Unconventional thinking about the Middle East.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Famed ‘Baghdad Sniper’ Mourned by Jihadist Websites

A leading terrorist ‘warrior’ who have been lionized by the jihadist propaganda machine over the last two years was himself killed by a sniper shot recently, according to identical postings on several jihadists websites. The ‘Baghdad Sniper’ became something of a terrorist celebrity and assumed mythical representations as a ‘lone wolf’ hunting down ‘the occupier.’

In the postings marking his death, he was identified by a nom de guerre, Captain Abu Bara,’ suggesting that he was a former officer in Saddam’s armed services. The posting claims that he hails from Mosul and was a secret member of the Iraqi branch of the Muslim Brotherhood even when he was serving as an officer under the Ba’athist regime. It goes on to paint a picture of a man who was kind and gentle and even “maintained good relations with Christians in Mosul.” He had allegedly vowed to “eject the Americans” and left the ranks of the Muslim Brotherhood after the Iraqi Islamic Party decided to join the Governing Council under the auspices of foreign occupation.

The claim is made that Captain Abu Bara’ managed to kill 290 American soldiers in the past year, always leaving a note at his perch signed by “The Baghdad Sniper” after every killing. However, according to someone who was with him on his last ‘mission,’ he had killed two American soldiers and went for a third target when a bullet struck his forehead.

And as part of the hagiography, it is also claimed that Abu Bara’ never killed an Iraqi soldier or policeman, and that he has trained tens of other snipers to take his place.

There were many speculations about this ‘Baghdad Sniper’ including a suggestion that he was a composite of several snipers operating under the same name in the Baghdad region. It is interesting to see that the jihadists decided to announce his death rather than keeping the myth going.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Two Middle Eastern Interpretations of Valentine’s Day

America celebrated Valentine's Day last week in all its commercial trappings, meanwhile back in the Middle East, love was expressed in two very different ways:

Love in the Time of Bird-Flu

Here is a translated story from last week’s official Iraqi newswire:

The various security agencies in Maysan Province [South-east of Baghdad] are in full alert as they hunt down a professional mutayirchi who was able to escape to an unknown destination after gathering his birds.

The media spokesman for the Maysan Health Department has told the National Iraqi News Agency (NINA) on Monday that, “the mutayirchi known as Abdul-Sadeh who resides in the Aradhat Square area, sensed that he would endure a great loss because the veterinary agencies intended to collect all the birds and chicken in the province and execute them since the area that he lives in has been placed under quarantine, and thus all birds there will be put to death.”

He added, “this bird-raiser escaped with his birds for whom he has spent his youth raising and for whom he left his studies, and he went to an unknown destination to provide care and comfort for them there.”

Unofficial sources from the [neighborhood] also stated that this mutayirchi owns some very rare varieties of birds that are very expensive and he feared for them therefore he took refuge somewhere else rather than stay home.

And now for some cultural background: the mutayirchi (“he who makes [them] fly”) is an important character in Iraq’s popular folklore and the “-chi” suffix almost gives it the respectability of a trade. However, mutayirchis, who in the main raise and train pigeons—flying rats in the west, love-interests in Iraq, and a grilled delicacy in Egypt—have a bad rap. According to urban myths, they are alternately peeping toms who peer over rooftops and unto courtyards where the womenfolk of other households can be glimpsed, or they are treacherous and greedy because they employ devious methods to attract (that is, steal) pigeons from rival flocks.

The pigeon coop is normally kept on the roof of their homes, and mutayirchis seem to get their kicks by releasing their flocks and directing their flight with flags or whistles. They are even supposed to have their own vernacular for this hobby; differentiating varieties of pigeons, their eating habits, their diseases…etc. Their hub in Baghdad is the Sug Al-Ghezell, which used to be the old Jewish-dominated textile market (that moved to Sug Danial) and then over time became re-incarnated as a pet market, with birds, dogs, cats, flamingoes, rabbits, monkeys and anything else that would fit a menagerie.

Nowadays, the alleyways into the old market (distastefully renovated under Saddam) that lead away from the Khulafa’ Mosque are too dangerous for customers beyond 1 PM; that is, when the druggies and Fayli gangsters (ethnic Shia Kurds or Lurs, the jury is still out on origins) from the nearby Kifah and Shorgeh markets wake up and claim their turf. My first memory of the place was when I was 13 and it was a wondrous place, but returning to it last year, I had to be armed with a little shooter pistol hidden in right-hand sleeve, and I walked down deserted streets strewn with the carcasses of baby rabbits while troops of glue-addicted children, some of them toddlers, hid in the shadows. It was surreal and heartbreaking.

