Bernd Debusmann

American nightmare: Al Qaeda at home

Bernd Debusmann
Jan 21, 2010 16:16 UTC

berndforblog- Bernd Debusmann is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own -

It has been a recurring nightmare of American counter-terrorist officials for years — growing numbers of home-grown al Qaeda recruits drawn from the Muslim-American community, plus blue-eyed, blond-haired would-be suicide bombers travelling on American passports.

That notion clashes with the widely-held belief that Muslims in the United States are not nearly as prone to being seduced by Al Qaeda propaganda as their co-religionists in Europe. But a series of recent terrorism cases involving American citizens have challenged old assumptions and thrown question marks over a host of surveys meant to show the American Muslim communities’ resistance to radicalization.

Incidents spiked in 2009 and included the arrest of five U.S. citizens in Pakistan, where they allegedly tried to link up with extremists, and the arrest of Daniel Boyd, a white convert to Islam who was accused of plotting to attack soldiers at the U.S. Marine Corps base in Quantico, Virginia. Early in the year, Bryant Vinas, a Hispanic American convert, pleaded guilty to having trained with al Qaeda in Pakistan.

Now, the lure of al Qaeda’s murderous ideas is seen as a real threat. “The group seeks to recruit American citizens to carry out terrorist attacks in the United States,” according to John Kerry, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. “These Americans are not necessarily of Arab and South Asian descent,” he wrote in the preface of a Jan. 20 report from his committee on al Qaeda in Yemen and Somalia. “They include individuals who converted to Islam in (an American) prison or elsewhere and were radicalized.”

“The prospect that U.S. citizens are being trained at al Qaeda camps in both countries deepens our concern…” not least, apparently, because an American official in Yemen told committee investigators that American converts living in Yemen included “blond-haired blue-eyed types.” That echoes then CIA chief Michael Hayden’s 2008 warning that al Qaeda was training “operatives that wouldn’t attract attention if they were going through the customs line at (Washington) Dulles airport.”

America, terrorists and Nelson Mandela

Bernd Debusmann
Jan 15, 2010 15:04 UTC

berndforblog- Bernd Debusmann is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own -

Woe betide the organization or individual who lands on America’s terrorist list. The consequences are dire and it’s easier to get on the list than off it even if you turn to peaceful politics. Just ask Nelson Mandela.

One of the great statesmen of our time, Mandela stayed on the American terrorist blacklist for 15 years after winning the Nobel Prize prior to becoming South Africa’s first post-Apartheid president. He was removed from the list after then president George W. Bush signed into law a bill that took the label “terrorist” off members of the African National Congress (ANC), the group that used sabotage, bombings and armed attacks against the white minority regime.

The ANC became South Africa’s governing party after the fall of apartheid but the U.S. restrictions imposed on ANC militants stayed in place. Why? Bureaucratic inertia is as good an explanation as any and a look at the current list of what is officially labelled Foreign Terrorist Organisations (FTOs) suggests that once a group earns the designation, it is difficult to shake.

American intelligence and fortune-telling

Bernd Debusmann
Jan 7, 2010 16:17 UTC


– Bernd Debusmann is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own —

Hot on the heels of  what President Barack Obama called a potentially disastrous “screw-up” by the civilian intelligence community, here comes a devastating report on shortcomings of military intelligence in Afghanistan, by the officer in charge of it. He likens the work of analysts to fortune-telling.

The report is highly unusual both because of its almost brutal candor and the way it was published, outside military channels. Even more unusual: the three authors hold out journalistic skills as models to emulate for gathering and putting together intelligence.