You Can’t Negotiate With Religious Extremists

Terrorism left its calling card in Sydney today. I think we all kind of knew it was coming. We just didn’t know the where?, or the when? Both of those questions were answered when a middle-aged fanatical Jihadist, walked into a busy café, in the heart of the city, around 9 in the morning. He was armed with a sawn off shotgun and proceeded to take more than 20 people hostage. What followed was a siege lasting 17 hours. It ended around 2 am, when heavily armed police stormed the café, after hearing the sound of gunshots coming from inside. Minutes later, three people were dead. The fanatical jihadist hostage taker, and two of his hostages, a man aged 34 and a woman aged 38. Australia is fighting the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq. We knew there would be consequences. The Islamic State publicly vowed revenge against innocent people to be chosen at random. But you can’t stop living your life, just because a group of religious crazies threaten you, or want to attack you for the way you choose to live. Nor should we.

Authorities know quite a bit about the Jihadist hostage taker but I don’t want to waste oxygen talking about him to any significant degree. He was Iranian and a Muslim convert. A self styled cleric who was convicted of sending poison pen letters to the families of Australian soldiers killed during the war in Afghanistan. He was also on bail for being an accessory to the murder of his wife, who was stabbed and set on fire. He persuaded his girlfriend to kill her.   The self-styled Jihadist also faced 40 sexual assault charges after complaints from seven women who attended one of his ‘spiritual healing sessions.’ The Jihadist likened himself, on his own webpage, to Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, claiming the police charges against him were laid for “political reasons.” His website also carries a quote, posted earlier this month, stating: “I used to be a Rafidi, but not any more. Now I am a Muslim, Alhamdulillah.” ( Praise be to Allah)

During the siege, this religious fanatic forced his hostages to hold up a black flag, with Arabic writing, against the window of the cafe and record video messages on their mobile phones, listing his demands. The videos were initially posted on YouTube but were immediately removed on the advice of police. Deep down we all knew, right from the very start of this, it was going to end badly. Of course, there will be the inevitable questions: Should this man have been released on bail? Had he been identified as a religious extremist and placed on a watch list? If not? why not? His lawyer described him as a ‘damaged goods individual.’ There will also be scrutiny of how the police handled the siege. We received many public assurances from the New South Wales Police Commissioner, the Premier of New South Wales and the Prime Minister that the police were professionally trained to deal with this type of crisis and we should all have faith that they can bring about a peaceful resolution.

Bring about a peaceful resolution? Are you kidding me? When they said that I began to get very worried. For a start this was not a normal siege by any stretch. Most sieges are an attempt by the hostage taker to achieve some personal advantage. The Jihadist who walked into that café only had two purposes, to die killing innocent people and secondly to create maximum publicity so that when he did, everyone would remember who was responsible and, hopefully, from that time on, live in fear of it happening again. He didn’t care that he would be killed. In fact he was counting on it. You can’t negotiate with people like that. You are wasting your time to even try. But the New South Wales police did try. They didn’t comply with his demands but they tried to negotiate with him. And they waited.

Now I don’t want to sound like some armchair quarterback replaying the calls that were made with the benefit of hindsight. I understand the police had a nightmare on their hands. But I will be honest and say I think it was a serious mistake to wait for the shooting to start before they did any shooting themselves. It might sound harsh but being reactive is too late. The horse has bolted. The hostage taker is already doing what he came to do from the moment he walked into that café. We live in a different world. There are people in it who have no regard for their own life as long as they can take the lives of innocent people. The hostage taker in Sydney made it pretty clear who he represented, and what this was about, right from the start. You don’t negotiate. You wait for an opportunity or, you create an opportunity, to use lethal force against him. You certainly don’t wait until he starts killing people. It’s a harsh lesson that maybe the New South Wales police are about to learn.

Be Careful What You Google

This would be disturbing if it wasn’t so farcical.

Be careful what you Google. That was the clear message after a New York couple received an unwelcome visit from counterterrorism authorities.

Blogger and journalist Michele Catalano was Googling pressure cookers. Yep. Pressure cookers. She wanted a pressure cooker to (wait for it) cook quinoa. For those who might not know what that it is, Quinoa is a South American grain you can purchase in a health food shop. It was a harmless Google search.

Next, her husband was using the same computer to search for backpacks. He needed a backpack. Don’t we all from time to time. Again it was a harmless Google search.

The couple’s 20 year old son was also on the computer. After reading about the Boston bombings he was clicking on links about home-made bombs. He wasn’t doing anything wrong. It was harmless curiosity.

But unfortunately there is no such thing as harmless anything any more. Not in the days of terrorism and counter terrorism. And especially not if it leads to authorities concluding that someone might be trying to manufacture a home made bomb.

