothing more than a reporter with “sources who cannot be named” trying to get a page one story under his or her by-line.

The behaviour of the cynical prankster or the reporter maybe using a half truth that Intelligence people really are working overtime to identify an ISIS cell in Birmingham, London or wherever.

The chilling acceptance is that people in major cities and towns now accept that within their societies men and women are planning their worst atrocities.  There is something approaching resignation. There is no great social media discussion. People do not change their work patterns and journeys. Newspaper warnings rarely make Page I. Why should they? After all Paris was a high hit possibility but it did not make the splash until it happened.

Last week with a little knowledge about these matters I did a walk round ten London targets.

I checked CCTV street, approaches and buildings, access in and quick exits, doors front back and side, mobile and radio signal back spots, stairways, getting immediately to crowds in buildings who would by panic trap themselves on which floors, street traffic flows and vehicle congestion that would hold up response teams, street area panic streams – which way, overflow and dead ends.  I added for good measure, symbolism of the building and contents.

Simple really.



Terror? Slaughter? This is IS on the March

November 14, 2015


14 November, 2015


The pundit on France24 news show said ISIL has brought its war to Europe.  With the station’s headline saying 130 dead and others critical that sounds about right.

The blood is still on the pavement outside the Bataclan theatre and the bit of poster says the band was The Eagles of Death Metal. It does not get much worse. Or maybe it does.

If ISIL is out of area as the security people here are calling it then the next targets are obvious: Christmas late openings in department stores, carol services, Santa grottos, car ferries and maybe a motor way service station or two.

The ISIL operation we saw Friday night was properly organised.  The killers knew how to go about their business. The timing and coordination meant rehearsal and professional reconnaissance – helped by Paris’s lack of CCTV.

The hit on cafe society was at the least a diversion that confused security communications and spread response resources.

The use of a car at the vital diversion point gave a suggestion of extra resources properly used.

The manner of the gunmen, including the unhurried reloading of weapons was a reminder that until the police showed up, they were going through a routine of wasting unarmed victims and that they were committed to a one way mission. And they were highly motivated and trained to succeed in that.

So if there is more to come what is there to be done? There is a 3-part answer.

The French say the eight terrorists are dead. But what about the others? This was no small group operation. There is somewhere a back up organisation.

There are in France large radicalised and disaffected Muslim groupings. French security have top Intelligence on them. They have to be scoured and further suspects dug out or at the very disrupted.  But the French like most other security people are over-stretched.

Secondly, the leaders of the Global Coalition fighting ISIL have to examine their own capabilities in going after first the leadership and then the financial, industrial and supply stores that keep the logistics moving. That means blatant military cooperation with countries and organisation that otherwise would be shunned. Iran is an example.Assad is another.

Thirdly, everyone needs to examine their political motives.  There is a lot more that could be done to take on ISIL in a powerful manner.  ISIL’s image is an exaggerated example of its capability. It is not invincible.

As terrible the hit here was on Friday night it was militarily not such a big deal put alongside what else is going on in the Middle East.  ISIL is beatable.

But Global Coalition members have to be willing to commit themselves to the political bravery needed to authorise thus far close encounter operations. You cannot beat ISIL with drones alone.  And then comes an even bigger effort.

If you do beat ISIL, then what? The sentiment that spawned the fanatical group would not be dead, just dormant.

World War III on Terror – But What Is ISIL’s Next Target?

November 8, 2015


9th November 2015


There are people in the UK who want the chance to put a bomb in a British passenger jet flying out of Heathrow. That is the Intelligence briefing to senior ministers including the political head of MI6, Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond. In other words the 31 October Russian Metrojet flight from Sharm el-Sheikh was not the only target for terrorists.

In the BFBS Radio current affairs programme Sitrep last week the UK’s most recent ambassador to Cairo John Watt  told presenter Kate Gerbeau that he was certain that the Russians were the exclusive target when the bomb went off 21 minutes after take off from Sharm. Was he right?

Go through some of the dark on-line pages of jihadists after the hit for example al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsular (AQAP) Inspire and what you will see is predictable. Inspire, just two months ago was given an 88-page handout on assassinations.

A simple message such as telling sleepers as well as activists to go out and kill is not a hidden message.  There are no hidden agendas. The message is clearly given, it is clearly understood and when what we call a tragedy occurs, the sites are alive with celebrations.  This war on terror is that simple.

So it must be that the most important question is what is the next target.

The websites and mobile chatter loops are not telling terrorists go get a Russian plane or an American or a British holiday jet.  They are not explaining that an attack will reduce profits at Sharm el-Sheikh by 70%, or beach resort bookings in Tunisia by 62%. They are not saying that every believer working air-side at Gatwick, Heathrow, JFK, Schiphol, Paris CDG or wherever should be ready to slip in a primed detonator into the hold at loading point.  It is all simpler.

If a terrorist goes for a big picture target the longer term impact is a thing about anniversaries instead of what is intended: striking long term and terror to damage and disrupt and then question governments ability to keep populations safe.

Read the dark pages again and think what may happen if the next attack were to be, say, a happy holiday jet to Majorca and an Isle of Wight Ferry and a Christmas department store and a Cathedral family Christingle service – all on the same day.  In other words anyone is a target. No one gets to fly, ferry, go Christmas shopping, go to Carols round the Crib.  That is not going for anti IS USA, Russia, UK. That is going for the power-bring bystanders. That is terrorism.  That is where we are heading.

A reactively simple operation splits allies and makes populations nervous or in some cases downright frightened. That means, it succeeds in terrorising and people start to ask why great powers are unable to stop ISIL?

Metrojet proved if we needed proof that there has been a strategic step change in the battle against IS and its like. The Global Coalition was established in September 2014 “to Degrade and Defeat ISIL” Some 65 states joined the Coalition. Thus one third of the world, including the nuclear powers, has joined against ISIL. In any one’s language that is World War III. For the moment it is not going so well.