But back to Abdul-Sadeh the Mutayirchi, and his pigeons: isn’t it romantic, that he would risk a national epidemic that would result in millions of deaths, including his own, just to save his chicks? Recently a local Iraqi TV station aired an extremely touching ‘reality’ show about mutayirchis, and it basically followed one of them around as he went about his day. He was a very engaging fellow that decried the fact that he and his ilk were denounced as social pariahs. He said, “on the contrary, society should honor us, for we are so gentle, that we cannot bear to watch a bird or an animal suffer, and we spend our lives taking care of them. Our hobby is about love of all of Allah’s creatures.” The episode ends with him sitting with his mother who is sobbing because her son’s reputation as a mutayirchi prevents any of the good families from giving their daughters to him in marriage, and when one of them did, he adamantly disappointed his mother and refused, and the show ends by him saying, “but mother, that girl was against my bird-raising and would have come between me and my heart.”

Maybe more radical conservationists and animal-rights activists will be inspired by Abdul-Sadeh and join the ranks of the Avian Resistance, especially as the cruel species of man tries to save its own hide by eradicating our runaway hero’s feathery sweethearts.

Romeo & Juliet; a Jihadist Interpretation

Well, this time around it is a recently released Al-Qaeda video with the title of “Fatima’s Fiancée” about a pudgy Saudi teenager with barely a wisp of hair for a beard and mustache, and his fiancée Fatima. However, Fatima is dead after having been jailed in Abu Ghraib, and Abu Mu’awiya Al-Shamali, our Romeo, is a suicide bomber who asks Allah for Fatima’s hand in marriage—to be literally made in heaven.

Here’s the plot: the 9-minute video open with Arabic text set against a wavy crimson background. It is supposed to be a letter from a certain “Fatima,” a woman supposedly being held by the Americans in Abu Ghraib. These are excerpts from what she writes:

“My brothers the fighters in the way of Allah…We are your sisters in Abu Ghraib Prison…The sons of monkeys and pigs have attacked us and have torn up our Korans and mutilated our bodies and humiliated us…By God, one of us gets raped a multiple of times by those monkeys and pigs in a single day…We are 13 unmarried girls here and they prevent us from wearing clothes…One of us committed suicide by banging her head on the cell wall after an American dog raped her…Kill us with them so that we can rest.”

The first red flag as to the authenticity of this letter is that Fatima dates it on “Friday, December 14, 2004” that happens to be the one year anniversary of Saddam’s capture. Clearly, this was a propaganda tool meant to incite the mujaheddin to attack the Americans. We are later told that Fatima died under incarceration.

A little over a year later, the Consultative Council of the Mujaheddin (Majlis Shura Al-Mujahhedin, Zarqawi’s new umbrella organization to coordinate jihad in Iraq) rises to the challenge, and we, the viewers, are introduced to Abu Mu’awiya Al-Shamali. With his thick glasses he looks every part the geek, yet this geek is reciting poetry that includes a couplet describing “destroying the tower” on 911. He asks God to marry him off to Fatima.

Next, we see him in a German-made Opel car, hugging a Kalashnikov. There is loud chanting in the background, which gets muted every time Al-Shamali says something. It is as if they were making a home video of a young guy on his bachelor party: he throws kisses in the air and waves goodbye and seems generally ecstatic. The camera zooms out to show the explosives wired up around him on the front passenger seat and in the leg room of the backseat. Al-Shamali points to the explosives and says, “this is all dowry for Fatima.”

Then we see him sitting somewhere reciting a prayer, in which he repeats these two phrases thrice: “God do not give my body a grave to entomb it” and “God receive from my blood today until you are satisfied.” The background chanting contains these stanzas: “Oh nymphs of Eternity, the martyr has arrived for you, blanket the earth with flowers, and give him happiness.”

Under cloudy skies, the camera gives a hazy wide shot of an American convoy of trucks with Al-Shamali’s Opel appearing as tiny red blob near the bottom left corner of the screen. We hear the cameraman reciting the “Allah is Great” mantra over and over again, and then, after the explosion, he breaks out into sobs.

A text appears in the end claiming that “approximately twenty soldiers from the American Army” were killed.

One can be glib and poke all sorts of fun at this perverted necrophilia, but this sort of pathos must be closely studied. I don’t even understand how Al-Qaeda thinks that this sort of plot is even remotely Islamic: a living man asks God to betroth him to the soul of a woman who is already dead? Is there any legal religious text would allow such a thing to happen, or even be contemplated? Isn’t it sort of blasphemous to cast almighty God in a propaganda production as a matchmaker? And does this fictional Fatima character have a say is accepting Abu Mu’awiya as her spouse?

This video is an incredible revelation in the “sex sells” annals of jihadist marketing. It is completely out-of-bounds with Islam. Yet, it doesn’t generate the outcry that we’ve seen as a response to the Danish cartoons. Why is that? If there were any smart propagandists in the anti-jihadist camp, then they would have had a field day with this Al-Qaeda video. It can be analyzed and discredited from many angles.

