Brazil arrests: Is Daesh spreading its tentacles?

Some of the suspected terrorists arrested across Brazil.

Some of the suspected terrorists arrested across Brazil.

This column was printed in Arab News on July 24, 2016:

By Rasheed Abou-Alsamh

The 10 Brazilian supporters of the terror group Daesh, who were arrested on Thursday across Brazil, didn’t seem to be prepared to launch attacks in the country. According to intercepted WhatsApp and Telegram messages sent to each other, the members were planning to take martial arts and shooting classes. One of them inquired online about buying an AK-47 rifle from a shop in Paraguay.

All those arrested appear to be Muslim converts, ranging in age from 20 to 50 years. A few of them knew each other personally, but most of them knew each other only through the Internet. A few of them ran their own blogs online where they praised Daesh and the various terrorist attacks the group claimed responsibility for such as the Orlando and Nice massacres. One of them, Ahmed Andrade Santos Junior, 34, from Joao Pessoa in the state of Paraiba, learned about Islam online and radicalized himself by regularly visiting extremist forums online.

O Estado de Sao Paulo newspaper characterized him as a former Christian who was not at all religious and who used to box. His expounding of extremists ideas got him banned from a local mussala by the imam. He visited Egypt and was photographed there posing next to the flag of Daesh. When he returned to Brazil he openly defended Daesh and its dastardly acts.

Another suspect that was arrested was Vitor Barbosa Magalhaes, 23, of Guarulhos in greater Sao Paulo. He taught himself Arabic online and then got a scholarship to learn Arabic in Cairo for six months in 2009. It is there that he learned more about Islam and converted. His wife said in an interview that she believes him to be innocent and that he is non-violent.

Brazilian authorities are on full security alert ahead of the Rio Olympic Games, which open on Aug. 5. Already 6,000 National Force military troops have been deployed in Rio de Janeiro to ensure the safety of the expected 500,000 athletes and visitors. But many Brazilian commentators have noted that visitors to Rio have more to fear from being robbed or killed by local criminals, rather than be caught in a terror attack.

Brazilian Justice Minister Alexandre de Moraes gave several interviews to the press on Thursday stressing the amateurism of the 10 suspects that were arrested, noting that two more suspects were still at large. He added that the deportation last week of the Franco-Algerian physicist Adlene Hicheur, who had been teaching at a university in Rio, but had been previously been sentenced to three years in prison in France in 2009 for allegedly planning terror attacks in France with Al-Qaeda operatives, was part of Brazil’s actions against possible terror threats before the Rio Olympics. The Brazilian Defense Minister Raul Jungmann also downplayed the threat of the arrested suspects, saying that they were “bat-crazy.”

President Michel Temer was reportedly unhappy with the comments of his two ministers. It is clear that Brazil, which has never endured terror attacks before, is being pressured by the United States and France to beef up its security for the Olympics, and to show it is doing something by rounding up Muslim suspects that support Daesh.

“Brazil is being pressured greatly by countries that are really targets and are demanding security guarantees. Brazil does not have expertise, but it’s making an effort. It has done an important monitoring of online chatter on social media,” said Paulo Velasco, a professor and researcher at the Getulio Vargas Foundation in an interview with Estado de Sao Paulo.

But some in the Muslim community here feel that the government is overreacting to please foreign governments and adding fuel to the fire of Islamophobia in Brazil, a largely Catholic nation. “The Muslim community supports the actions of the federal police as long as they are done with transparency and proof,” said Jihad Hammadeh, the president of the National Union of Islamic Entities in Sao Paulo.

“There is a growing Islamophobia, principally on the part of entities that should bring security to society,” warned Hammadeh, who is also an imam. “The National Union of Islamic Entities manifests its profound preoccupation with the recent events and reports that Brazilian citizens are associated with terrorism in Brazil. At the same time, we vehemently support the actions of the federal police for the investigation of these facts, but with concrete evidence and much transparency so that no injustice and persecution occurs against any citizen or group,” he stressed in a statement.

