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Posts For: June 30, 2007

The London Bomb Plot: All the News That’s Fit to Spin

No sooner was the London car-bomb disaster averted, seemingly by poor tradecraft on the part of the bombers, than the spinning began. The New York Times, ever vigilant to explain the news in ways that comport with its editorial line, takes the lead.

“The idea of a multiple attack using car bombs,” reports Alan Cowell on the paper’s front page, has “raised concerns among security experts that jihadist groups linked to al Qaeda may have imported tactics more familiar in Iraq.”

“Imported tactics more familiar in Iraq”? In other words, what the Times is telling us, citing experts it declines to identify, is that this attempt to cause carnage in the heart of London is just more blowback from the American-led war to topple Saddam Hussein.

Is there anything to this?

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No sooner was the London car-bomb disaster averted, seemingly by poor tradecraft on the part of the bombers, than the spinning began. The New York Times, ever vigilant to explain the news in ways that comport with its editorial line, takes the lead.

“The idea of a multiple attack using car bombs,” reports Alan Cowell on the paper’s front page, has “raised concerns among security experts that jihadist groups linked to al Qaeda may have imported tactics more familiar in Iraq.”

“Imported tactics more familiar in Iraq”? In other words, what the Times is telling us, citing experts it declines to identify, is that this attempt to cause carnage in the heart of London is just more blowback from the American-led war to topple Saddam Hussein.

Is there anything to this?

Multiple simultaneous attacks have long been a hallmark of al Qaeda. The Times is suggesting that it is multiple simultaneous attacks using car bombs that is the unique Iraqi element in this instance. Is this so?

On August 7, 1998, two U.S. embassies were simultaneously blown up by al Qaeda, one in Tanzania, the other in Kenya. The method employed: car bombs. This particular weapon may be in wide use in Iraq, but car bombs were being employed by al Qaeda long before the United States became embroiled in a counterinsurgency there. The Times, for obvious reasons, would have us think otherwise.

The Washington Post, to its credit, does not even hint in this direction; indeed, it directly refutes the suggestion offered by the Times. Noting that the two rigged cars found in London were packed with gas cylinders and nails, it refers to the “Gas Limos Project,” a 39-page document written by a British citizen, Dhiren Barot, that was found by counterterrorism operatives in 2004 on a laptop in Pakistan, containing instructions on how to use gas cylinders and nails in cars to blow up an underground parking garage and cause maximum bloodshed:

The limousine scheme called for a six-man team to park the vehicles in a garage underneath a large building—the precise target wasn’t specified—and detonate the bombs by remote control.

According to the memo, Barot envisioned packing each limo with 12 or 13 cylinders of propane, acetylene or liquid oxygen, which would be detonated by a separate main charge of explosives. He also suggested packing the vehicles with nails—”preferably rusty”—to act as shrapnel.

The New York Times cites the Barot document but fails to mention that it was found in Pakistan. A multiple choice question for readers: is this latest bomb plot an example of (a) blowback from Iraq, (b) the continuation of al Qaeda’s war against the West, or (c) the continuation of the New York Times‘s war against the Bush administration? To ask the new ombudsman of the New York Times, Clark Hoyt, for the correct answer, write to public@nytimes.com.

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