It is yet another example as to how Zarqawi’s cult of death is entering new ideological ground that, if left unchallenged, would earn him more and more recruits such as this overweight horny Saudi geek.

For the time being, I take comfort that the traditional Middle East, even with the available distractions of X-Boxes and glue-sniffing, is still putting up a fight through the likes of Abdul-Sadeh—a man risking his life for a silly, centuries-old hobby, and a zest for life.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Allah Sends New Anti-Danish Message, This Time in Bovine Form

Nearly 20,000 Egyptians converged on the village of Tunis in southern Egypt’s Sohag Province to witness a newborn calf said to have two heads and the words “No God But God” apparent on his hide. The crowds mobbed the home of Mumid Abu Dhaif where the ‘miracle’ occurred, according to an AFP story carried on Elaph today. It was a ‘sign’ interpreted by many onlookers as a divine rebuke from Allah against those who had recently mocked the Prophet Muhammad; demonstrating that Allah continues to provide round-the-clock commentary on the Danish cartoons.

Egyptian police moved in to provide crowd control, and it was not known if the two-headed calf marked with divine graffiti is still alive.

But what if God is sending an altogether different message this time? Unlike 'Oscar' the Prophetic Fish, there was no mention of Muhammad on ‘MooMoo’—a name coined by the sensationalist media machine for the two-headed yet adorable beast (okay, so I made it up). And by choosing a calf in the land of Egypt, is God trying to make a more specific point? Is this a giant put-down directed against Moses for throwing a hissy fit when he found his wandering nation worshipping a Gold Calf in Sinai? Does this mean that Jews should revert to Sacred Bovinity?

And guess who is going to have a field day with this…the Hindus. Sure, everyone finds it a hoot that India’s road traffic grinds to a halt whenever an ambling ox takes a mid-highway breather, but who’s laughing now? Huh?

But it’s not only Egyptian peasants making fools out of themselves, this picture below that I got today as part of a mass e-mail titled “Almighty Allah Destroys a Road in Denmark” is an example of how western-educated Middle Eastern professionals residing in places like Canada, and who are sending it around, can also become total idiots when dealing with this whole cartoon business.

I think this malady was best captured in a piece by Eli Lake reporting from Cairo, and published yesterday in the NYSun:

February 13, 2006 Edition > Section: Opinion >

A Small Victory in a Losing War


February 13, 2006
URL: http://www.nysun.com/article/27495

CAIRO, Egypt - A sign on the entrance to the Alfa Market in Zamalek boasts "All Danish products have been removed from our displays." The island of Zamalek, with its grand apartment buildings, embassies and bars, is a refuge for secular elites. Its cafes are popular among teenagers because they can hold hands in public without risking intervention from pious onlookers. But even Zamalek, even the Alfa Market - with its gleaming shelves of goods only those earning western salaries can afford - is not immune to the poison of Islamism.

This ought to alarm us. The outrage over the 12 Danish cartoons in Cairo is not a temper tantrum among fringe ideologues or uneducated workers manipulated by state-run newspapers and opportunist television sheiks. The affair has tapped a vein among the educated classes, the very people we hope would be our front lines in a fight for a tolerant modern society.

The primary means of spreading the distortions over the cartoons has been the cellular telephone text message, the preferred mode of communication for Cairo's middle class. Many of the messages, which appear coordinated, say the Danish government has organized parties to burn the Koran, that Copenhagen publishers are now planning to reprint the Muslim holy book with edits and new additions. The deputy chief of mission for the Danish embassy here, Christian Gronbech-Jensen, says that the text messages are providing the worst source of disinformation his embassy, now guarded by riot police 24 hours a day, must counter. But because of the nature of the medium and the fact that cell phones are now disposable, no one knows from where these messages originate.

Mr. Gronbech-Jensen says he has taken to telling Arab diplomats in his conversations of an antiquated Danish blasphemy law that is being invoked by local Muslim groups against Jyllands-Posten, the newspaper that commissioned the 12 cartoons. He has had to answer questions about what his government would do if someone in Denmark were to burn a Koran. "We cannot promise people that no one in Denmark would ever burn the Koran. But we try to explain that anyone who does this will be dealt with by the law," he said referring to his country's laws prohibiting hate speech.

The rise of Islamism among Cairo's lawyers, journalists, doctors and accountants is sometimes called the Amr Khaled effect, after an imam whose television show on the Iqra satellite network instructs Egypt's middle class how to be better Muslims. He stresses his show is "not political," but in many ways it is. A few years ago he urged his well-heeled followers to start calling Valentine's Day, "Mohammed Day." And so it was. The shops of Zamalek began phasing out cards and gifts referencing Cupid on the Hallmark holiday invented to celebrate romantic love.

But the Amr Khaled effect has been a long time coming. In November I asked the head of the Muslim Brotherhood's politburo what he considered to be the organization's greatest accomplishment in the last 30 years. I expected him to say it was the victory for the party in the Egyptian parliamentary elections where, despite widespread cheating and intimidation by the state party, the brothers managed to increase their voting bloc six-fold.

