Friday, June 09, 2006
Arab media reacts to al-Zarqawi's death
When people ask about Arab media reaction to the killing of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, they expect to hear one answer or the other. But like many other issues in the Arab world, reaction to events vary with nationalities, age groups, affiliations, geography, religion and many other things that play a role independently and interactively. Thus, reactions come in black, white and every shade in between.
Zarqawi was never treated in Arab media with the respect awarded to Osama bin Laden or Ayman al-Zawahiri. He was mainly seen as the foreign fighter who turned the struggle against occupation in Iraq into an aimless bloodbath targeting civilians, killing, beheading, bombing and terrorizing a whole nation and even a region. Most experts and commentators on Arab media blame Zarqawi for crossing the line and committing acts that "no one in Islam approves of," not even the al Qaeda leaders themselves. He is also blamed for playing on the differences within the Iraqi culture to pit Sunnis against Shiites and fan the flames of civil war.
Arab media showed the graphic images of Zarqawi's body without a disclaimer or apology. Right there on the main pages of newspapers, TV headlines. It was the subject of discussion on talk shows and the main topic of opinion editorials almost everywhere. Newspaper headlines described the "joy in the US, Europe and parts of Iraq" but warned that "the entire region awaits Zarqawi's successor and the revenge." Others thought that the strike on Zarqawi will fuel the insurgency; they predicted "the worst is yet to come."
Political cartoonists also saw an opportunity to make their opinions known. One cartoon shows a surprised Ossama bin Laden sitting on a stool representing al Qaeda. One leg of the stool is knocked off by a US missile. The severed leg lies down lifeless with the head of a dead Zarqawi.
Another cartoon from Lebanon showed a falling statue very much like that of Saddam Hussein which became the symbol of the fall of Baghdad and the Hussein regime. The statue this time is that of a masked Zarqawi wearing his insurgent outfit with the dagger and all. Under the fallen statue are images of hostages and beheadings.
A cartoon from Saudi Arabia had Zarqawi's face of terror and pencil eraser wiping off the face. On the pencil the words "New Iraq" are written in English.
Any support for Zarqawi? Sure, there were those who called him "a courageous leader who's credited for hiring hundreds of men into the insurgency." He was called a "hero" and a "martyr" by his followers who said they are more interested in death than life and promised to continue what Zarqawi has started.
On this story, the voices cheering Zarqawi's death drowned out those cheering him on in death as they did in life. The moderate opinions prevailed over those of extremism. Both sides agree on one thing, that the road ahead remains difficult and dangerous.
Al-Zarqawi: 'Eyes are everywhere'
The first time I heard Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's name was back in early 2002. I was in Amman, Jordan, meeting with members of Jordanian intelligence when a colonel there told my colleague and me that we should pay attention to this man.
Over the course of the next several months, I learned how al-Zarqawi was wanted for a plot to blow up Jordanian hotels on the eve of the millennium. Then a U.S. diplomat was assassinated in Amman and al-Zarqawi came into the frame for that.
There were so many rumors about him no one knew what was legit and what wasn't. Did he really have a fake leg as a result of a wound suffered in Afghanistan? As it turns out, no. Was he Palestinian? No, again.
And then suddenly, he was public enemy number one, starting with the bombings of the U.N. compound and Jordanian embassy in Baghdad in 2003.
CNN Correspondent Nic Robertson and I have hit a lot of places while reporting on him since that first mention in 2002: Zarqa, where his family was from; Amman, walking through the bombed-out ballrooms of hotels where his suicide bombers had slaughtered more than 50 people; in other towns in Jordan, where we talked to his friends and his enemies; on the Internet, where al-Zarqawi laid out his bloody vision of sectarian strife between Sunnis and Shiites in Iraq and where finally he showed his face in a breathtakingly egotistical video just a few weeks ago.
The riddle was how this one-time troubled young Jordanian had vaulted to worldwide prominence as an uncompromising terrorist who cut the throat of an American hostage and put the videotape of the event on the Web. In his mind, perhaps, it all made sense. Not to me.