Hammadeh warned that the sensational fashion in which the arrests of the 10 suspects was being reported by some media outlets in Brazil is bringing terror to the population at large and discrimination to Muslims. Unfortunately this is true. Even the big media here treats the whole issue in a sensational way.

The 10 suspects are being held initially for a 30-day period. If authorities are unable to prove any of the more serious terror charges against them, they will be released and could be made to wear electronic bracelets to monitor their movements and banned from approaching certain public sites such as sensitive government buildings, military installations and stadiums.

I understand the worry of the Brazilian government to nip any potential terror threat in the bud before any attacks take place. Despite the comments of the two ministers stressing how amateurish the 10 suspects had been, one can never be too safe, as we have seen from the Orlando and Nice attacks that were undertaken by lone wolves that had slid below the radar.

The problem is that the Brazilian population at large still does not know enough about the real Islam, and therefore ends up believing that all Muslims are bloodthirsty terrorists. This is some of the real damage that Daesh is doing to the image and reputation of Muslims worldwide — damage that will take a long time to repair.

http://www.arabnews.com/node/958671/columns

Nice attack: Not in our name

NICE, FRANCE - JULY 15: Forensic police investigate a truck at the scene of a terror attack on the Promenade des Anglais on July 15, 2016 in Nice, France. A French-Tunisian attacker killed 84 people as he drove a truck through crowds, gathered to watch a firework display during Bastille Day celebrations. The attacker then opened fire on people in the crowd before being shot dead by police. (Photo by Patrick Aventurier/Getty Images)

Forensic police examine on July 15, 2016, the truck used by a terrorist to kill people on the Promenade des Anglais in Nice, France.

This column appeared in Arab News on July 17, 2016:

By Rasheed Abou-Alsamh

The horrific attack in Nice, France, on Friday in which more than 80 people were killed, and more than 200 injured, after a terrorist drove a truck through Bastille Day crowds, sweeping right and left to hit more victims, has left the whole world in shock.

The driver of the truck has been identified as 31-year-old Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhel, a deliveryman of Tunisian origin and a Nice resident. He was married, had children, and had moved to France in the 2000s and eventually received French nationality. His Arab and Muslim roots have already triggered rabid right-wing extremists across the globe, who are calling for an all-out war on what they call “Islamic extremism.”

In the US, former speaker of the House of Representatives Newt Gingrich declared that all Muslims living in America who believe in Shariah should be thrown out. In France, far-right politician Marine La Pen called for a declaration of war against “radical Islam.”

The Kingdom condemned the attack and Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman; Crown Prince Mohammad bin Naif and Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman sent a cable of condolence to French President Francois Hollande. The Secretary General of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), Iyad Madani, said the “perpetrator and those behind him are an affront to humanity and all moral and human values.”

In especially poignant words, the General Secretariat of the Council of Senior Scholars said, “Islam magnifies the sanctity of human blood and criminalizes terrorism that kills and terrorizes innocent people in their homes, markets and facilities teeming with men, women and children, and that all humanity rejects and condemns it.”

We have to realize that the terrorist groups Daesh and Al-Qaeda are both nihilistic movements, virtual cults, where young men are brainwashed into believing that in attacking innocent civilians they are somehow defending and even ennobling Islam. But how can that be? Since when is killing defenseless people a noble act, either in Islam or any other religion? This killing can never be justified or accepted.

Unfortunately, our enemies use the actions of a few extremists that call themselves Muslims, and paint our whole religion and culture as being one of death, backwardness, violence and barbarity.

France has the largest Muslim population in Europe — roughly nine percent of its population is Muslim. Most of these Muslims are immigrants from its former colonies in Africa, or the descendants of the first wave of immigrants in the 1960s and 1970s that came to France to fill the need for low-cost labor. Unfortunately, unlike the United Kingdom and North America, where Muslim immigrants have been better integrated into local society, French Muslims have largely been marginalized and never fully integrated into French society.

This is providing fertile recruiting grounds for groups like Daesh. Already France has suffered two major terrorist attacks since January 2015, first on the Charlie-Hebdo offices in Paris and then in November 2015 on multiple targets across the French capital and now this third attack in Nice.