But Mr. Habib surprised me. For him the real accomplishment was the rise in membership in his organization among the higher strata of the police state. After Anwar Sadat allowed the brothers to organize openly in universities, a whole generation of devout theocracy supporters joined Egypt's bureaucracy and professional associations. "We have brothers everywhere now," the former geology professor said. If only this was frivolous boasting. The president of the student union at the American University of Cairo - an institution that only the wealthiest Egyptians can afford - is a member of the brothers.

In the last month the forces of Islamism have felt empowered. Iran is close to getting a nuclear weapon, Hamas destroyed Fatah in the Palestinian legislative elections last month, and now this: embassies burned in Damascus and Beirut. A member of the brothers who deals often with the press, Abdel elRahman Sarwat, said that while he did not approve of the violence, he thought the boycott and the protests have been effective. "The paper has apologized and the government has apologized. More people are learning about Islam now. Did you know that more than 50 people joined Islam in Denmark after reading about this?" he said. Mr. Sarwat, who speaks fluent English and understands press relations better than anyone I've met here, added, "We want to protect the prophet with our freedom. We believe in free speech and a free press, but this does not give you the right to hurt me by hurting the prophet."

Back at the Alfa Market I checked for the royal blue boxes of Danish butter cookies I like. I found they had been replaced with knock offs made in Egypt, but behind a row I found one of the genuine articles that had escaped the purge. A small victory in a war we are losing.

February 13, 2006 Edition > Section: Opinion >

Saturday, February 11, 2006

New Information Revealed About Al-Qaeda Cell Allegedly Involved in the Hariri Murder

This is an important scoop published today by the Lebanese daily Addiyar (February 11, 2006, 18th Year, Issue No. 6182, edited by Charl Ayoub, an ex-officer seen as close to the Syrians). It broadly follows what I discussed here on Talisman Gate a few days ago, although Addiyar fleshes out the skeletal information with names, dates and time-lines. The story carries Simon Abu Fadhil’s byline, and in translating it I have tried to stay as close to the Arabic wording and sentence structure as possible, even though it becomes somewhat of a clunky read.

The chief points revolve around the notion that this group was somehow involved in the Hariri assassination through the association of one of its leaders, Khalid Taha (still at large), with the suspected suicide bomber, Ahmad Tayseer Abu Ades. One of its members is a Syrian neurosurgeon, while others have had fighting experience in Iraq. I think there is more to this story that will begin to be revealed over the course of the next few weeks. My own hypothesis is that this group was just one of four involved in pulling off the Hariri assassination, and their prime task was in picking and handling the suicide bomber, Abu Ades, and preparing the media package of him taking credit for the crime, thus I’d refer to them as the “Spotters and Handlers”. The other groups would have been respectively responsible for information gathering (general data about the Hariri convoy, his security detail, his usual routes…etc), ‘close’ surveillance (these would be the guys with the 6 cell phones tracking Hariri on the day of the assassination), and logistics (these provide safe houses, access to explosives, the stolen vehicle, rigging the car bomb, as well as covering tracks). Given the usual messiness that accompanies such big operations, it is possible that at some points there was overlap between the various groups, such as some of the “Spotters and Handlers” getting a peak at how the car bomb was prepared and where it was stored.

Here are excerpts from the translated text:

It is possible that the operation that led to the assassination of PM Rafiq Al-Hariri is coming into focus with the arrest by Lebanese [security] apparatuses of elements of the Al-Qaeda Organization that has taken a base in Lebanon and specifically in the northern region.

According to parliamentary sources privy to the investigations, the Information Branch (Far’a Al-Ma’aloumat) of the Internal Security Force (Quwa Al-Amn Al-Dakhili) detained on January 13th, 2006 Islamist elements from the Al-Qaeda Organization, after having monitored them for several weeks before the day of arrest, and after they had entered Lebanon illegally from Syria bearing personal documents that have been forged over there, and they escaped to Lebanon after being chased by Syrian security apparatuses.

This information claims that the establishment of this group started according to the following sequence: after the events of Dhiniyyeh that occurred in northern Lebanon and the armed elements on that day over there, leading to the martyrdom of an officer and 11 soldiers, Hassan Muhammad Nab’a (born 1974) fled surreptitiously to Syria, whose job it was to teach religion, and afterwards the “suiciders” pledged their oaths to him as their leader and would seek his blessing before leaving for Afghanistan and then Iraq. After a while of staying in Syria, he was introduced to someone called Jamil from the Homs region, who was an electronics specialist and both of them established—then later with Faisal As’ad Akbar (Saudi)—the nucleus of the Al-Qaeda Organization in Syria. Faisal’s task was to train elements and prepare them for the fighting, while Jamil took charge of security financial resources.

