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Issue 245, Friday 25 September 2009 - 6 Sha'ban 1430
Calibrating fear: The liquid bomb plot and the long war
By Nafeez Mosaddeq Ahmed
The conviction of Abdullah Ahmed Ali, 28, Tanvir Hussain, 28, and Assad Sarwar, 29, in relation to the liquid bomb plot has been seen as a major triumph for British police and intelligence efforts. Yet, despite this being the second re-trial, the prosecution was still only able to convict the three for conspiracy to murder, including their intent to bring down an airplane – but not to prove their capability to carry out the plot.
Questions raised by this newspaper last year about the technical viability of the plot also remain unanswered. 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 from the prosecution’s case how the plotters would have supplied the necessary input of oxygen at high concentration to enable an explosion.
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. According to British police sources, Rauf was pre-emptively detained by Pakistani intelligence services under maximum security in August 2006 under US Government orders, an act which jeopardised the ongoing intelligence operation to gather hard evidence about the plotters. Rauf then became an original source for information about the plot, which, according to human rights organisations was obtained through torture.
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.
Dr Nafeez Mosaddeq Ahmed is Executive Director of the Institute for Policy Research & Development (www.iprd.org.uk) and the author of The London Bombings: An Independent Inquiry (Duckworth, 2006). His terrorism research was used by the 9/11 Commission, and he has testified to the US Congress.
©Dr Nafeez Mosaddeq Ahmed
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