British authorities are characterizing yesterday’s small explosions in the London underground system a failed attempt to replicate the July 7th bombings. They say that attackers tried and failed to detonate explosive devices at three Tube stations and on a double-decker bus two weeks to the day after more than 50 were killed in coordinated bombings. As police and other law enforcement hunt for clues and suspects, one man was shot at the Stockwell underground station by armed plain-clothes police officers. It is unclear why he was shot but the BBC is quoting another passenger on the train as saying the man had been wearing a “bomb belt with wires coming out.” The BBC is also reporting that armed police surrounded a mosque in east London that was evacuated after a bomb scare. Police say they are now hunting four would-be bombers. The British authorities say the bombers fled after detonators went off, causing small blasts, but failed to detonate the bombs themselves. The Guardian newspaper reports that at least one of the bombs was being carried on an underground train in a rucksack by a man who shouted in surprise when it failed fully to explode. The paper says the man appears to have then vanished in the scenes of panic and confusion that followed. A second device was allegedly carried on to a tube by a man who dodged fellow passengers and fled when its detonator apparently went off. It is believed police have recovered four viable bombs, one from each of the four scenes. Three of these were of a similar size and one was smaller. One is believed to have contained nails. They were all in rucksacks and police say they bore similarities to those used by the four suicide bombers in the July 7 attacks. Here is British Prime Minister Tony Blair, speaking Thursday shortly after the underground stations were evacuated: “We can’t minimize incidents such as this. They’re done to scare people, to frighten them and make them worried… We can’t minimize the incidents but we have to react calmly.”
Shortly after the scare in London yesterday, New York City’s Police Commissioner announced the NYPD will begin random searches of bags and packages carried by people entering city subways. Passengers carrying bags will allegedly be selected at random before they pass through turnstiles. Police officials say those who refuse to be searched won’t be allowed to ride. If an officer looking for explosives finds some other form of contraband, police said that person would be subject to arrest. The announcement drew immediate fire from civil liberties groups. The New York Civil Liberties Union said the searches violate basic rights. The group’s executive director, Donna Lieberman, said “The NYPD can and should investigate any suspicious activity, but the Fourth Amendment prohibits police from conducting searches where there is no suspicion of criminal activity.” Similar types of random searches of subway passengers have prompted criticism from civil liberties groups in other cities, and in some cases have been challenged in court.
On Capitol Hill, The House of Representatives renewed the USA Patriot Act on Thursday, voting mostly along party lines to make permanent the government’s unprecedented powers. Sixteen provisions of the 2001 law, pushed through in the aftermath of September 11, are due to expire at the end of this year unless renewed by Congress. President Bush has repeatedly called on lawmakers to make the entire law permanent. Republicans repeatedly argued throughout the 11-hour debate that the latest explosions in London showed how urgent and important it was to renew the law. Republicans also added a new provision to apply the federal death penalty for so-called “terrorist offenses” that resulted in death and another establishing a new crime of narco-terrorism to punish people using drug profits to aid terrorism. These offenders will now face 20-year minimum prison sentences. The Senate judiciary committee voted unanimously to recommend its own version of the act on Thursday, which included only four-year renewals of these two clauses. The full Senate is expected to take its bill up in the fall.
This news from Texas. Hundreds of Pastors for Peace volunteers preparing to deliver a massive shipment of humanitarian aid to Cuba have been barred at the U.S.-Mexico border and could be held there for days. Commerce Department officials are saying they will search every vehicle in the caravan and every item of humanitarian aid, which hasn’t been done for years, and they will only allow what Washington deems “licensable” goods to be allowed to cross into Mexico. Border agents are threatening to tow the caravan’s vehicles and have already seized some aid donations, including computers. Some volunteers are walking across the U.S.-Mexico border carrying wheelchairs, crutches and other medical supplies. Others are holding a protest at the border. There are 130 U.S. citizens traveling with the delegation, as well as a truck and 2 small cars. They are attempting to deliver 140 tons of aid. The Bush Administration tightened restrictions against Cuba in 2004, and is using Homeland Security funds to investigate those suspected of travel to the island.