After being chased by Syrian authorities and having one of their network arrested, the rest of this group fled to Lebanon one after the other in mid-2004 to scout areas for residence [bases ?], and the first to arrive was Tariq Raja’ Al-Nassir (Syrian) who is a neurosurgeon that treated Al-Qaeda fighters who has been wounded in Iraq, and he rented an apartment for himself in one of the buildings in Beirut.

Active political entities supplement this information by saying that the other elements followed him to Lebanon with forged Syrian papers and by illegally crossing the border and they widened their activity between the capital Beirut and the north, and they met while staying in Lebanon with ‘Aad Abdullah Hallaq (Palestinian) who is a mechanical and electronic engineer, as well as Hani Hashim Al-Shatti (Jordanian, born 1980) and Ali Turki Al-Rad’a (Syrian) and they formed the nucleus of an Al-Qaeda Organization in the north, and then Malik Muhammad Nab’a, brother of Hassan, would bring suspicious bags to Hani Al-Shatti and to Khalid Taha, who is in hiding after having fled to ‘Ain Al-Hilwa Camp, and no one these persons knew was his comrades were tasked with only in rare cases in the very beginning before they organized their ranks. Muhammad Abdel-Razzak Wafa’i (Syrian), Ma’az Abdel-Ghani Shusha (Syrian, born 1980) and Bara’ Muhammad Fuad Al-Fawa constituted with the rest the group who some of its members were [tasked] with collecting the required logistics as well as the elements and information necessary to prepare to attack American and western targets, at the right times, after monitoring some of them and deciding to launch operations against them.

The information from the aforementioned political entities points out that regarding the issue of the Hariri assassination, this group was arrested before the launching of terrorist acts, and that investigations with them as revealed by the General Prosecutor Judge Sa’id Mirza to several government officials, that Abu Ades who appeared in the tape after the Hariri assassination, used to train with this closed group that consists of 13 members, that also includes Ali Jihad Sharaf-eddin (born 1988) who is a juvenile and a relative of Nab’a.

After the General Prosecutor was shown the investigation by the Information Branch of the Internal Security Force, he concluded that there are suspicions of some role for [this group] in the Hariri assassination, so he asked the Military Judiciary to question them specifically regarding their role in possessing firearms and forming a gang to detract from the respectability of the state, and asking them to leave the investigation into terrorist activities and the Hariri case to the General Prosecutor’s office, and [these sources] also said that Judge Mirza will reveal this matter in a joint press conference with Justice Minister Charl Rizik in the upcoming days and present it to the Central Security Council.

The investigation has widened with the Al-Qaeda members and led to the arrest of six individuals from the town of Burqail one of whom was injured in the fighting in Iraq about two months ago and lost both his legs, and this groups comprises of three Lebanese, and three Palestinians who are involved in the attack of the Prince Bashir barracks, and they possessed a weapons depot in Sidon.

Ministerial sources have revealed that Faisal As’ad Akbar (Saudi citizen) had entered Lebanon with a forged Saudi passport under the name Muhammad Khadhim Al-Yamani, and that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia had delegated a security official to extradite him, however, given that there isn’t an extradition treaty between Saudi Arabia and Lebanon, the Minister of Justice refused to turn him over, but Judge Mirza and the Saudi Embassy in Lebanon presided over an extradition agreement between the two countries on the same day and was signed by the General Prosecutor, yet Justice Minister Charl Rizik refused to sign off on it so that the investigation does not lose one of its principal elements resulting in a gap. Afterwards, Minister Rizik traveled outside [Lebanon] for three days and when he returned, he did not change his position, prompting the Saudi official to leave without taking Akbar with him…It then became clear to Rizik that Saudi Arabia wants to extricate itself [from this situation] should this group be charged with assassinating PM Hariri.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

New Column: Malevolent Effervescence

Here I am, explaining Muslim rage and how it connects the Hamas victory to the Danish cartoons: Malevolent Effervescence. Plus, I am going to activate the comments section. Just to let you know, though, that anything short of fawning sycophancy towards my person shall be deleted. So, behave.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Allah Sends Europe a 'Fishy' Message

The following story from UK's The Guardian saves me the trouble of explaining the background to all of this. But this story, and the accompanying photograph, have made the rounds on the jihadist websites, and you guessed it: the jihadists are interpreting it as a message from Allah admonishing the Europeans for mocking the Prophet Muhammad. Furthermore, the fish is beckoning the jihadists to come out to the furthest corners of the Old Country to proclaim the triumph of Islam throughout all of God's earth...It should also be noted that according to Christians, the fish is a symbol of Jesus Christ, hence if this blessed fish brandishes "Allah" and "Muhammad" on its scales, then that is the divine equivalent of Jesus telling his followers to convert to Islam.