No wonder the right-wing Front Nationale must be looking more and more attractive to some French citizens who are terrified and worried that more attacks are coming. Being a democracy, France obviously faces the need of tightening security without running roughshod over its citizens’ civil liberties, whether they be Muslim or not. Security had already been extra tight for the Euro Cup finals in Paris last week, but there is a limit to what any government can do to prevent terror attacks short of putting all potential suspects into concentration camps. The Nice attacker was not known to be particularly religious, but did have a criminal record for petty crimes such as robbery and violence. Security experts and government officials admit that it is impossible to track every single suspect 24-hours a day. Countries have to decide how to intelligently deploy their security resources, and sadly many times they are unable to stop bloody attacks.

The sad fact remains that the majority of the victims of Daesh and Al-Qaeda are Muslims themselves. But we should be very alarmed at their attacks in the West because this is stoking anti-Muslim sentiments across the globe. And these sentiments breed hatred of Arabs, Islam and of people and cultures that are different from western, Christian ones. We have already experienced the extremely bloody Crusades between the 11th and 15th centuries. We don’t ever have to experience that again, and we certainly do not want a Crusade in reverse, by attacking soft targets in Europe.

If these radicalized Muslim immigrants in Europe are so disgusted and upset at living there they should immigrate back to Muslim-majority countries. Killing innocent civilians, especially children, is not the answer today and never shall be, to the grievances that the twisted minds of these terrorists may think they have.

http://www.arabnews.com/node/954941/columns

Repercussions of Paris attacks

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By Rasheed Abou-Alsamh

The terrorist attacks in Paris are having a backlash on Muslims around the world and a lot of questions have been raised about ways to fight this perversion of a religion that does not endorse attack on defenseless civilians.
The attackers, all of Arab and Muslim descent, were very young, ranging from 20 to 26 years old. All were born in Europe, either France or Belgium. And all were well known to indulge in things like drinking alcohol, going to bars and clubs, selling drugs and involvement in petty crimes. Photos of the terrorist showed them looking like any other young European, wearing jeans, T-shirts, and none of the women covered their hair. A photo released of one of the terrorists, the cousin of the mentor of the attacks Abdelhamid Abaaoud, Hasna Ait Boulahcen, showed her bathing. She was killed when police raided her apartment where she was hiding Abaaoud, who was also killed in the operation.
The question that keeps repeating itself in my mind, is how did all of these young people make the transition from being non-religious to becoming extremists who want to blow up everything in the name of their religion and as revenge for what they see as attacks on Islam and the Arab world, especially the daily bombardment of Syria by France and Russia. Daesh in whose name the attackers in Paris said to have undertaken the attacks, has a very long and powerful reach, recruiting young Muslims in Europe through the Internet. After attracting them, Daesh brings these young people to Syria to be trained and turns them into killing machines.
The question is how to detect and stop this recruitment? Several of those involved in the attacks in Paris had criminal records and were on the radar of the French authorities. Even though they had been questioned returning from training in Syria, the French authorities did not have enough evidence to stop them.
But back to the attacks in Paris, the impact in terms of Islamophobia worldwide has been terrible. US Republicans in Congress managed to pass a new law restricting the number of Syrian refugees that the country could accept. President Barack Obama already said he would veto the law. In Brazil, a new survey has shown that attacks on Muslims in Rio de Janeiro’s streets grew 1,016 percent in one year. Most were verbal attacks on Muslim women wearing the veil. There were 67 cases reported by these women just from January to August this year, with most being called “suicide bomber.” Of course, this aggression against Muslims has been happening for many years, especially after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on New York and Washington.
It is unfortunate that a group of extremists, like those of Daesh, can cause so much damage against innocent civilians and against Muslims around the world. We need to stop this madness of Daesh, which is not in the least representative of moderate Muslims. The Muslim world should use its vast reserves of moderation to preach the peace in Islam. Western countries in turn cannot fall into the trap of wanting to be suspicious of every Muslim to the point of putting them in detention camps like the Americans did with their citizens of Japanese descent during WWII. I think we have evolved enough to distinguish the good from the bad in any population and religion. Terrorists want the West to mistreat and kill Muslims in acts of revenge for the attacks in Paris. We cannot succumb to it, and we should not give this pleasure to irrational terrorists.

