Saturday, October 07, 2017

07-Oct-17: A quiet evening

London's museum precinct this afternoon: The driver
is pinned down by police [Image Source]
It's an ordinary Saturday night here in  Jerusalem.

Alright, not so ordinary since the whole country is in the midst of the Jewish religious festival of Sukkot which runs for a week and whose central motif is the temporary and generally-flimsy dwellings that are built by hundreds of thousands of families all over the country, and wherever in the world Jews live. It's the tail end of summer, the days are still sunny and warm and the evenings - Jerusalem's summer evenings are like this - are breezy and pleasant. A relaxing time.

All of which has gotten us thinking about the range and volume of news reports about terror in tonight's bulletins. A selection:
  • Authorities in New York City revealed last night (Friday) that they have arrested three ISIS sympathizers who planned terror attacks on various New York locations including the MTA subway, music concerts and targets in the Times Square area. NBC News says the FBI arrested Abdulrahman El Bahnasawy, 19, a Canadian citizen, who [source] has been in US custody since May 2016 when he was arrested in New Jersey and who pleaded guilty to terrorism charges in October 2016; Talha Haroon, 19, an American citizen living in Pakistan and arrested there; and Russell Salic, 37, a Filipino who is being sent to the US for trial. It quotes Federal prosecutors saying the three men’s goal "was to kill and injure as many people as possible"  and that El Bahnasawy had already acquired bomb-making materials and secured a cabin to build them. They also planned - shades of last week's Las Vegas massacre - to shoot civilians "at specific concert venues". Reuters says "documents unsealed in federal court in Manhattan on Friday [showed] El Bahnasawy and Mr Haroon planned to carry out attacks during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which ran from early June to early July."
  • In Switzerland, a man wielding two knives rushed at police and two refugees inside a refugee center in the southern Italian-speaking region of Ticino at 2:00 am, local time, today. Police fired at the attacker as a result of which he is now dead. The French news agency AFP says the assailant was a 38 year old Sri Lankan "asylum seeker". Police were called to break up a fight in Brissago, on the shores of Lake Maggiore and were in the building when the man with the knives attacked the other people. 
  • French police yesterday (Friday) charged three men in Paris with launching an explosive attack on a residential building in the city's upscale 16th Arrondissment. The plot failed when the gas canisters they rigged up failed to ignite. According to Times of Israel, two of the suspects were already on a police terror-watch list. The three, identified as Amine A, his cousin Sami B, and Aymen B., are now charged with multiple crimes and in detention. Police found four gas cylinders after being called to the scene: two in the hallway attached to a mobile phone which evidently served as a detonator and two more on the sidewalk outside the building. Associated Press says the charges against the three are attempted murder linked to a terrorist enterprise, transporting explosives and participating in a terrorist association aimed at preparing attacks. All three have prior French criminal convictions; we are not yet able to learn the details.
  • In Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, a little-reported shootout today between police and terrorists, according to an RT news story, resulted in the deaths of a "gunman and two guards... as the Saudi Arabian security forces prevented a terrorist attack near the royal Al Salam Palace... There has so far been no confirmation of the attack from Saudi authorities. The US Embassy in Saudi Arabia has issued a security warning to American citizens in Jeddah over the reported attack." This is bound to get more coverage but there's almost none tonight. 
  • Another little-reported terror attack though on a much larger scale in the huge (but almost invisible to Western eyes) West African state of Niger. CNN says "three US Green Berets were killed and two others were wounded... near the Mali-Niger border when a joint US-Nigerien patrol was attacked Wednesday... Initial indications are the Green Berets were ambushed by up to 50 fighters who are thought to be affiliated with ISIS... The Green Berets were part of a team advising and assisting local forces when they were attacked." A sizable French and US military presence is seeking to stem the incursion of ISIS forces into Niger: some 800 US troops are currently based there; some are called advisers but that's likely to be mere foreign policy camouflage. CNN: "The US military has maintained a presence in the northwest African country for five years, with small groups of US Special Operations Forces advising local troops as they battle two terrorist groups, ISIS-affiliated Boko Haram and al Qaeda's North African branch, al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb." 
  • In Malaysia, where the authorities have been on high alert for human bombs and shooters since "Islamic State launched multiple attacks in Jakarta, the capital of neighboring Indonesia, in January 2016", Reuters says 8 people, four foreigners and four Malaysians, were taken into custody today "for suspected involvement in terrorist activities linked to Abu Sayyaf, the Islamic State and Jemaah Islamiah". Those arrested are said to include three Filipinos, one Albanian (a law lecturer at a local university) and two people convicted in 2016 of participating in terrorist activities (so people might be asking why are they free now).
  • And here in Israel, the death of Reuven Shmerling, a Jewish Israeli in his 70s who lived with his family in Elkana and whose body was found on Wednesday at a location on the outskirts of Kafr Qassem, an Israeli town whose residents are overwhelmingly Arab, now appears (after the police expressed initial doubt) to have been the result of terrorism. Haaretz says "Shmerling left his home on Wednesday morning and went to a warehouse in Kafr Qasem, which belonged to his son. When his wife Hanna noticed he did not return home and is not answering his phone, his son was called to the warehouse, where he discovered his father's body. Paramedics pronounced Shmerling dead. In a statement, Shmerling's family stressed they have no doubt he was killed in a terror attack."
Two additional alarming reports turn out (so far at least) to be unrelated to terror:
  • An incoming-missile alert was sounded in the Israeli communities closest to the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip around the time we started writing this report. As of now (10:30 pm Saturday), the alert appears to be without basis and there were no actual rockets. This happens.
  • In London, a car drove onto the sidewalk outside a popular museum at 2:20 pm London time today. According to Financial Times, this happened "at the junction of Exhibition Road and Cromwell Road, between the Victoria and Albert Museum and the Natural History Museum — is part of a shared space experiment and the pavement is at the same level as the road." The response from security services was rapid and large: "dozens of armed officers flooded the area and a 200 metre cordon was created around the scene. Witnesses fled in panic as police told them to "keep running" and put businesses around the area in lockdown." [Telegraph UK]
    The BBC quotes the Metropolitan Police saying one person was arrested. But earlier concerns that this was a terror attack were now being set aside, and "the incident was being treated as "a road traffic collision". London Ambulance said the people it treated - including the detained man - had mostly sustained head and leg injuries. Nine were taken to hospital." Meanwhile the driver "is being held in custody at a north London police station." The British are uncommonly tense over the prospects of more terror in their lives; as BBC notes tonight: "The current terror threat in the UK is at "severe" - the second highest level - meaning an attack is highly likely."
Life is so much more relaxed when you ignore what terrorists are planning and doing. But the difficult reality is that ignoring them doesn't make them go away.

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