Isn't it awesome that a little fish from Singapore just goes ahead and puts an end to a millenia and a half of Muslim-Christian conflict? Some are still sore over losing Aya Sophia, others yet long for the hillsides of Andalus, but now 'Oscar' has brought forth the latest divine revelation: everybody is to be a Muslim, so says God. Now, we call all get along fine. Although there is one little additional footnote: Oscar, speaking to me in a dream, would like everyone to know that should he be split open with a knife, then his entrails would read "ALI"...Yes, not only is everyone supposed to turn Muslim, but specifically Shia Muslim. Oscar also asks that he be taken at his word.

There are going to be a lot of procedural technicalities to sort through: name-changes, turning churches into mosques, mass circumcisions (and yes, Jews will need to do it over), declaring jihad on stragglers...etc.

But it'll be fun! Just remember to vote "Nibras for Caliph" on Election Day!

Why? Because Oscar says so...Only infidels would question Him. You're not an infidel, are you?

The Prophet Oscar

A fish called Allah

Paul Lewis
Thursday February 2, 2006

As supposed miracles go, Oscar the fish is the best that the town of Waterfoot, near Bury, has ever seen.

Locals flocked to the village's pet shop, Water Aquatic, this week after it was noticed that the markings on the scales of the two-year-old albino Oscar fish mimicked the Arabic script for Allah.

That the other side of the fish appeared to be inscribed with the word Muhammad only served to compound the spectacle. Within hours, Oscar - originally from Singapore - found hordes of locals, paparazzi and national television news reporters peering into his tank.

Mohammed Riaz-Shahid, 38, the manager of the Oasis Fast Food restaurant across the road was quickly appointed interpreter and led the chorus of claims that this was a message from above.

"There's no doubt about it," he said. "The markings are clear to see. Allah on one side, Muhammad on the other."

"Christians, Jews - they all believe in God," he explained. "So God's showing a sign to everyone, a sign that he's here."

Peter Hurst, 17, concurred. "It's a sign of something - no doubt - probably God," he said. "It's amazing, especially for this time of year."

Perhaps the most flabbergasted visitor of all was a man from "a town nearby" who asked to remain anonymous. Last night, he claimed, he had dreamed about a whale with the words Muhammad and Allah inscribed on its head.

"It's real, it's real," he said in awe, biting his fingers. "As soon as I heard I came running. I didn't think twice about the dream until I saw the fish on the television." Eyeing the patterns a little suspiciously, he added: "I hope that wasn't painted on."

On closer inspection, however, he agreed the markings were naturally occurring, and the fish was indeed sent as evidence of God's existence.

But the manager of the shop, Tony Walker, 27, had an altogether different explanation for the "miracle" fish's appearance on his premises.

"I would hope it came to me because I'm an honest man," he said. "Someone up there sent the fish because of the way I choose to run my business."

The owner, Naz Raja, 29, from Nelson near Blackburn, who purchased the fish two weeks ago for £10, told Guardian Unlimited he was less sure about the divine origin of his new pet.

"I bought it because it was beautiful. It might be a sign, I suppose," he said. But a miracle?

"Kind of, yeah."

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Attempted Cover-Up of Al-Qaeda Role in Hariri Murder?

Yesterday, the pro-Syrian Lebanese daily Addiyar (edited by Charl Ayoub) ran a story about the 13 suspected detainees who are believed to be part of an Al-Qaeda ring, and who were arrested by Lebanese authorities over a month ago. Addiyar claims that a source close to the investigation has told the paper that one of the suspects had confessed to taping and editing the videotape made by suspected suicide bomber Ahmad Tayseer Abu Ades taking responsibility for the Hariri assassination on February 14, 2005. This tape was aired by Aljazeera shortly after the bombing that also killed dozens of others. Abu Ades is believed to be the suicide bomber who drove the explosives-laden truck used in the assassination, according to some circles. Addiyar also reports that a team from Saudi intelligence had also interrogated the detainees at some point in the investigation.

Ahmad Abu Ades as he appeared in the videotape

Last week, another Lebanese daily, Assafir, ran a story citing a ‘security official’ who claimed that only 11 suspects were arrested, while two others who were also targeted in the raid got away. One of those escapees is supposed to be Khalid Medhat Taha, named in the Mehlis report as Abu Ades’ handler.

I have a source who is allegedly speaking to someone with direct knowledge of the investigation, and this is what I was told last week:

-Khalid Medhat Taha managed to escape (…or was helped to escape) from the dragnet. He is currently believed to be hiding in the ‘Ain Al-Hilwa Camp (for Palestinian refugees) on the outskirts of Sidon.

-A Saudi national and a Palestinian refugee were among those detained. In their first affidavit, they described how the vehicle (did not specify model) that was used in the Hariri assassination was fitted with explosives and stored in the ‘Ain Al-Hilwa Camp.

