Sunday, September 28, 2008

Between the Lines: Lessons Not Learned

The interesting thing PP finds about these two stories, both from the Associated Press, is the way they illustrate the continued obtuseness of state sponsors of terrorism.

Terrorism is not a controllable weapon which will always be directed at one's enemy; it ultimately comes back to bite the hand that nurtured it.

The Arab states have long promoted terrorism against Israelis; here are examples of how that weapon is being used against them.

The Soviet Union was a prime sponsor of terror groups; today terrorism is a serious problem for Russia.

The "victims" in these two incidents are Syria, which today remains one of the leading state sponsors of terrorism, and Egypt, which sometimes pays lip service towards the cause of eliminating terrorism but effectively remains a terror-enabler by allowing, and sometimes encouraging, Hamas and other Palestinian Arab terror groups to smuggle weapons into Gaza.

There is a lesson somewhere for the fanatical mullahs ruling Iran.

Bombing kills 17 in Syria

Damascus, Syria - A car bomb went off near a security complex in the Syrian capital of Damascus on Saturday, killing 17 people and injuring 14 others in the deadliest attack to strike the country in more than a decade, Syrian television reported.

A car packed with 440 pounds of explosives blew up on a highway in a southern residential neighborhood shattering dozens of car and apartment windows.

The charred booby-trapped car was seen sitting in the street near a primary school as firefighters stood near a wide crater believed to be caused by the blast.

The explosion knocked down part of a 13-foot-high wall surrounding a security complex that houses several buildings in the Sidi Kadad area.

Hours after the morning explosion, traffic returned to normal on the highway, but dozens of plainclothes Syrian police lined the road.

Syrian Interior Minister Bassam Abdul-Majid called the bombing a terrorist act and said all the victims were civilians.

Anti-terror units were investigating, he said.

We cannot accuse any party. There are ongoing investigations that will lead us to those who carried it out, Abdul-Majid told state TV.

Such deadly bombings are rare in Syria, a tightly controlled country where the government uses heavy-handed tactics to crack down against dissent and instability.

But over the past nine months, the country has witnessed two major assassinations, including one involving a car bomb.

The secular government also says it is battling Sunni Muslim militants who have carried out several bombings and attacks against government institutions in recent years.

Little is known, though, about Islamic militant groups here because information is limited by the state, which rarely discusses security issues.

But Saturday's bombing was by far one of the largest ever and tested weaknesses in the government's traditionally tight security grip.

Several witnesses said the blast sounded like an earthquake struck their neighborhood.

Mohammed Shubli, the owner of a toy shop, said after the blast he saw columns of smoke rising in the sky.

My house was completely damaged by the force of the blast, Shubli said.

The explosion also occurred at an intersection that leads to Sayeda Zeinab, a holy shrine for Shiite Muslims frequently visited by Iranian and Iraqi pilgrims about five miles away from the bombing site.

The United States condemned the bombing and all terrorist actions, said State Department spokesman Gordon Duguid.

He said the U.S. Embassy in Damascus would close its consular section through Tuesday except for emergency services because of the heightened security concern.

Saturday's bombing is the deadliest in more than decade. On New Year's Eve 1997, a bomb went off aboard a public bus in Damascus, killing 12 people and wounding dozens.

Syria blamed Israel for the bombing, though Israel denied the charge.

[When in doubt, blame the Jews.

Even when there is no doubt, blame the Jews.]

The last major explosion to strike Damascus was in February when a car bomb killed the commander of Lebanon's Shiite militant Hezbollah group, Imad Mughniyeh.

Hezbollah and its top ally, Iran, blamed Israel for the assassination, but Israel denied involvement.

[To repeat: When in doubt, blame the Jews. Even when there is no doubt, blame the Jews.]

Perilous Adventure in Egypt's Remotest Desert, Tourists at Risk

By Maggie Michael and Sarah El Deeb

Cairo, Egypt - The abduction of a European tour group in a distant corner of Egypt's desert underlines the potential dangers of adventure tourism pushing deeper into remote destinations and getting closer to conflict zones.

In the case of the 11 Europeans and eight Egyptians held since Sept. 19, the lawlessness in the desert plateau of Gilf al-Kebir may be a spillover from the violence in eastern Chad and Sudan's Darfur region, where armed bands are notorious for hijacking and robberies.

Desert tour operators and security officials say there have been several robberies and carjackings of tourists over the past year by heavily armed gunmen at Gilf al-Kebir, near the Sudanese and Libyan borders, which never previously saw such incidents.

Until recently, desert guides often ran into smugglers in the area but each side left the other alone, said guide Mahmoud Nour el-Din, who has led tours to the Gilf and other parts of Egypt's Western Desert for 12 years.

The bandits are a new element, better armed and more aggressive, he said - connecting them to Chad and Darfur.

We never had attacks with guns before. We are starting to have incidents now and they are related to militia and gunmen. They started roaming around to steal cars, el-Din said.

The kidnapping is a dramatic escalation to the banditry, highlighting the ease of crossing the vast, unguarded desert borders, marked only by the occasional signpost in the sand.

Gunmen seized 11 Italians, Germans and Romanians and their eight Egyptian guides and drivers and fled into Sudan. On Thursday, Sudanese officials said the kidnappers had moved again, into Libya, but Libyan officials said they couldn't find them and didn't believe they were on Libyan soil.

German officials have been negotiating with the kidnappers, who are demanding millions of dollars in ransom, but there has been no word on progress.

The vast majority of Egypt's 9 million tourists each year visit pharaonic sites along the Nile River or Red Sea beach resorts, a world away from the Western Desert and the Gilf al-Kebir.

The Gilf, a desert plateau 500 miles southwest of Cairo, has only recently become a popular destination. It rewards those who make the daunting trek with spectacular vistas of sand dunes and desert cliffs, as well as a treasure trove of prehistoric cave art. About 2,000 tourists visited the area in the past year, up from only a handful a year less than a decade ago.

The area is uninhabited, but is a crossroads for nomadic tribes in all three countries, used by smugglers trafficking drugs, vehicles and even illegal migrants. It lies only 180 miles from Darfur and eastern Chad, where aid groups have been forced to cut back on travel because of frequent hijackings of convoys and kidnappings by armed groups.

The identity of the tourists' kidnappers remains a mystery, but they are presumed to be tribesmen, possibly Sudanese. Sudanese officials suggested they might be connected to Darfur rebels - a claim denied by rebel leaders - but others speculated they could be Chadian. Egyptian tour operators say there have been several armed robberies in recent months in the Gilf area.

Tourist driver Hamada Marzouk says that last winter he and a tour group of one German and three Britons were camping at an area known as the Eight Bells, site of an abandoned World War II-era British airstrip near the Gilf, when they were attacked. His car had broken down and, while he was fixing it, a Land Cruiser with eight gunmen pulled up.

The gunmen appeared to be ethnic Africans and I could only communicate with them by signals because I couldn't understand their language, Marzouk said.

They forced us to sit while two of them pointed their automatic weapons at us, he said.

The gunmen took a satellite phone, mobile phones, money and computers. A second vehicle arrived with more gunmen and a heavy machine gun in the back, and the bandits began looting the tourists' cars, Marzouk said.

The bandits drove off after 90 minutes, leaving behind two vehicles. We were in shock, Marzouk said. We thanked God that we didn't die.

The tour group made its way back to the Dakhla Oasis, some 220 miles away. They reported the incident to the tourist police, who instead ended up briefly detaining Marzouk because he had made the safari without the required military permit. They accused Marzouk of fabricating the story, he said.

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