There were missed chances, when the U.S. military failed to get him, but even he knew it was just a matter of time before he would be caught or killed.
"Eyes are everywhere," he wrote in a 2004 letter to Osama bin Laden intercepted and published by the United States. Perhaps that's why he kept his face hidden for so long, until that videotape in April.
About three weeks ago, before I left for an assignment in Afghanistan, I updated al-Zarqawi's obit. It's just one of those things you do as a journalist in case someone like him is captured or killed. Wishful thinking, perhaps. Turns out it was good timing.
Thursday, June 08, 2006
Bin Laden might find relief in al-Zarqawi's death
Osama bin Laden and his number two man, Ayman al-Zawahiri, would have first met Abu Musab al-Zarqawi around 1999, just after he had been released from a Jordanian jail and made his way to Afghanistan.
Al-Zarqawi went there to set up a training camp in the western part of the country for a small group of his Jordanian followers known as Tawhid, an organization that aimed to overthrow the Jordanian government.
During this period, al-Zarqawi had no wish to attack the United States, as al Qaeda's leaders had already decided to do, and his relationship with al Qaeda was as much competitive as it was cooperative.
After the fall of the Taliban in Afghanistan in the winter of 2001, al-Zarqawi fled the country to Iran and made his way to northern Iraq sometime in 2002. He then started planning to attack American forces in what turned out to be the lead up to the U.S. invasion of Iraq in April 2003.
Al-Zarqawi's group of mostly "foreign fighters" was small in number, no more than 1,500 at any time, but had an important strategic impact on the Iraq war.
It has been the foreigners who have conducted by far the largest numbers of suicide operations -- up to 90 percent -- and it is those operations that helped spark the incipient Sunni-Shia violence in Iraq. This unrest forced the United Nations and many other international organizations to withdraw from the country.
For this reason, bin Laden was delighted when in the fall of 2004 al-Zarqawi announced publicly that he was renaming his group "Al Qaeda in the Land of the Two Rivers," i.e. Iraq. Al-Zarqawi also pledged bayat, a religiously binding oath of allegiance to bin Laden, who he described as his emir, or prince.
So far so good as far as bin Laden was concerned. But by 2005, al Qaeda's leaders were worried that al-Zarqawi's beheadings of civilians were turning off popular support for their jihad in Iraq. Al Qaeda's leaders were also deeply concerned about al-Zarqawi's efforts to provoke a Sunni-Shia civil war in Iraq.
While bin Laden and al-Zawahiri, both of whom are Sunni fundamentalists, may privately consider Shias to be heretics, they have never said this publicly. Al-Zarqawi by contrast has referred to the Shia as "scorpions" and has organized suicide operations against some of the holiest Shia sites.
The concerns of al Qaeda's leaders about al-Zarqawi's use of beheadings and his campaign against the Shias were underscored in a letter sent from al-Zawahiri to al-Zarqawi that U.S. military forces discovered in Iraq last year. In the letter, al Qaeda's number two gently suggested that it was time to end the beheadings and to start acting as more of a political leader in anticipation of the eventual U.S. withdrawal from Iraq.
In recent months, al-Zarqawi has stopped beheading his victims, but he has not let up in his campaign against the Shia. Upon hearing the news of al-Zarqawi's death, bin Laden and al-Zawahiri likely will release audiotapes indicating their joy that al-Zarqawi has finally received what he has always wanted -- martyrdom at the hand of the infidels.
But privately, they may hope that al-Zarqawi's successor in Iraq is more amenable to taking directions from al Qaeda central, which is located somewhere on the Afghan-Pakistan border. Viewed this way, al-Zarqawi's death could bring bin Laden some relief.
Wednesday, June 07, 2006
Afghan insurgents learning from Iraq
The e-mail from the military's press office caught up with me in Frankfurt, Germany, halfway home between Afghanistan and Atlanta, Georgia: "Three U.S. Soldiers were injured today when a Coalition combat patrol was struck by a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device just north of Salerno in the Khost Province."
