Monday, April 22, 2013

On Boston Bombings: A Convoluted Narrative of Terror

In the last few days, the developments of the Boston marathon bombing case have dominated the international media coverage.

The attacks took everyone by surprise.

We had all become complacent about terror attacks on the US soil and we thought these were a thing of the past. There hadn't been any major terror attack in the States by Jehadists since 9/11. In fact, the danger was more from demented shooters who went postal from time to time and killed innocent children and adults, their fellow citizens.

When I heard of the Boston attacks, I had a sense of foreboding just like I had it when the Twin Towers fell more than a decade ago. Only the scale was smaller this time. But its security repercussions might be deeper and more widespread. When and how this will pan out only time will tell.

For now, the Boston Bombings are a reminder that the US territory is still not safe. That terrorism is still able to cast its dark shadow on the American people. The bombers had the temerity to carry out the attacks in public, at the site of a world famous marathon.

Why did this attack happen? Was it meant to intimidate people? Did it contain a message? Who was behind the attacks? Everyone wanted to know about the attackers and their motive. President Obama, very rightly, asked people to hold their guns and not jump to ready-made conclusions. The suspects included people who opposed Obama's gun control legislation.

Whoever was behind the attacks, the attacks were condemned, and characterized as acts of cowardice. The world expressed solidarity with the victims of the bombings. On the other side of the globe, on the same day,  14 people died in Afghanistan in terror attacks and I doubt if anyone heard about it. Yahoo did this story, Boston attacks are reminder of violence elsewhere, to make us aware of the violence elsewhere.

Major manhunt

After the attacks took place on Monday 15 April, the security forces started a major manhunt. Finally, on Friday 19 April, two Chechen brother were captured--one dead, another alive. Police identified the suspects as brothers Tamerlan Tsarnaev, 26 (Suspect One), who died in hospital, and Dzhokhar Tsarnev, 19 (Suspect Two), who remained at large and was later captured.

According to US security forces and Boston police, these two brothers were behind the attacks. Their photos and videos at the marathon site with backpacks established their guilt. Further guilt was underlined when the elder brother killed a police officer in pursuit before he himself died in a gun battle. The younger one, 19, had partied the night before he was captured hiding in a boat. He had even tweeted: I'm a stress-free kind of a guy. Are these the tell tale signs of a terrorist? Why did they defy the typical terrorist stereotype?

Except for the fact that the elder brother was interviewed by the FBI in 2011 (for suspected Chechen terrorist links), on the request of the Russian government, there was no other evidence of his involvement in terror activities. If there was anything else, that information has not come out into the public. The mother and father of the accused have said that their sons are innocent and that they have been set up by the security agency, FBI. The Guardian reports:

The FBI's previous contacts with one of the alleged Boston bombers have come under intense scrutiny as questions were raised about whether it missed vital clues that could have prevented the attack, which killed three people and injured more than 170.
As questions were raised about how well known the brothers were to federal investigators, their mother, Zubeidat Tsarnaeva, said that the FBI had spoken to the family on multiple occasions. In an interview broadcast by Russia Today before the end of the manhunt on Friday, Tsarnaeva, a naturalised US citizen, said FBI agents had spoken to her in the past.
"They were telling me that Tamerlan was really an extremist leader and they were afraid of him. They told me whatever information he is getting, he gets from these extremists' sites." Tsarnaeva, speaking from Dagestan, claimed that the FBI were monitoring her son "at every step", and had been "controlling" him for three to five years. She did not give specific dates. 
How far are these claims true? No media agency has so far investigated these claims. They have only reported them. In India, we have seen many cases of young people getting implicated in terror attacks or even being killed in fake encounters and later on it turns out that they were innocent citizens (read the Muslim Question at Tehelka). The Tsarnaev brothers could well be the Boston bombers but so far they are only the accused in this case, according to the US media.