-The detainees are being held by the Interior Ministry (pro-Hariri), while Military Intelligence (thought to be pro-Lahoud) has not been allowed to interrogate them. The UN inquiry team into the Hariri assassination, currently headed by Belgian prosecutor Serge Brammertz (took over from Detlev Mehlis on Jan. 24), has asked for access to this group but are being stonewalled.

-A team from the Saudi intelligence service arrived in Beirut and spoke to the Saudi and Palestinian detainees. They managed to extract the names of five priority security targets operating in Saudi Arabia. It has been suggested that the initial information about the truck bomb was expunged from the record after this meeting, leading to speculation about some sort of deal. [This is where my source overlaps the Addiyar information, but I was very hesitant to write about all of this since this speculation concerning a bargain with the detainees does not seem realistic.]

-There have been three bombings against military targets in Lebanon, with minimal casualties. Unknown groups have taken responsibility for these acts in an e-mail (tracked to Cyprus) and through a phone call (from a public pay booth in ‘Ain Al-Hilwa Camp), and have threatened further attacks if the 11 militants are not released. This information has also been published in the Arab press. It seems that the attackers have given Feb. 14 as a deadline, ominously falling on the one year anniversary of the Hariri assassination.

I don't know for certain if the Addiyar story or what was relayed by my source is accurate in full, but it seems that the notion that Al-Qaeda (Zarqawi branch? Ansar Al-Sunna branch?) was somehow involved in the Hariri assassination has picked up a momentum of its own, and the members of the Lebanese political elite that are privy to this information are themselves preparing pre-emptive talking points for release upon public disclosure. The anti-Syrian camp is saying that the Asad regime is manipulating Al-Qaeda's activities in Lebanon, just as they supposedly do in Iraq, thus acting as enablers of jihadist terrorism. The pro-Syrian establishment is preparing for a big push to release the four imprisoned generals who stand accused of killing Hariri according the Mehlis report, and to divert some of Brammertz’s attention into an inquiry as to who ‘coached’ the three ‘false witnesses’: Zuheir Siddiq, Hosam Hosam and Ibrahim Jarjoureh.

All this adds up to a ‘calling card’ announcing the arrival of Sunni jihadism in Lebanon—a development that most observers would have found ridiculous until recently. Sunni fundamentalists from northern Lebanon rioted in ‘East’ Beirut today, burning the Danish Embassy and almost escalating a confrontation with security forces into a sectarian bloodbath pitting Christian Maronites against Muslims. The Lebanese state—already looking weak after PM Sinyora’s backpedaling on Hizbullah disarmament—failed to provide law and order; a disquieting flashback to the early events that sparked the still-unforgotten civil war.

Welcome to Beirut, 2006

The Minister of Interior has resigned in humiliation, but that does little to deal with the very real problem of Al-Qaeda operating in the Lebanese powder-keg. The focus now should be on uncovering exactly how many cells are operating in Lebanon, and which of them were involved in the Hariri murder and the subsequent campaign of terror. If indeed the evidence points to Al-Qaeda in all that has been happening in Lebanon over the last year, then this marks an incredible leap in strategic planning being employed by the terrorists. Imagine: Al-Qaeda sets off a series of events in Lebanon that has the world community breathing down the necks of the Alawites in Syria, even threatening military action. As the regime is progressively weakened, Al-Qaeda moves in and sets up Fallouja-like mini-states outside of government control where the Shariah governs life, all as part of a process to resurrect the Caliphate.

If the bad guys are thinking on such a scale, then things have gone really bad. Is the response of the civilized world to his challenge anywhere nearly as sophisticated?

On the other hand, if the Syrians are indeed operating through Al-Qaeda, then this is a clear mandate for the Bush administration to declare war on the Asad regime and launch the liberation of Syria. Whatever way one looks at it, Lebanon is in trouble and everyone, including the Syrians, loses out by having parts of it turn into Al-Qaeda havens. After all, the Al-Qaeda theme song (Haya Bina Haya) lists the Alawite regime as one of its principal targets...

Al-Qaeda in Yemen, plus 'Muqtada Watch' Update

Here is an underreported story: Al-Qaeda springs 23 top jihadists from the Political Security Prison in Sana’a, Yemen, by digging a 300 meter tunnel from a nearby mosque. This happened two days ago. Among the 23 escapees is Jamal Al-Badawi, the No. 2 man in the conspiracy to bomb the USS Cole back in October 12, 2000 that resulted in the death of 17 American sailors and injured 39 others. According to what little info has been trickling out into the Arab press, 10 of the escapees were members of Al-Qaeda while the rest belonged to various jihadist groups that have been active in Yemen over the past several years. These leaks still don’t answer the question as to how, once the tunnel opened up into a prison cell, were the other inmates from different cells able to escape, fueling speculation that there was an insider among the prison authorities who helped in the breakout.

