British officials have named and frozen the assets of nineteen of the twenty-four people being held on suspicion of plotting to blow up passenger jets flying to the United States. Police said the plan was to take liquid explosives disguised as drinks on up to ten planes with detonators hidden in electronic devices.
Those arrested are all British citizens aged seventeen to thirty-five. Most are believed to be of Pakistani origin. One of the suspects is said to be a young mother. British authorities say they’ve been investigating the suspects for about a year. Pakistan says it’s played a role in thwarting the plot. A senior government official said Pakistan arrested two Britons of Pakistani descent last week in a coordinated operation. While British authorities said all the main figures have been caught, ABC News quoted unnamed U.S. officials saying five suspects are still on the loose.
The news sparked chaos at Britain’s airports at the height of the summer holiday season. Hundreds of flights were canceled as airlines imposed strict security measures. Armed police have been deployed in many airports and passengers are no longer allowed to take their hand luggage into the cabin. Authorities said the airlines to be targeted were United, American and Continental on flights bound for New York, Washington and California.
Here in the United States, the Department of Homeland Security has raised the security alert to its highest level for the first time.
Meanwhile, the disclosure of the alleged plot is raising questions over the nature of the Bush administration’s reaction to the primary loss of Senator Joseph Lieberman. Just one day before the alleged plot was announced, White House Press Secretary Tony Snow said Lieberman’s defeat signaled Democrats are “[raising] a white flag in the war on terror.” And in an unusual conference call with reporters, Vice President Dick Cheney said Democrats believe “that somehow we can retreat behind our oceans and not be actively engaged in this conflict and be safe here at home, which clearly we know we won’t be.” Critics say the White House’s comments amount to political opportunism because officials were briefed on the alleged plot last week and knew it would soon be disclosed. In an interview with Agence France Press, a Republican congressional aide addressed the alleged plot and said he’d “rather be talking about this than all of the other things that Congress hasn’t done well.” A White House official added: “Weeks before September 11th, this is going to play big.”
As the US and Britain deal with the possibility of another major attack, Lebanon continues to come under daily bombardment. In the suburbs of Beirut, at least eleven Lebanese civilians were killed and a dozen wounded in airstrikes earlier today. On Thursday, Israeli helicopters fired into central Beirut in an apparent attempt to knock out an antenna for Lebanese state television. At the UN, France and the United States are once again claiming to be near agreement on a resolution for a ceasefire. Meanwhile, Republican Congressmember Darrell Issa of California was in Beirut Thursday. He spoke after meeting with Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora.
In an effort to break the diplomatic impasse, Russia submitted its own proposal Thursday calling for a three-day humanitarian truce. Israel rejected the proposal. Meanwhile, the United Nations’ top humanitarian official is demanding immediate access for aid agencies in Southern Lebanon. Speaking in Geneva, UN Emergency Relief Coordinator Jan Egeland said the fighting has cut off all assistance to some 120,000 Lebanese.
Meanwhile, the New York Times is reporting the Bush administration is set to approve an Israeli request to speed delivery of missiles armed with cluster munitions. State Department officials are reportedly trying to delay the approval amid concerns of a diplomatic fallout over likely civilian casualties. The M-26 rockets carry hundreds of grenade-like bomblets that explode over a wide area. Israel says it needs them to strike Hezbollah missile launchers. Cluster sales were momentarily suspended during the Reagan administration following disclosures Israel used them against civilian targets during its first invasion of Lebanon in 1982. Last month, Human Rights Watch said Israel is shelling civilian areas with US-made cluster bombs in violation of international law. According to the group, a cluster bombing of the village of Bilda killed one civilian and wounded twelve others, including seven children. US officials say Israel will likely get the rockets but will be told: to “be careful.”
China has declared a state of emergency amid its most powerful typhoon in fifty years. More than 1.5 million people have been evacuated from southeast areas. At least 104 people have been killed and more than 80 injured. An estimated 200 people are missing and feared dead. Thousands of homes have been destroyed and scores of ships capsized. It’s the eighth typhoon to hit China already this year. The death toll for the year has now passed 1700. More than 600 died in typhoons just last month.
In other news, new satellite data shows Greenland’s ice sheet is melting at a faster pace than expected. According to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, Greenland lost more than double the amount of cubic miles of ice than it is believed to have lost in previous years.
In Iran, the government has announced a ban on the legal rights group headed by Nobel Peace Prize winning lawyer Shirin Ebadi. The Interior Ministry says the Centre for Defence of Human Rights is illegal because it did not apply for a proper permit. Tehran says it will now prosecute any of the group’s activities. Ebadi’s group has been a leading advocate for hundreds of persecuted dissidents, journalists and academics. Sarah Leah Whitson, director of Human Rights Watch’s Middle East division, said: “If [Shirin] Ebadi is threatened for defending human rights, then no one who works for human rights can feel safe from government prosecution.”
Here in the United States, a federal judge has issued a ruling civil liberties advocates say will hold major implication for freedom of speech. On Thursday, a federal judge ruled private citizens can be prosecuted if the government decides they’ve received or disclosed information harmful to national security. The ruling comes in the case against two former employees of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, or AIPAC. They’ve been charged with passing on classified information to the Israeli government. U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III rejected defense efforts to dismiss the case on the grounds their indictment infringes on their constitutional right to free speech. The two lobbyists are the first nongovernment civilians charged under the nearly 80-year old Espionage Act. If upheld, the ruling could affect reporters who’ve exposed scandals in national security cases, including prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib.
In Florida, a police chief has apologized after he was caught on tape laughing about a demonstrator who had been shot in the head. The shooting occurred during the Miami protests against the Free Trade Agreement of the Americas in November of 2003. The demonstrator, Elizabeth Ritter, was hit by police rubber bullets and struck again in the forehead as she lay on the ground. On a newly-released police training video taped the following day, Broward County Major John Brooks is seen telling cheering colleagues: “I was so pumped up about how good you guys were.” Another officer is seen imitating the moment Elizabeth Ritter was shot. The officer says: “I don’t know who got her but it went right through the sign and hit her smack dab in the middle of her head.” There are six pending lawsuits against the Miami police department for its conduct during the FTAA protests.
In other news, the American Psychological Association has passed a measure condemning the involvement of psychologists in torture. But some members say it doesn’t go far enough. The measure affirms the APA’s existing policy allowing psychologists to take part in military interrogations. Leonard Rubenstein, executive director of Physicians for Human Rights, said: “There is no way for the APA to be involved in those interrogations without becoming complicit in torture.” Both the American Medical Association and the American Psychiatric Association have already passed resolutions against physician involvement in prisoner interrogation.
A new study is bolstering a long-held claim of advocates for immigrant rights. According to the Pew Hispanic Center, there is no evidence large increases in immigration have hurt job prospects for American workers. The group compared state by state immigration numbers with unemployment levels. The researchers could find no clear correlation between the two.
And finally, thousands of people are expected to converge in Washington, DC Saturday for a demonstration against US support for Israel’s attacks on Lebanon and the Gaza Strip. Organizers are calling the protest the largest mobilization of the Arab-American, Muslim, and U.S. peace movement in more than four years.