Al-Qaeda is watching
I don't like this:
Danish-Moroccan terrorist suspect Said Mansour was arrested last week after being observed photographing security installations and emergency exits on a DFDS (The United Steamship Company) passenger ferry to Oslo, Danish newspapers report.
I don't like it at all. It may not necessarily mean that an attack on Scandinavian ferries is about to take place. My guess/impression is that local al-Qaeda cells have considerable independence, and are expected to be attentive to good opportunities for an attack, to show initiative. They may plan one or more attacks, then send a request upwards for resources and permission to carry it through. That's what I'd do, if I ran a global terrorist network. (This is where viewers of a certain TV show will scream "No!", and tell me to get more sleep.) That way the top takes advantage of the bottom's special knowledge about local conditions and weaknesses, and the bottom takes advantage of the top's access to money and foot soldiers.
This may have been a case of that kind of creativity on behalf of mr Mansour. What it means, then, is 1) al-Qaeda is watching, and they're watching here in Scandinavia too, and 2) they believe that terrorist attacks against ferries have a lot of potential. The prudent reaction would be for our governments to do the same as he did, take a look at security on ferries, look for and fix weaknesses - and yes, even if this is expensive and a real hassle for the passengers. Act as if a ferry has already been blown up. More importantly, we need to wake up to this danger in general. If al-Qaeda were merely investigating the potential for an attack, and haven't actually dedicated much resources to it, they'll likely keep low in that area for a while, and start looking in other places. Blog knows there's more than enough of those, and this is helped by the inability of many Scandinavians to accept that there's a war going on, and we're in it. I'm not talking about the Iraq war, though that may have driven attention to Denmark, (which supported and contributed to it). I'm talking about the war that began two years ago, which is still, inexplicably, seen by many as a war between al-Qaeda and the US (with close friends). We may know rationally that we're at risk, but it hasn't sunk in.
We ought to do now what the US did two years ago, not necessarily by applying the same laws, but the same level of attention. This will seem obvious to everyone after the first major terrorist attack on Scandinavian soil. It should be equally obvious now, and has been for two years.
Gill Doyle, Northern California | 2003-09-03 20:20 | Link
I don't see Scandinavians or anyone else on the European continent getting serious, anytime soon, about a jihadi threat to European interests. They side with the Palestinians and otherwise do what they can to avoid irritating the Muslim world. I think that al Quaeda and its ilk understand this and appreciate, as well, the divide that has grown between America and its erstwhile friends in Europe. Why would al Quaeda do anything that might bring Europe and America back together again? I think it would be a terrible blunder, on the al Quaeda's part, were they to attack the Europeans. The attack on U.N. headquarters in Baghdad was only an attempt to undermine coalition efforts to rebuild Iraq. I don't see that as an attack on Westerners in general. Anyway, the effect of that bombing was only to increase European disgust with America. The European public, in effect, sides with Hussein and muslim terror -- both in Palestine and elsewhere. If al Quaeda were to attack Europeans (which I can't see happening), the European response would be to blame America.
Sandy P. | 2003-09-04 08:04 | Link
European attitudes getting more disgusted w/Amerikkka, American attitudes are getting hardened towards Europe.
Europe's not listening.
ct | 2003-09-04 14:19 | Link
How sweet that a Muslim who was taken in and given a home in Denmark would casually be scouting targets for an act of mass murder. Sweet, sweet muslims. ("Oh, but it's not ALL muslims!!") No, that's true. It only takes those 99 out of every 100 though to make the 1 look bad...
Rune Kristian Viken, Oslo | 2003-09-04 19:55 | Link
Bjørn? Are you out of your mind? Do you want security hassles on our ferries to denmark/germany? No fscking way! I don't want to have paranoid security checks for _all_ kinds of transportation. It's bad enough when using airplanes (Heck, I got flagged in and got my backpack checked on a flight from Trondheim because of my Umbraco-keys for my bike!).
However, I can kinda understand it when it comes to airplanes. Airplanes can be used as high speed projectiles against structures. Ferries.. well, ferries are a tad more difficult. Maybe they could use'em to ram some oilrigs, but I kinda think the costal guard have fast enough ships to intercept any such attempt.
Nah, I rather travel with no-hassle ferries instead of creating a scare. Heck, I would rather use ferries with low security _after_ an attack too.
I don't want the american paranoia imported here. No thanks.
Werner, Germany | 2003-09-05 00:25 | Link
Rune, it´s not paranoia if they really are after you.
Regarding your speculation about ferries: you could sink them with all on board. Or is that too simple?
Rune Kristian Viken, Oslo | 2003-09-05 09:18 | Link
Werner; I'm fully aware that one can sink ferries. HOWEVER, one can blow up busses, trains, ferries, airplanes, and-so-forth. One can blow up buildings with trucks full of explosives, and-so-forth.
Okay, lots of people are much more afraid of being aboard a sinking boat than they are of a terrorist attack on the building they're in - but the death toll would be somewhat similiar.
Quite frankly, I don't want to live in a society where one is afraid of a terrorist attack all the time.