If the brothers were trained terrorists, the motive behind the attacks was not clear. Why should Chechen rebels attack Americans? Their enemies would be Russians, not Americans. It does not make much sense.  The New York Times reports today:

The brothers’ motives are still unclear. Of Chechen heritage, they had lived in the United States for years, according to friends and relatives, and no direct ties have been publicly established with known Chechen terrorist or separatist groups. While Dzhokhar became a naturalized American citizen last year, Tamerlan was still seeking citizenship. Their father, Anzor, said Tamerlan had made last year’s trip to renew his Russian passport.
The NYT said that Tamerlan Tsarnaev spent six months in Dagestan in 2012, and analysts said that sojourn might have marked a crucial step in his alleged path toward the bombings.

The other narrative

Curiously, some alternative media in the US are pointing fingers at the security agencies for possible prior knowledge of the attacks. Almost a year ago, the NYT had run this story: Terrorist Plots, Hatched by the F.B.I.

Pointing at the insinuations of this story, some alternative media outlets have reported that there was a security drill at the marathon site on the same day and there were private security people with black backpacks there too but the US agencies have so far discounted that angle. Mainstream media, however,  has not confirmed this. In fact, what seems to be an attempt to the discredit such views, CBS News had its twitter channel hacked with messages implicating the US government of hiding the truth behind the Boston bombings. The BBC reports:

CBS Twitter accounts hacked by 'pro-Damascus group'
The Twitter accounts for two CBS news programmes in the US have been suspended after being hacked. Fake messages appearing on the @60Minutes account criticised US support for "terrorist" rebels in Syria and others accused Barack Obama of trying to "take away your guns". A group calling itself the Syrian Electronic Army claimed to have been responsible for hijacking the accounts.
The fake messages that appeared on the @60Minutes account reportedly included:
"The US government is hiding the real culprit of the Boston bombing"
"The US government is sponsoring a coup in Venezuela and a terrorist war in Syria"
"Your duty is to protect your nation from the parasites that have taken your government"
"Obama wants to destroy the Syrian and American people. We must stop this beast"

Meanwhile, DEBKAfile, an Israeli intelligence analysis site, has reported that the Tsarnaev brothers were double agents who decoyed US into terror trap.

The conclusion reached by DEBKAfile’s counterterrorism and intelligence sources is that the brothers were double agents, hired by US and Saudi intelligence to penetrate the Wahhabi jihadist networks which, helped by Saudi financial institutions, had spread across the restive Russian Caucasian.
Instead, the two former Chechens betrayed their mission and went secretly over to the radical Islamist networks.
By this tortuous path, the brothers earned the dubious distinction of being the first terrorist operatives to import al Qaeda terror to the United States through a winding route outside the Middle East – the Caucasus.

I could not find any mention of this in the mainstream US media. This could be mere speculation at this stage but who knows how twisted the truth is?

I have no sympathy for terrorists of any hue but I also don't like simple bedtimes stories when it comes to a deadly issue like solving the crime behind terror attacks. This convoluted narrative of the Boston bombing terror attack must not be allowed to have loose ends. If there is more than what meets the eye, then that truth must also come out in public.

Monday, April 08, 2013

Anuradha Kumar: A writer to watch

Anuradha Kumar is one of those rare writers who straddle the worlds of writing for children and adults with equal ease. Today, when the publishing market is competitive and segmented and subdivided like never before, finding success in more than one genre is not easy–and the fact that Anu sails successfully in more than one genre is a testament to her huge talent. Yet she started out without much ambition, as she mentions in this interview with Kitaab. “I started writing stories when I found myself bored in the corporate world, then submitted these to online magazines and then I just wanted to do more,” she says.
Anu’s first book was In Search Of A Raja And Other Stories published by Writers Workshop. This was followed by The Dollmakers’ Island and Letters for Paul. Her most recent novel is, It Takes a Murder (Hachette). In between all these novels, she has published many successful books for children. Eminent author and scholar Pankaj Mishra has described her as a writer to watch. Read this interview and you will know why.