Terror alert justifies Pakistan drone surge

October 16, 2010
MQ-9 Reaper drone in flight. Media stories quoting unnamed officials warning of potential terror attacks are being used to justi

On October 3, US authorities warned US citizens travelling in Western Europe that there was an increased threat from Islamist terrorism. The same day, British authorities cautioned their citizens travelling in France or Germany. France, for its part, issued a warning for French nationals visiting Britain.

The nature of the supposed terrorist threat was unspecified. The media breathlessly speculated about planned “Mumbai-style” attacks.

In Pakistan, meanwhile, there has been a surge in bombings by US pilotless drones. In September, there were more US drone strikes than in any previous month. The higher rate of strikes has continued in October.

Previously, the US military claimed attacks by the remote-controlled aircraft targeted insurgents fighting US-led occupation forces across the border in Afghanistan. But the US has linked the latest bombings of Pakistan to the alleged terrorist threat in Europe.

The thread that ties together terror warnings in Western Europe and drone attacks in north-west Pakistan runs through the US prison in Bagram airbase in Afghanistan.

The September 30 New York Times said: “American intelligence and counterterrorism officials said they had gathered intelligence pointing to a series of suspected plans linked to Al Qaeda to attack ‘soft targets’ in Britain, France and Germany.”

The key source of this information was said to be Ahmed Sidiqi, a recent arrival at the Bagram prison. The October 3 NYTdescribed Sidiqi as “a German citizen of Afghan origin captured in Afghanistan in July”.

The circumstances and location of his arrest have not been reported.

Quoting unnamed military and intelligence agency spokespeople, the media linked Sidiqi to the European terror warnings. The NYT said he “had traveled to the Waziristan region of Pakistan and received firearms and explosives training, a senior European official told the New York Times. Mr. Sidiqi described plans for attacks by small armed groups in European cities, the official said.”

It is known that in interrogations of “high value” detainees at Bagram, US authorities routinely use what they call “robust interview techniques”, and what the rest of the world calls torture.

It is also well known that the use of torture does not lead to reliable information.

German authorities were sceptical about the warnings. An October 4 Reuters article reported that German interior minister Thomas de Maiziere said: “There are currently no indications of any immediate threat of attacks planned against Germany.

“There is no reason whatsoever to be alarmist at the moment.”

Even before Sidiqi was revealed as the source, media stories quoting unnamed officials warning of potential terror attacks were used to justify the increase in drone attacks in Pakistan.

A September 29 Guardian article, headlined “Mumbai-style terror attack on UK, France and Germany foiled”, said: “US military briefings suggested the latest missile attacks in Pakistan had been coordinated by the CIA and were an unusual example of using drones to pre-empt possible terror plots …

“American officials declined to comment on specific plots in Europe or elsewhere but acknowledged that targeted drone strikes in Pakistan were meant to disrupt militant networks planning attacks.”

Previously, the US military usually claimed its drone strikes had killed Afghan or Pakistani Taliban fighters, or occasionally militants from al-Qaeda.

But on October 5, reports appeared in the media claiming a varying number of German nationals were killed in a drone strike on October 4 or 5 (depending on which article you read).

The October 5 Guardian said: “A US drone strike has killed at least five German nationals in Pakistan’s tribal belt as part of a rapidly escalating covert CIA campaign targeting al-Qaida’s reputed global operations hub.

“The attack comes days after the US issued a Europe-wide terror alert reportedly linked to intelligence provided by an Afghan-born German militant …

“Citing early intelligence reports, the [Pakistani] official said the drones were believed to have killed five Germans of Arab and Pakistani origin, and at least three other people. Reuters reported that eight Germans had been killed.”

De Maiziere was again sceptical. He told Deutschlandfunk radio on October 6: “What astonishes me is that this attack reportedly happened the day before yesterday in an inaccessible area by unmanned drones and at the same time identity cards are found.

“That doesn’t fit together.”

Despite the conflicting number of German and other “militants” reported killed, the anonymous officials quoted in the media all suggested the strike had not killed civilians.

However, the accuracy of drone strikes in hitting their targets rather than civilians and the accuracy of official reporting on such strikes has been contested.

The October 7 Guardian said: “Since the CIA launched its first drone strike in Pakistan in June 2004 … Predator and larger Reaper drones have killed up to 1,800 people, according to media estimates gathered by the New American Foundation, including at least two dozen senior al-Qaida operatives and hundreds of more junior militants.

“But the drones also kill many civilians — the exact toll is hotly contested.”

The October 2 Globe and Mail reported that as well as death, physical injury and property damage, drone strikes take a psychological toll. Drones are used for surveillance as well as missile strikes, and the continuous noise of the engines reminds border region residents of their presence.

Meanwhile, the media continued speculating on potential European terror attacks, reporting that Sidiqi allegedly attended the same Hamburg mosque as the 9/11 hijackers.

The media has also reported that a British national was allegedly killed recently by a drone and that there were a number of Germans (between 45 and 100 depending on the account) in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border regions, apparently fighting with the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan.

The UK Press Association reported on October 14 that “US State Department counter-terrorism co-ordinator Daniel Benjamin said the terror plot remained active and a travel alert will stay in force”.

The increased rate in drone strikes also remains in force.

Whatever justification the occupying forces in Afghanistan use, the increasing drone strikes in neighbouring Pakistan simply causes ever greater loss of life in a war for US power — a war the occupiers have already lost.

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