The reason it's different with airplanes, is that they may be used as efficient offensive weapons against other things. Way more efficient than a truck full of explosives. If a terrorist "just" want to inflict a large deathtoll, he will be able to. Personally I don't want to go around being paranoid about it, nor do I want paranoid security checks. :)
Bjørn Stærk | 2003-09-05 15:46 | Link
Rune-Kristian: It's easy to walk around without fear of terrorism - just pretend that it doesn't exist. That appears to be what we're doing in Norway today. We know, of course, that it exists, but we pretend that it _can't happen here_.
If it could, and it can, it's only rational to take measures against it. Rune, we're already making sacrifices between convenience, liberty and safety. There are security cams all over Oslo Central Station, for instance. The police can tap your phone. Being stopped by customs is a real bother. Having to cooperate with the police in an investigation is, too. I'm not saying that all compromises are automatically good as long as they improve security, only that we already _have_ made compromises, so it's inaccurate to present this as "should we be inconvenienced for security or not". It should rather be: "To what extent should we inconvenience innocent citizens to improve their security?" Does having a police force mean we live in a paranoid society where everyone's dead scared of crime? Of course not, crime already exists, having police to fight it makes us less scared.
The same goes for measures against terrorism. There is a balance between convenience, liberty and safety from terrorism, and we're currently closer to the first two than the third, but not _all the way_. This is based on the assumption that terrorism is rare and unlikely to happen in Norway. If we admit that this assumption is wrong, we have to adjust the balance. Paranoia doesn't enter into it. Our balance is based on an inaccurate assumption, that's all. If we base it on the _accurate_ assumption, we'll have more rational anti-terrorism measures. And if we believe as you do that we should never sacrifice inconvience and liberty for safety, (because that would be "paranoia"), we should still adjust the balance, but then far in the other direction. The only way to preserve status quo is if you believe that terrorism is only a minor threat, and that mild measures against it are acceptable.
Btw, it's not correct that a ferry attack would have a low death toll. Don't forget the Estonia accident, where a passenger ferry sunk on the way from Sweden to Estonia, and 800 people died. Not sure how many people the Denmark-Norway ferry holds, but some of them at least 600. That's a major terrorist attack, far larger than any al-Qaeda attack ever, except for the World Trade Centre.
And as you may have noticed, there haven't been any new terrorist attacks in the US itself, where any attempt to repeat WTC would be extremely risky. Al-Qaeda has so far turned its attention on softer targets, and we're not only a soft target, we've been officially designated a target by al-Zawahiri.
CRL, New York, NY | 2003-09-05 18:30 | Link
I have exactly the opposite attitude -- I get upset when the security in my building/the library/museums don't search me ENOUGH. I'm appalled at the ease with which I could sneak something untoward into some of these places were I so inclined. But then I live in New York City. The unthinkable has already happened here.
John Bono, Connecticut | 2003-09-05 18:37 | Link
Anyone who isn't worried about a ferry attack needs to be. I'm terrified about how easy it is to attack the Staten Island and Port Jefferson ferries in the New York area. If Scandinavian ferries are like either of these ferries(about 5-10' of freeboard) it doesn't take much of list to make them take on enough water to sink like a rock, with a loss of hundreds of lives. And as the Cole attack in Yemen proved, it only takes a 20 to 30 foot boat packed with cheap explosives to blow a hole large enough to induce that list. And I don't know how much pleasure boats cost over there, but in the states, one can buy a crappy but good enough boat that can do over 50 mph and be loaded with a ton of explosives for under $15k. At 50 mph, a distance of 1 mile can be closed in 1 minute 15 seconds, and most ferries only do about 15 knots or so, making them easy meat for that sort of interception.
Gill Doyle, Northern California | 2003-09-05 19:35 | Link
I return to my original argument -- an al Quaida attack on European targets is simply not in al Quaida's interest. It would only help unite the West when events in Afghanistan and Iraq have driven a wedge between Europe and America. Why would al Quaida want to risk creating a unified front? There won't be a ferry attack, I believe, because Europeans are simply not onboard. That is, they are not onboard for this fight on terror. Some mid-level functionaries in Europe -- police and military -- are with us, but top elected officials in Europe bend to anti-American sentiment or (in the case of France and Germany) exploit the public's pacifist and anti-American tendencies in order to wage political war on America. The object of that war being to reign-in American power while at the same time projecting into spheres currently occupied by the Americans the growing power of a newly integrated Europe. France leads the attack on America, while Germany, Russian, and China all see the benefits that might accrue from an economically and politically diminished U.S. While America fights one war with bombs and bullets and stays focused on assuring its own security, Europe fights a political war whose object is to transfer a share of American power into European hands. For Americans, Iraq is all about American security. For Europeans, it is all about American power. Iraqi and Afghan interests will be served if America succeeds where it has intervened. To the extent that American success is regarded in Europe as something antithetical to European influence (oil and construction contracts in Iraq), Europe will hope for the worst in Iraq and Afghanistan. In this, Europe and al Quaida stand united.