The Palestinian envoy to the United Nations charged yesterday that Israel is using its planned withdrawal from Gaza to divert attention from a continued expansion of its West Bank settlements and an extension of its massive wall around Jerusalem. In front of the UN Security Council, Somaia Barghouti called on Israel to freeze all settlement activity and dismantle settlement outposts erected since March 2001. But Israeli U.N. Ambassador Dan Gillerman urged council members to focus on the Gaza withdrawal and accused the Palestinian envoy of distorting the facts. Arab nations requested the council debate to put fresh pressure on the United Nations a year after an advisory opinion of the World Court concluded what the Palestinians call the Israeli “apartheid wall” was illegal. Israel has said it was ignoring the court’s ruling.
The Iraqi government released a video of deposed President Saddam Hussein appearing before a judge. In the video—broadcast on al Arabiya TV—Saddam blasts Iraq’s new government and protests his lack of access to a lawyer. Earlier this week, the Iraqi Special Tribunal brought its first charges against Saddam. No trial date has been set.
The Bush administration has been bragging that there will be a new constitution in Iraq by mid-August, but that now seems very unlikely. All of the Sunni members of Iraq’s Constitution-drafting committee have suspended their membership in the committee and are boycotting its meetings. According to Iraq expert Juan Cole they are protesting that the clerical Shiite head of the committee keeps giving interviews in which he maintains that the constitution will be ready by August 1, when in fact the Sunnis do not even accept that first sentence of the current draft. The Sunnis are also demanding an international investigation into the killing of 3 Sunni members of the committee on Tuesday, Meanwhile, the Kurds presented the constitution committee with a new map of their proposed state of Kurdistan, which expands its borders much south of previous prototypes. They are demanding that this map be incorporated into the new constitution.
The Pentagon has confirmed that fifty-two prisoners at the prison camp at Guantanamo are staging a hunger strike in protest at their detention and treatment. The military says the men have refused nine consecutive meals over three days. This comes after two recently released prisoners alleged that 180 men were on hunger strike.
Syria is charging that its border troops had been fired on by U.S. and Iraqi forces and accused Washington, London and Baghdad of lack of cooperation in preventing resistance fighters from crossing the border into Iraq. The U.S. military in Iraq has launched several operations against insurgents near the Iraqi border with Syria in the past few months.
The Sudanese government was forced to apologize to US secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, yesterday after a series of scuffles between her entourage and Sudanese security. Officials and reporters traveling with Rice to Khartoum were initially prevented from entering the compound of the president, Omar Hassan al-Bashir. After they were allowed in there were further bouts of shouting and shoving. Witnesses say that NBC reporter Andrea Mitchell was manhandled after attempting to question Bashir. Sudan’s Foreign Minister quickly apologized to Rice.
The Bloomberg News Agency is reporting that the two figures at the center of the outing of CIA operative Valerie Plame may have intentionally misled investigators. The agency says that President Bush’s senior advisor Karl Rove and Dick Cheney’s Chief of Staff Scooter Libby both gave accounts to the special prosecutor about how reporters told them the identity of a CIA agent that are at odds with what the reporters have said. Libby told special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald that he first learned Plame’s identity from NBC News reporter Tim Russert. Bloomberg says Russert has testified before a federal grand jury that he didn’t tell Libby of Plame’s identity. Rove, meanwhile, told Fitzgerald that he first learned the identity of the CIA agent from syndicated columnist Robert Novak. But Bloomberg cites a source saying that Novak has given a different version to the special prosecutor. Fitzgerald is investigating whether Libby, Rove, or other administration officials made false statements during the course of the investigation.
Another pirate radio station has been raided by the FCC. Thursday morning at around 11AM, Free Radio San Diego was reportedly raided by a number of FCC agents with marshals. Staffers at the station say no one was present at the location and they charge the FCC broke the locks on their doors, entered by force, took their equipment and left. They left a warrant behind them.