We'd been with coalition soldiers at a forward operating base in Salerno, Afghanistan, 10 days earlier and spent time in Khost as well. We'd also been on a convoy with the U.S. military, though we haven't gotten word whether any of those injured were the same soldiers who were with us.
This was supposed to be the war that was over, the one that we had won, helping the Nothern Alliance kick out the Taliban after 9/11 and sending Osama bin Laden into hiding. Hamid Karzai had been elected president.
So it was surprising to me to hear the U.S. military using the i-word to describe what was going on in this country. "We're fighting an insurgency" was the message we kept hearing from the military. And they told us that parts of Afghanistan are as dangerous for the U.S. military as Iraq.
It didn't seem that way when we were in Khost. The roses were blooming, the market was busy. Flying over the valley, we could see the wheat harvest had been good this year.
It was hard to believe that just eight years ago, a few miles from here, Osama bin Laden had held a press conference to declare his holy war on America.
Just a few miles away, at a forward operating base closer to the Pakistani border, Lieutenant Billy Mariani of the 10th Mountain Division was describing a recent ambush. A rocket propelled grenade hit the hood of his car while out on patrol. His men returned fire. It was quick and intense. Before they could call in artillery, the bad guys escaped across the border into Pakistan, less than a half-mile away.
But the real danger is in southern Afghanistan, where we learned from Afghan and American officials that the Taliban is stronger this year than last and that in some places it had never left at all.
In Kandahar, newly sworn-in Afghan police officers who will be on the frontlines of the fight told us just how extensive the Taliban presence is. To underscore the point, a day after we left, there was a suicide bombing in downtown Kandahar aimed at a convoy of Canadian soldiers. Four people were killed.
Most Afghans we spoke to don't want a return to the bad old days of the Taliban. They are tired of war. They want peace and security, and they want jobs. They don't want to be scared to send their children to school. Life, they say, is already hard enough.
Afghanistan isn't Iraq. But the insurgents, be they Taliban, al Qaeda or various warlords, are learning from Iraq. That's why we're seeing more suicide bombings, more roadside bombings, more raids on villages.
One unfortunate result is that I'm expecting more e-mails like the one about Khost.
Tuesday, June 06, 2006
Trolling the Niagara for terrorists
Mention border security and illegal immigration to someone and the border between the United States and Mexico likely comes to mind. But what about the U.S. border with Canada?
With the recent arrest of terrorist suspects in Canada, we decided to take a look at border security in the area near Buffalo, New York. U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials say that in terms of cars and trucks it is the busiest crossing on the northern border. Only about two hours from Toronto, millions of vehicles enter Buffalo from Canada through a number of bridges in the area. Checkpoints are in place for those vehicles. But the border itself in that area is all water. Securing it, as we found out, can be difficult.
The U.S. Coast Guard, Sector Buffalo patrols a 600 mile stretch of the coastline, which is just a small fraction of the roughly 4,000 mile long northern border. The unit took us along to give us a sense of what it's like on the front lines of this nation's border defenses.
Outside of Buffalo, the Niagara River separates the United States and Canada by less than a mile in some stretches. Coast Guard boats patrol the river for everything from boaters in distress to safety violations; they also look for smugglers and terrorists.
They say one of their most difficult tasks is trying to spot suspicious behavior in these waters due to the traffic of pleasure and commercial boats. They tell us that people have tried to slip through the border by using this waterway -- some use little boats, others use life jackets, many try to cross using a cloudy morning or the darkness of night as their cover.
While the number of illegal immigrants trying to get through the northern border is much smaller than on the southern border, the job of securing the Canadian border is coming under increasing scrutiny with the recent arrest of 17 terror suspects in Toronto.
Some terrorism experts say there are two main reasons to be concerned about the possibility of terrorists slipping through our border with Canada. One reason is the terrain. Because the border is made up of vast stretches of water and forest, it is nearly impossible to seal.
The second reason is that Canada has more lenient laws than the United States when it comes to political asylum. The Canadian ambassador has denied that claim. But some experts say Canada's recent arrests should get our attention. They say a problem in Canada could easily become a problem in the United States.