Now apparently unbeknown to the Catalanos someone, somewhere in authority was putting all of this Google searching together and came to the conclusion that this family represented enough of a threat to warrant a visit.

Around 9 am one morning the family answered a knock on the front door. We are talking black ops. Six men in three black SUVs pulled up and surrounded the house.

Like I said they knocked. This time. As opposed to kicking the door down. Michele’s husband let them in. They searched and after not a long time they left.. Clearly convinced that the couple’s home was one of 99 percent of cases where there was no threat.

And that was that. Except it wasn’t. Because a lot of people are now asking how does the Government know what people are Googling?

It has already been pointed out elsewhere, that this question suddenly has great relevance given the case of National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden who has been granted temporary asylum in Russia. One of the disclosures revealed by Snowden was details of an American intelligence programme that monitors internet activity.

Michele Catalano has since learned that authorities also monitored topics her husband  looked at on his work computer.

She has no idea which counterterrorism group visited her home. They apparently did not identify themselves.

The U.S. website Atlantic Wire tried to get to the bottom of who these spooks might have been without any success. They were not the FBI or the local police.

One thing’s for sure they  were not foodies. They had no idea what Quinoa was.

Who Is Bradley Manning?

A newspaper journalist recently wrote a piece with a headline that I thought was extremely thought provoking. It said who is Bradley Manning? and why should we care?

These are two questions that I happen to think are worth taking the time and the trouble to answer here on this blog.

So let me begin with the who question.

Bradley Manning is a private in the U.S. military. He was an intelligence analyst. I say was, because he faced a raft of extremely serious criminal charges for deliberately leaking quite a lot of what he saw and read while doing his job.

Maybe I am understating it just a tad.

In fact he was responsible for the biggest leak of intelligence information in US history.

Manning is a diminutive, nerdy, ordinary looking man with glasses who comes from a town nobody’s ever heard of in Oklahoma.  He has a lot of personal demons but is lucky to have a family that loves him.

He is also in prison for a very, very long time for what he has done.

Which brings me to the next question: Why should we care?

it might help by knowing precisely what Bradley Manning stands accused of in the leaking department.

He admitted to sending more than 470 thousand American Army battlefield reports from Iraq and Afghanistan, 250 thousand U.S. State Department diplomatic cables and a lot of other material including a number of battlefield video clips to the whistle-blowing website, Wikileaks, which later published most of them online.

Manning said at one point during a pre-trial hearing that his reason for deciding to leak the material was because he wanted to expose the military’s “bloodlust” and its complete disregard  for human life irrespective of whether they were friend or enemy.

He also wanted to expose what he described as American diplomatic deceit.

Manning said he deliberately chose information he believed would do no harm to the United States but might spark a public debate on foreign policy and the military.

Heavy duty stuff.

Ok.

The next question that needs to be asked: Was Bradley Manning justified in doing all of this?

And here’s where it gets interesting.

Manning is the source of the leak of the so called “Collateral Murder Video.”

This was a video shot in 2007, from a U.S. Apache helicopter that fired on a group of civilians in Baghdad killing nine people including a Reuters photographer and his driver. Apparently the geniuses flying the helicopter mistook cameras for grenade launchers.

And if that isn’t bad enough. The tapes also show soldiers firing on a van that stopped to rescue the injured. The van was carrying two children and their father. All three were killed.

Now this video was released by Manning in 2010 but it was shot in 2007. So why, you might ask, did it take so long to reach the public domain? The answer is because American Army officials tried to suppress it for obvious reasons. In fact the Army claimed to have lost the video.

Manning said he discovered the footage in a judge advocate’s directory. Other documents released by Manning included one concerning a U.S. air strike that killed 147 civilians.

Manning’s revelations included evidence that the U.S. military was paying money to Afghan news services to run stories that favoured the US. and that contractors working for the U.S. Department of Defence hired child prostitutes.

Manning was ultimately betrayed by a convicted computer hacker and then faced a multitude of charges including the extremely serious offence of aiding and abetting the enemy.

He is lucky he wasn’t facing the death penalty.

A judge acquitted him of that charge but Manning was been found guilty of many other charges which means a large portion of the rest of his life will be spent in prison.

Clearly the authorities in the United States want to make an example of him. I suspect partly for revenge but more importantly to act as a deterrent to anyone else who might be tempted to follow in Bradley Manning’s footsteps.

I’d like to throw in a couple of other important questions of my own:  Is he a traitor or a hero? A victim or a criminal? Does Bradley Manning deserve to have the book thrown at him? Well, does he?