Muqtada the Statesman: So, after touring Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Iran, Muqtada Al-Sadr has landed in Damascus to hold talks with top Syrian officials, including Bashar Al-Asad, according to the official Syrian news agency. That’s a reassuring thought: Iraq is represented today by the likes of Muqatada. Maybe he should be made an Ambassador-at-Large for the Republic of Iraq…attending trade shows in Taiwan, or inaugurating Iraqi Cultural Centers in Latin America? Just for the record: Muqtada still has an outstanding arrest warrant in his name for his alleged involvement in the murder of Abdel-Majid Al-Khoei in April 2003. You’d think that such a warrant would be posted at Baghdad International Airport, huh? I guess then he is traveling by magic carpet.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Bits & Pieces

So there is some justice in this world after all: The New York Times is reporting for its Sunday edition that Iraqi authorities are going after Iraqi Sunni parliamentarian, Misha’an Al-Jabouri, and his son Yazan, on corruption charges. They are also accused of allegedly funneling funds to the insurgents. This is what Talisman Gate had to say recently on Mr. Jabouri—who has gone into hiding according to the news report (Pssst: try finding Jabouri in Masoud Barzani’s bastion in Salahuddin, or Damascus). Mr. Jabouri’s block had won three seats in December’s parliamentary elections. Oddly enough, when Ziad Qattan wanted to go into hiding, he also initially found refuge with Mr. Barzani. Come to think of it, when Hazim Al-Sha’alan arrived back in Iraq, he was a guest of Barzani’s in Arbil. Barzani involved in corruption? Could it be? I know of two shelves full of files from Saddam’s intelligence archive detailing the shenanigans of the Barzani clan and their close association with Saddam-era corruption. It is probably time for whoever has access to these documents to render a service to the Iraqi people by releasing the information they contain.

...Speaking of Saddam’s Archive: Yonadem Kanna, the head of the Assyrian Democratic Movement, was in Washington over the past week meeting with all sorts of power brokers. His comings-and-goings even included breakfast with President Bush, according to a press release from Kanna’s people. He had just won a seat in the December elections, but the bad folks over at the De-Ba’athification Commission are blocking his admission to the parliament. Why? Well, it seems that Kanna was recruited by Saddam’s Intelligence Service in 1997 while he was an opposition member living in Kurdish-controlled Northern Iraq. I know of two large binders that tell the whole story of how this happened, but I was not allowed to peruse them, or copy any material, unfortunately. The allegation is not unmerited, and the De-Ba’athification people are acting fully within the law. So far, Kanna has not even employed the usual refrain that he was only feeding disinformation to the regime, and has kept mum on the allegation.

Rain on Jabiri’s Parade: Elaph’s Usama Mahdi had a story yesterday about a “vicious campaign” being waged by the UIA against one of its own, Nadim Al-Jabiri. They are accusing him of being a former member of the Ba’ath Party and a Saddam loyalist; they are republishing articles he had written in the past praising the former dictator. Jabiri, who is the Fadhila Party’s candidate for the PM slot, apparently had authored many pieces in Al-Thawra Newspaper, the official organ of the Ba’ath Party, over the years and these may have come back to haunt him and end his run in politics. Furthermore, as a professor of political science at Baghdad University, he had supervised PhD dissertations by leading regime officials such as ‘Abid Hmoud, Saddam’s secretary and kinsman, according to these allegations. One embarrassing article that has been re-published is from the November 17, 1987 issue of Qadissiya Newspaper (a publication associated with Iraq’s armed services) whereby Jabiri hails Saddam as an “inspirational leader” among other sycophantic epithets. Interestingly, Jabiri seems to have published a post-liberation book titled The Appropriate Form of Government for Iraq in which he recommends Khomeini’s model of Vilayet-el-Faqih! However, Jabiri’s reforms the model slightly by stipulating that the Supreme Leader should only reign for a 7 year term that can be renewed only once.

Iraqi-British youth arrested in Spain on terrorism charges: Hayyaj Muhlib Ma’an, 25, the son of an Iraqi businessman residing in Britain, was arrested by Spanish authorities in January along with 20 other suspected activists accused of recruiting fighters to join the insurgency. The story was carried by Asharq Al-Awsat citing information from the Salafist-leaning Maqrizi Center in London. Hayyaj’s father is described as a “Sunni from southern Iraq”—probably from Zubeir given the heavily ‘tribal-sounding’ name. It should be noted that the town of Zubeir to the south-east of Basra is an anomaly in southern Iraq since it was populated some 200 years ago by Nejdi tribesmen from the heart of Arabia, who were strongly influenced by Wahhabi propaganda. In the last 50 years, most of its people had immigrated to Saudi Arabia and taken its citizenship. Today, the desert oasis town is two-thirds Shia. This yet another story that makes you think about what sort of ideology (...and family background) would compel a British-raised kid to go on 'walkabout' and make the rounds for jihad. It must have been those darn cartoons!