Ivy League but illegal
Dan-el Padilla Peralta is a 21-year-old whiz kid: Highly honored for his academic achievements at Princeton University, fluent in five languages, a budding master in classical Greek and Latin. He is also an illegal immigrant.
His story is like something from a novel.
Dan-el was brought to America from the Domican Republic by his mother when he was only four years old. Their temporary visa ran out, but they stayed.
Dan-el started excelling at school, and when he was ready for college, Princeton was ready for him. His academic success, however, has brought him to a crossroads.
Oxford University wants him to come study in England, but as an illegal immigrant, if he goes, he can't legally come back. On the other hand, if he stays, he can't legally hold a job. So he has reported himself to authorities and is pleading for a chance to stay.
Supporters of strict immigration law enforcement say, for all his accomplishments, Dan-el was given an unfair advantage over other legal immigrants and he should not be given any breaks now. Supporters of Dan-el's appeal for a new visa say he did not choose to come here, has known no other home, and has worked hard to be the very kind of immigrant America wants.
Did he take a spot at Princeton that could have been awarded to a legal citizen? Absolutely. Has his American education given him a unique advantage from which to argue for citizenship? Probably.
But the big, unanswered question is this: What is the fair or right thing to do now that Dan-el is finally old enough to truly contribute to America with the education he has gained?
Monday, June 05, 2006
Snatching body parts for profit
Imagine going in for a routine operation only to find out months later that the tissue and bone used in your surgery could kill you one day.
That's exactly what happened to Robbie Zappa of Georgia. He had neck surgery last summer. In December, he got a letter from his doctor urging him to get tested for syphilis, hepatitis A and B, and even HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. Zappa is healthy so far. He's lucky.
So why does Robbie Zappa have to get tested for these diseases?
Prosecutors in New York City, hundreds of miles away from where Zappa lives, say toxic tissue was harvested illegally from corpses and sold to the medical community. Four men from New York City are charged with "enterprise corruption" for stripping dead people of tissue and bone to make a buck in the body parts business. It's a billion dollar industry.
Prosecutors say the alleged kingpin in this body snatching scheme, Michael Mastromarino, forged donor forms and changed medical histories in order to pass off diseased tissue as healthy to tissue banks and hospitals.
Mastromarino's defense attorney, Mario Gallucci, says his client denies illegally harvesting body parts. Gallucci says Mastromarino inspected bodies at the funeral homes' request and collected the tissue to be tested. But, Galluci insists, it was the processors that determined what tissue was diseased or viable for sale to the medical community. At no point, Gallucci says, was his client ever told any tissue was diseased.
As for consent forms, Gallucci says, "The funeral home would fill out that form and give it to the doctor." He says Mastromarino had no way of knowing if they were fraudulent.
One of the bodies allegedly harvested belonged to Brooklyn, New York-native Dannette Kogut. She died of ovarian cancer last year. Her sister, Wendy Kogut, told me her last dying wish was to be cremated. She was, but likely not all of her. Now, Wendy is living with the guilt of not carrying out her sister's last wish.
Wendy says someone stole her sister's leg bones and pelvic bone and even parts of her skin before she was cremated. She says police told her the forged donor form was signed by her grandfather, who has been dead 30 years. Wendy says the form also reads that her sister died of "blunt trauma" instead of ovarian cancer, which could be one way the masterminds behind this scheme passed-off Danette Kogut's tissue as healthy.
Her diseased tissue, like the tissue from hundreds of others, has likely made its way to other countries. The prosecutor told me this body-snatching scheme could reach as far away as Europe.
It is believed the men behind this scheme made as much as $4 million selling harvested bone and tissue without consent. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration says parts from a single body can be used in as many as 250 different people and can sell for as much as $250,000.
This whole situation makes you think twice about going in for surgery, doesn't it? I think about all the people whose lives may be affected by this. There are victims on both sides here: Those with relatives whose corpses may have been illegally harvested, and those like Robbie Zappa, who will wonder for years to come if the tissue implanted inside him will make him sick.