http://www.arabnews.com/news/842656

Don’t let the terrorists win

Pariss-Cnn-attacks

By Rasheed Abou-Alsamh

The horrific terrorist attacks in Paris on Friday night that left around 127 people dead, and more than 200 wounded, was a bloodbath of epic proportions. The Bataclan Theater, where a heavy metal concert was in progress when terrorists burst in firing with semi-automatic weapons, was the scene of the worst violence. According to survivors, the gunmen ran in shouting “This is for Syria!” and continued shooting into the crowd of spectators, reloading their guns several times as they ran out of bullets.
A couple of suicide bombers also blew themselves up outside the National Stadium in northern Paris while France played a friendly match against Germany. Two loud bangs could be heard by spectators of the game, but except for a short pause the game itself continued and the crowd was not informed of what was happening.
French President Francois Hollande was watching the match in the stadium, but after the explosions outside the venue he was quickly whisked away by his security. French police say that eight attackers were killed or blew themselves up around Paris in Friday’s carnage.
A French journalist speaking on BBC TV noted that three things important to French citizens were attacked on Friday night: Sports, music and cafés. Some misguided people blamed the Paris attacks on the Syrian refugees that have been flooding into Europe.
US Rep. Jeff Duncan, a Republican congressman for South Carolina’s third congressional district, tweeted “How’s that Syrian refugee resettlement look now? How about that mass migration into Europe? Terrorism is alive & well in the world. #No.”
The Palestinian journalist, Rula Jebreal, rebutted this accusation, saying: “Even before victims’ bodies cool, disgraceful politician exploits horrific #ParisAttack to blame desperate refugees.”
Other commentators on Twitter were quick to blame a radical interpretation of Islam as the prime motivation for the attacks. Kenneth Rapoza, a journalist who writes for Forbes magazine, in a series of tweets said he believed that all single Muslim men should be kept out of Europe as a way of keeping potential terrorists out. Many regurgitated the old accusation that Saudi Arabia was in any way funding terror outfits. This is an absurd accusation that they regularly bring up.
While some misguided Saudis may have given money to and even joined terror groups, this certainly does not mean that the Saudi government aids any terrorist organization. This is a crazy anti-Saudi accusation with no evidence to back it up, and is thrown about by people whose anti-Muslim and anti-Arab feelings are kept barely under the surface.
The terrorists certainly want to scare the French government into stopping their bombing of Daesh positions in Syria and Iraq, and to make the French fear for their lives as they go about their daily lives doing the things they love most. Hopefully the Parisians will bounce back from these terrible attacks, and continue going to cafés, concerts and watch football games in stadiums as usual.
Likewise, I hope that French authorities and the public at large do not fall prey to anti-Muslim and anti-Arab hatred because of these attacks. France has the largest Muslim population of any European country, an estimated 4.7 million, or 7.5 percent of the total population. It would be a great shame if the French moved back on their great traditions of liberty, equality and fraternity. The openness and freedom of western societies is one of their biggest strengths, and it would be terrible if these were to suffer because of the attacks. It is obvious that security measures and intelligence gathering need to be beefed up in France, especially when it was only 10 months ago that the deadly attacks on Charlie Hebdo and a Jewish supermarket took place in Paris. But the spirit of freedom and welcoming refugees should not be lost in a fit of anti-Muslim and anti-Arab hysteria unleashed by these latest attacks.
That is exactly what the terrorists want to provoke. Let’s not give them that pleasure, and instead show the world that Muslims and Christians, Arabs and Europeans, can live together in peace and respect. We owe it to the world and to ourselves.

http://www.arabnews.com/news/835641

Bold steps embolden nation

Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman, center, with Crown Prince Mohammad bin Naif, right, and Deputy Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman.

Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman, center, with Crown Prince Mohammad bin Naif, right, and Deputy Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman.