Gill Doyle, Northern Cal | 2003-09-05 20:44 | Link
I have been careless, of course, in my criticism of "the Europeans". I want to acknowledge the help that we have got from Italy and Spain. Today Spain's defense minister expressed support of America's new U.N. draft resolution to further internationalize the engagement in Iraq. Of course, France and Germany continue to make objections. Britain has given us great support. Poland and other Eastern European governments have to be thanked. The governments that are assisting us are doing so at great risk, in some cases, of losing popular support at home. Consider what has happened to Blair in England. Even in countries that have given us help, the populace is generally opposed to transforming dictatorial government in the Middle East. Rather, they are presumably for more democratic government there, but are opposed to assisting the American-led effort to make it happen.
Markku Nordstrom, New York/Helsinki | 2003-09-06 00:37 | Link
Rune: I know from reading Finnish sources a year ago that the US has shared info derived from the interrogation of Al Qaeda captives that Al Qaeda has actively studied European ferries as potential targets. Finnish authorities were allowed to review the material, and concluded that safety measures had to be taken, - and I think there is more screening of ferry traffic in Finland now than there was before. Whether it's adequate enough is another matter.
I would disagree with Gill about the improbability of an Al Qaeda attack on European targets. Al Qaeda is not that rational, and seems to have done things that are quite contradictory to their purposes. For example, they were completely unaware of the difference between Australians and Americans in the Bali attack; that attack only served to turn more Australians to the American point-of-view. And the recent attack against the Iraqi Shiite imam in Najaf - attributed to Saudi Wahhabi extremists - didn't really directly hurt the American cause, either. There doesn't seem to be that much coordination and strategic thinking in Al Qaeda, now that they've lost their Afghan base and have to live more incommunicado.
If Europe prefers to sleep, however, that is their problem. I'm more concerned with Europe being used as a launch pad for more terrorist attacks against America. It is not implausible that hot-headed European-born anti-Americans would cooperate with Al Qaeda and, using their easier visa access to the US, launch attacks on behalf of Al Qaeda.
Skyrocket Pasadena, California | 2003-09-06 08:08 | Link
I agree with Marku. Bali is notoriously an Australian hangout. Anyone "on the ground" there would have scoped out the place thoroughly...
Al-Qaida is not necessarily rational in the western context of that word. One of the biggest problems with this type of terrorist is making assumptions based upon western values and belief systems. While, rationally, we can say that an attack in Europe would erase the divide between the US and Europe, one could also say that by attacking the US in such a big way, a rational enemy would have presumed retaliation. Now perhaps, based upon prior behaviors, terrorists assumed a Clinton-style response, but not even Clinton would have been so daft as to pop off a misile or two. Al-Qaida miscalculated, to our benefit.
I could be mistaken about the exact group responsible, but I believe a plan was foiled to spread a biotoxin at the EU a year or more ago. While I feel that it is true that targeting the US and US interests advance the current goals of Al-Qaida, Al-Qaida has stated very clearly that they view supporters of the US as complicit in the "crimes" of the US. Were they to attack an ally this would instill fear in other potential allies and cause them to shun the US. Don't think that they haven't thought about this. Their "motto" is divide and conquer and if they could force the US to stand alone by causing nations to think twice and three times about assisting us, don't be so naive as to believe they would not do so.
Suzanne, Pasadena California | 2003-09-06 08:10 | Link
Sorry, I forgot to use my REAL NAME...so used to online name...mea culpa
Gill Doyle, Northern California | 2003-09-06 18:55 | Link
"Were they to attack an ally this would instill fear in other potential allies and cause them to shun the US. "
" Al Qaeda is not that rational, and seems to have done things that are quite contradictory to their purposes. For example, they were completely unaware of the difference between Australians and Americans in the Bali attack"
You guys have some good points there. I have heard it said that the Indonesian terrorists who hit Bali thought that the Australian revelers there were Americans. I suppose that could be, but I have also heard it said that Australian support for the Timorese independence movement might have been a motivator. Are not the folks in East Timor Christian or Buddhist? In any case, I think that they are not Muslim.
But here's where I might agree with you. Al Quaeda is, from what I can gather, a very loosely structured organization. Not even sure it can be called an organization. Someone here has suggested that it's really a confederation of independent terrorist entities that more or less believe in the same things. In that case, we could indeed see attacks that don't fit a rational master plan. Skyrocket suggests that European allies might be scared off. That, too, seems possible to me. The UN was scared off when its headquarters was bombed in Iraq. The Europeans have for years bent over backwards to appease Palestinian and other Muslim factions that utilize terrorist tactics. The European public does not see that it has any stake in this war on terror and would like to disassociate itself from the American invasion of Iraq. The UN didn't even want American troops round its headquarters in Baghdad. So, yeah, I can imagine that a ferry attack, for instance, would result, first, in an angry attack on America -- for stirring the hornets nest, to begin with -- then a second attack on local politicians who might have sent troops to support the American effort in Iraq. There would be demands to pull Danish and Norwegian troops out of Iraq and even, possibly, Afghanistan.
Markku Nordstrom, New York/Helsinki | 2003-09-08 05:18 | Link
Agreed. A Islamic terrorist attack on Europe would be blamed on America. We can rest assured that European anti-Americanism takes care of that.
All the more reason to act unilaterally in the future, since America is blamed for everything and anything, anyway.
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