Sunday, February 10, 2013

10-Feb-13: Suicides, haters and lone wolves

The Spanish/Moroccan suspect [Image Source]
Spanish police arrested a Moroccan man on Friday in Valencia on suspicion that was planning what Associated Press calls "Islamic terror attacks". Unfortunately such plots, and the arrests that stop them, are no longer rare. Still, this one and the way it is reported throws up some issues worth examining.

What was the Moroccan, whose name is given as Mohamed Echaabi in most of the news reports we saw, suspected of being about to do? AP says
he intended “to commit terrorist acts against personalities and other targets” according to the doctrine of global Jihad, or holy war, in Spain and elsewhere in Europe. 
CNN's version offers more detail, saying that the Spanish police believe Echaabi
underwent a process of radicalization in which he acquired firm, extreme convictions that led him to leave Spain and travel to Gaza in 2011 with the goal of carrying out an action of suicidal character against Israeli interests
Someone ought to explain to CNN's editors that what's really significant about a terrorist getting to ready to attack innocent people - even when they are connected to "Israeli interests" - is not that the attacker has suicide on his mind ("an action of suicidal character") but that he means to hurt innocent people - preferably many of them, and if possible, lethally. His suicide, if that is one of the outcomes, is surely one of the less unfortunate outcomes.

The Spanish newspaper La Razon, along with CNN and numerous other English-language news channels, mentions something else the Spanish police apparently said: that Echaabi
is considered a "lone wolf" who was planning targeted killings and other attacks in Spain and elsewhere in Europe, the ministry said. Echaabi is considered by police to have a profile similar to that of Mohammed Merah, the self-styled al Qaeda jihadist who authorities said killed seven people in Toulouse, France, in March 2012. After a 32-hour standoff, Merah was killed by police in his home. [CNN]
The mention of Merah is interesting. Was this cold-blooded French killer of gendarmes and of Jewish toddlers outside their school really a lone wolf? No. Ten days ago, police in Toulouse arrested two friends of the dead Merah. See "Two accomplices of Toulouse's 'lone wolf' scooter killer Mohamed Merah, who went on killing spree, arrested"
Two men were in custody in Toulouse today suspected of helping the “scooter killer”, Mohamed Merah before his murderous rampage in south-western France in March last year. The arrests were made last night, hours after the French interior minister, Manuel Valls, publicly repudiated the official theory that Merah was a psychopathic “lone wolf” rather than an Islamist terrorist. Merah, 23, killed seven people, including three children, in three gun attacks on a Jewish school and off-duty French soldiers in Toulouse and Montauban last March. He was killed by French police while resisting arrest after a 36-hour siege. The two men, aged 28 and 30, arrested yesterday were said to be friends of Merah and his brother, Abdelkader, who is already in custody accused of complicity in the killings. Investigators are said to believe that the two men may have helped Merah prepare for the murders, including the theft of the high-power scooter used in all the attacks.
At an anti-terrorism conference in Brussels yesterday, Mr Valls dismissed claims by the previous French government that Merah and his brother acted independently of any organised Islamist networks. “The celebrated lone wolf theory does not hold water in Merah’s case,” Mr Valls said. “His actions were the result of meticulous preparation and a true process of apprenticeship through contacts with numerous people.”
How the lone-wolf theory ever got traction is a puzzle. As far back as August 2012, the BBC published this:
Toulouse gunman Mohamed Merah 'no lone wolf'            BBC (23 August 2012) France's Le Monde newspaper says it has seen confidential documents of the police investigation into Toulouse gunman Mohamed Merah that suggest he was not working alone. The papers showed he had made more than 1,800 calls to over 180 contacts in 20 different countries, Le Monde said. Merah had also made several trips to the Middle East and Afghanistan. Merah, 24, killed three soldiers and four Jewish people in March before being shot dead by police.
True to form, the BBC's report calls the child-killer Merah a 'gunman'... but not a terrorist. We have remarked often about the BBC's disgraceful ultra-delicacy in refusing to call anyone a terrorist.

Let's also note how utterly chilling it is to see the way the BBC's editors framed their report. Called upon to describe a schoolyard killing in which a young teacher, two of his sons aged 6 and 3, and a little girl of 8, are shot to death - the professionals at the BBC choose to call the victims "four Jewish people".

Most media channels, up to and including those reporting on this week's Spanish/Moroccan jihadist, persist in referring to the lone-wolf profile of Mohamed Merah for purposes of comparison. But Merah made 1,800 phone calls to his 180 contacts. And his brother was arrested almost immediately. And now two additional men. So in what way was he a lone wolf?

Could it be that it's less threatening, less discomforting, to their audiences if they are left to believe the man planned to do the killings on his own, devoid of an ideological/religious background?

How unsettling is it for alert news consumers to try to make sense of the seemingly-endless ranks of young European men professing various expressions of the one religion as the justification for their acts of extreme prejudice, hateful murder and self-destruction?

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