By Rasheed Abou-Alsamh

Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman’s first 100 days in office have been marked by a series of bold decisions that have left Saudis pleasantly surprised at the measures taken after what seemed a long period over the last several years where the Kingdom just seemed to be coasting along on its reputation as the center of the Muslim world.
The unrelenting march of the Houthi rebels in neighboring Yemen, taking over the capital Sanaa last year and then forcing Yemeni President Abed Rabbu Mansour Hadi to flee to Aden and then to Saudi Arabia when they bombed his Aden office, moved King Salman to decide to intervene militarily in Yemen along with a Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), Arab and Muslim coalition of more than 10 nations. Critical to this decision no doubt was his son Prince Mohammad bin Salman, recently appointed the deputy crown prince, and our current defense minister. Only 30 years old, Prince Mohammad is known for his hard work and determination to get things done, and we are now seeing this in the campaign in Yemen to halt the advance of Houthi troops and reinstate the legitimate government of Hadi.

Our new Crown Prince Mohammad bin Naif, a youthful 55 years old, brings years of experience as interior minister fighting the scourge of Al-Qaeda, having survived an attack on his life by this nefarious terrorist group. The crown prince while being tough on the terrorists of Al-Qaeda has also realized that many of its members are disaffected youth that have been led astray by the deviant, hateful and bloody ideology spouted by the group, and therefore started a de-radicalization program run by the Ministry of Interior aimed at re-educating captured members of the group and offering them a way back into Saudi society by giving them jobs and marriage possibilities. For sure, some of the program’s participants have relapsed and returned to the folds of Al-Qaeda, but that is to be expected, as no program is 100 percent effective when it comes to ideology and what really stays in a person’s mind and heart.
Other appointments by King Salman to his Cabinet have injected new blood into the highest echelon of the Saudi government, giving a much younger generation of Saudis the chance to have a say in how the country is governed. My good friend Adel Al-Toraifi, who is only 36, is now the culture and information minister. I was very glad to hear of his appointment, remembering our many conversations about Middle East politics over cups of coffee whenever he used to visit Jeddah from Riyadh. Likewise, it was exciting to hear of the appointment of Adel Al-Jubeir as our new minister of foreign affairs, who at 53 is only a few years older than me. I still remember working with him at the end of the 1980s when I helped cover a Saudi exhibition for Arab News in Washington and he was just starting his career at the Saudi Embassy there.
But perhaps most intriguing have been the recent sackings of several officials by the king after they misbehaved in public and their shenanigans were caught on video and quickly posted on social media on the Internet for all to see. In April the then health minister, Ahmed Khatib, was caught on video having a heated argument with a citizen who was complaining that his sick father was getting poor treatment at a private hospital. Khatib could be heard dismissing the man’s complaints. After the clip was posted online there were many angry reactions and King Salman sacked the minister. The crown prince decided to treat the father of the man in the video.
Later in April, King Salman banned Prince Mamdouh bin Abdulrahman from speaking to all media and from taking part in any sports activities after he made racist remarks on a live sports television program against a Saudi sports journalist, denigrating him for being of foreign descent. Online commentators praised the king for his action, saying that it showed that all Saudis should be treated the same and with respect. Indeed, in March King Salman stressed how all Saudis are the same in a speech he gave: “There are no differences among Saudi people or areas,” he said. “We are determined to address the roots of the divergences and the causes of divisions so that we can eliminate the categorization of the society in a way that harms national unity. All Saudis are equal in rights and duties,” he said.
This month the king replaced the head of royal protocol after the official was caught on camera slapping a photojournalist in the face at the airport in Riyadh when he was covering the arrival of Morocco’s King Mohammad VI. Happening just a few meters away from where King Salman was warmly greeting the Moroccan king, Mohammad Al-Tibaishi, the royal protocol official in question, was caught on camera slapping the journalist. While I know that journalists can be quite pushy and aggressive while trying to cover such important events, nothing ever justifies physical violence in such circumstances.
With all of these actions, King Salman is showing immense resolve to show the Kingdom’s determination to defend its strategic and national interests by intervening in Yemen and sacking Saudi officials who disrespect the Saudi people. This has given much pride and hope to the average Saudi citizen, who feels happy that the Saudi leadership is taking charge of our country’s destiny instead of allowing it to be too affected by foreign powers. We are a strong nation that can and should decide its own future. The time has come and all Saudis should rise to the challenge.
We’ve had too many years of complaining and expecting that others will solve our problems. We can do it ourselves, and we should be proud that we are able to do so.

