Tue 11 Dec 2007
Pick up your morning newspaper or log on to an online news source and chances are there will be reports of suicide bombings somewhere in the Middle East (or Sri Lanka). The latest example, reported only a few hours ago, is from Algeria, as published in The Guardian:
At least 47 people, including a member of UN staff, were killed in two car bomb attacks in the Algerian capital today.
A car packed with explosives rammed into the offices of the UN’s refugee agency (UNHCR) in Algiers, and another was detonated outside the constitutional court.
Official estimates put the death toll at 47, but the BBC reported that the figure was over 60. A further 43 people have been injured.
The US president, George Bush, condemned the attacks as “senseless act of violence”.
The two car bombs, in upmarket areas of the capital, happened 10 minutes apart.
The first car bomb was driven into the constitutional court building in the Ben Aknoun district, killing at least 30 people. The official Algerian news agency reported that several of the victims were students who had been travelling on a school bus.
Ten minutes later, the second car bomb was driven into the UNHCR, in the Hydra district, killing at least 15.
Farhan Haq, a UN spokesman, said the member of staff who died had been working in the office of the UN development programme, which is across the road from the UNHCR building and was also damaged in the blast.
More of the same, you might think. The story could as easily have been about Iraq or Afghanistan or Israel or fill in the increasing number of blanks. So why is all this happening, as if the pragmatic reasons are not painfully obvious? More of the same again. The media, echoing the Bush administration, has a suspect. Here is how The Guardian spins it:
Today’s twin blasts were the latest in a series of bomb attacks in Algeria this year, and will confirm fears that al-Qaida has opened up a new front in north Africa, also known as the Maghreb.
In April, explosions at a police station and the prime minister’s office killed 30 and wounded 100 in what was thought to be the worst violence Algeria had seen since the civil war ended in 2002.
Al-Qaida claimed responsibility for the blasts.
Since then, the terror group has also claimed responsibility for attacks in July and two blasts, at a coastguard barracks and among a crowd of people waiting to meet the Algerian leader, Abdelaziz Bouteflika, in September. The September bombs killed more than 50 people and injured more than 150.
Intelligence services are divided about the nature of terrorist activity in the region. One view is that it remains directly linked to the bloody civil war of the 1990s and is carried out for local reasons by the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC).
However, earlier this year the GSPC pledged allegiance to Osama bin Laden, renaming itself the al-Qaida Organisation in the Islamic Maghreb.
On September 11 last year, al-Qaida’s No 2, Ayman al-Zawahiri, released a videotaped message saying Bin Laden had personally approved the “blessed union”.
I am reminded of the famous Bogart line near the end of Casablanca: “Round up the usual suspects, Louis.” This is not because the real criminals might get away, but because it is convenient to have scapegoats. The foment in Algeria predates Osama’s cavity-prone call for jihad against a Western bully and it was local. The renaming of the earlier militant group as the al-Qaida Organisation in the Islamic Maghreb is hardly a dangerous expansion of a coordinated global terrorism plot, but rather a sign that the religiously veneered violence of the 90s has been repudiated by the vast majority of Algerians. If a few of the die-easy locals are jumping on the Osama bin Laden bandwagon, it means the wind has been taken out of the sails of their earlier efforts. Targeting Algiers is first and foremost about Algeria, not the presence of American troops on the sacred desert sand of Saudi Arabia.
The violent attacks will continue and both Western diplomats seeking a united front against terrorism and the terrorists themselves will raise the flag of Al-Qaida. This flag gets attention in the world media. If a disgruntled Algerian militant drove a car into the office of a UN refugee center, the world would not pay that much attention. But if Al-Qaida strikes again, now there is a story and a reason to spend even more money fighting terrorism the old-fashioned away (creating enemies so you can justify going after them).
News stories generally get read for the sensational facts, such as how many people were killed and who did it. But think beyond the story to the event and imagine yourself as a witness. In the car bomb that went off in a local court building several of the victims were children on a school bus. How many converts to terrorism in the blessed name of Osama do you think such a tragic result will yield in Algeria? How many Muslims worldwide will go to bed tonight saying Allah be praised that the evildoers are receiving divine justice? How many more millions of dollars will now be added to national security efforts that make fat cats of Blackwater peacekeepers? Do you think any sane person in Algeria believes this cowardly and barbaric act represents a divinely-inspired Muslim jihad called Al-Qaida and fulfills the message of the Quran and words of the Prophet?
The radicals who will strike again tomorrow and the day after (and who assuredly are not reading this commentary or any like it) will rant “Allahu Akbar” and the counter insurgency courtesans will argue that Muslims who shout “Allahu Akbar” while playing paintball in the Poconos should be put away for life. You do not need to be Nostradamus to predict this bit of realism. But blaming Al-Qaida and passing out more ammunition will not bring back the lives of the children and ordinary men and women and soldiers who will die in tomorrow’s blast.
Al-Qaida strikes again! You’ve gotta be al-Qaiding me…
Daniel Martin Varisco
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