http://www.arabnews.com/columns/news/744761

No room for sectarianism

Family members of victims are seen after a suicide bomb attack at the Imam Ali mosque in the village of al-Qadeeh in Al-Qatif on May 22, 2015. (Reuters photo)

Family members of victims are seen after a suicide bomb attack at the Imam Ali mosque in the village of al-Qadeeh in Al-Qatif on May 22, 2015. (Reuters photo)

By Rasheed Abou-Alsamh

The horrific and bloody attack on the mosque in Al-Qadeeh in the Qatif province on Friday which left at least 21 people dead and 100 injured, when a suicide bomber blew himself up after Friday prayers, is another desperate attempt to sow sectarian strife in the Kingdom. But our enemies will not succeed.
The enemies of Saudi Arabia are constantly trying to stir sectarian tension in the Eastern Province, hoping that the situation will explode and engulf our oil-producing region and cause irreparable harm to our economy, security, sense of well-being and stability. Fortunately, despite these evil schemes to try and make this happen, nothing even close to their nightmare scenarios has ever taken place.
Thank God, our country has been spared the ugly sectarianism that has corroded neighboring Iraq and Lebanon, where Shiite militias have fought against Sunni ones, each side committing worse atrocities, in an endless cycle of violence that takes neither country forward and never produces a clear winner. In fact, all of us Muslims and Arabs are victims and losers of this scourge called sectarianism.

In Iraq after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein and his iron-grip that he had over the country for decades, the new-found power that the Shiites were given was misused by some to exact seemingly endless bouts of bloody and merciless revenge that is responsible in large part for the appearance of the self-ascribed Islamic State (IS) in the last couple of years.
I visited the Qatif region in 2005 along with some Saudi and western journalists to cover the marking of Ashoura, the Shiite commemoration. Although there were many policemen in the streets, they allowed the local population to perform all of their rites in public over several days in perfect safety and without being harassed or stopped by anyone. We did not feel at any stage that Shiites were being denied their right to practice their rituals.
Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman has clearly stated that all Saudis, irrespective of their sect, color, national origin or economic status, are all equal and the same as citizens of this great nation. This cannot be forgotten, and should be implemented by all citizens, both private and those in official positions.
One good example of the Kingdom being put in a negative light by its enemies was when the Sindh government in Pakistan put the question on forms for pilgrims intending to perform Haj this year in Saudi Arabia, asking whether they were Shiite or Sunni. Critics of Saudi Arabia immediately jumped on this to accuse the Kingdom of fanning the flames of sectarianism. Days later, Ministry of Haj officials denied that they had ever asked Pakistan to ask this of their pilgrims, stating that the Kingdom never asks the sectarian denomination of its pilgrims. Most Saudis are upset and horrified at such wicked violence, and condemn it. Last November, eight Shiites were gunned down in Al-Ahsa also by the IS gunmen. But these attacks against Shiites have thankfully been few and far between. As Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdul Aziz Al-Asheikh told Saudi Television, the Qatif attack is aimed at “driving a wedge among the sons of the nation.”
On my trip to Qatif, I was invited by a group of young Saudi Shiites, that I had befriended, to pray with them. I politely accepted, and prayed the Maghreb prayer alongside them at their small mosque. It was a serene moment that pleased all of us, as I a Sunni Saudi joined them to pray to the one and same Allah. If only more of us practiced such acts across the country, and across the Arab and Muslim worlds, sectarianism would not have a chance to breed and grow, and thus cause so much strife and bloodshed as it does today.

This is my column that was printed in Arab News on May 23, 2015: http://www.arabnews.com/columns/news/751116

Knee-jerk reactions to terrorism give false sense of security

THE HASTILY announced new security measures implemented soon after the bungled Christmas Day attempt by Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab (photo at right) to bomb a Delta jetliner approaching Detroit, of not being allowed on international flights to use the bathroom one hour before landing in the US or having a blanket on one’s lap, were laughable despite the seriousness of the threat.

One does not deny that there are growing numbers of Muslims around the world who are being radicalized and pushed into hating and wanting to harm the United States and its citizens. This is due to two reasons: The rise of radical and ultra-conservative Islam, fueled in large part by Saudi money, and the US invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan. It is amazing that so many Americans still insist in solely viewing American imperial adventures abroad as do-good missions, swallowing hook, line and sinker the lie that America just wants to improve things in the Middle East.

How can so many intelligent Americans not realize that in invading other countries, citizens of those countries just might harbor feelings of ill-will and resentment towards the invaders? It seems to be a logical and very human reaction to such a situation. Would Americans like it if Russia or China invaded the US to supposedly improve life for oppressed Americans? I hardly think so.

The chorus of criticisms of the Obama administration’s reaction to the failed bombing were right in pointing out the stupidity of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano’s comment that “the system had worked” when passengers and flight attendants overpowered Abdulmutallab, and in slamming President Obama’s seeming lack of concern when he initially sent out advisers deal with the aftermath before finally holding a press conference himself.

Napolitano had to quickly backtrack in the days following her inauspicious comment, especially when it became known that Abdulmutallab’s own father had gone to the US Embassy in Lagos, Nigeria, months ago to warn them about the radicalization of his son. An intelligence report was telegraphed back to Washington from the embassy and the Nigerian’s name was placed on a watch list of half a million people. But he was not put on the much smaller no-fly list, and worst of all his two-year US visa was not cancelled immediately as it should have been.

All passengers flying to the US have their names and passport details sent ahead when they check-in for their flights so that security checks can be made before someone believed to be a threat can even board a flight to the US. If his visa had been cancelled, and if the pre-flight verification system had worked, then Abdulmutallab would have never been allowed to board that Delta flight.

It was the fast thinking action of a Dutch passenger which saved the day on that Delta flight when he leaped across rows of seats when he saw that Abdulmutallab was trying to set off a bomb, and grabbed the explosive device out of his hands, thereby saving the lives of nearly 300 people. Alert passengers and flight attendants on flights to and in the US are indeed the last line of defense between a terrorist and their success or lack thereof in blowing up or crashing a plane.

The extra security measures announced this week for passengers flying to the US from 14 countries considered to harbor many potential terrorists with anti-US feelings, including Saudi Arabia, Nigeria, Pakistan, Algeria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia and Yemen, seem unfair to me and are certainly not foolproof. Al-Qaeda or any other group could get around these new restrictions by recruiting disaffected American, French or British Muslims to carry out attacks on the US and Americans. Or they could use Indonesians, Indians, Filipinos or Chinese to carry out attacks.

Americans and Europeans have to think strategically and cleverly in how to outfox the terrorists. Installing those huge imaging full body scanners at all major European and US airports would be a good beginning. They have hardly been used so far because of objections from privacy activists. But in this age of underwear bombers, these scanners have become more necessary than ever. Who cares if security screeners can see the outline of your entire body? Especially when the images are not stored and are deleted soon after being taken? Objections that screening all passengers with these machines would take far too much time could be remedied by randomly screening a certain number of passengers from each flight, no matter their nationality.

In addition, Western countries need to be adept at sorting through and actually analyzing intelligently the avalanche of data and information that they are buried under on a daily basis. Firing a US intelligence analyst, who spoke fluent Arabic, just because he was gay, has to stop too. Apart from being homophobic and wrong, firing someone just because they are gay is silly when there are so few Americans who actually speak and write Arabic fluently.

Western countries have to think outside the box and at the same time support progressive and moderate forces in Muslim countries so as not to alienate whole nations. Pulling out of Afghanistan would be a good first step. That war is unwinnable, and it is a shame that hundreds of young Americans and Europeans have given their lives for a country that does not want their help and an Afghan government that is riddled with corruption. And that too just so that Obama and UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown can save face and not be accused of abandoning the fight. Afghanistan was never a good fight to begin with. Bush got us involved in that, Obama should now get us out.

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