Archive for March 2008
These 18 very unfortunate young men are certain to face an uphill battle, what with one accused being quoted (on audio and video tape recordings gathered by informants and police) as hoping for a series of terrorist attacks on a “much much greater on a scale [than the 2005 London subway bombings]…you do it once and you make sure they can never recover again.” Some of the components of this spectacularly ambitious scheme include the occupation of the Canadian Broadcasting Centre headquarters in downtown Toronto, the explosion of a truck bomb in Toronto’s Bay Street financial district, at least one drive-by shooting massacre somewhere, and the occupation of the Canadian federal parliament buildings in Ottawa with the aim of holding the complex and its inhabitants hostage in exchange for the release of Muslim prisoners and a Canadian withdrawal from Afghanistan. (The press reports at the time weren’t clear on whether or not the plotters planned to decapitate Prime Minister Stephen Harper from the get-go or if they wanted keep him alive as a hostage.) The new “Rome,” the released transcripts quote people as saying, needed to be destroyed at whatever the price.
This sort of radical sentiment does dovetail with quotes from news articles back when the story broke in June 2006, revealing how at least one of the wives of the accused went on the record in an online forum that she detested the country.
When it came time to write up the premarital agreement between Zakaria Amara and Nada Farooq, Ms. Farooq briefly considered adding a clause that would allow her to ask for a divorce.
She said that Mr. Amara (now accused of being a leader of the alleged terror plot that led to the arrests of 17 Muslim men early this month) had to aspire to take part in jihad.
“[And] if he ever refuses a clear opportunity to leave for jihad, then i want the choice of divorce,” she wrote in one of more than 6,000 Internet postings uncovered by The Globe and Mail.
[. . .]
Ms. Farooq’s hatred for [Canada] is palpable. She hardly ever calls Canada by its name, rather repeatedly referring to it as “this filthy country.” It’s a sentiment shared by many of her friends, one of whom states that the laws of the country are irrelevant because they are not the laws of God.
In late April of 2004, a poster asks the forum members to share their impressions of what makes Canada unique. Nada’s answer is straightforward.
“Who cares? We hate Canada.”
Despite all of these seemingly damning statements, even as the story broke fundamentalist-linked imam Aly Hindy went on the record in 2006 as saying that he thought that the plotters weren’t being serious, that they were just posing.
Aly Hindy, a hard-line Toronto-area imam who says he knows nine of the 17 alleged plotters personally, says he believes that if there was talk about a beheading plot, it was the kind of empty, though menacing, bravado that he has often seen in messages posted in radical Islamic Internet chat rooms. “I just think these people were bulls–ting,” said Hindy, who told NEWSWEEK that of the nine suspects that he knows, he believed only “two or three” may have seriously considered violence. Those two or three were much more interested, Hindy claimed, in going to a place like Afghanistan to fight jihad than launching attacks in Canada (all 17 suspects are reportedly Canadian citizens).
There might be something very little to that. The alleged conspirators organized a “training camp” in rural Ontario that, as a lawyer for one of the defendants said, was so badly organized that attendants had to use the washroom in a (stereotypically Canadian) Tim Horton’s coffee shop for want of sanitary facilities of their own. There does seem to be some uncertainty as to whether these alleged conspirators, for all their dislike of Canada and Canadian policies, were actually making plans or simply talking wildly amongst themselves, and the role of informants in leading to the arrest of these men has been questioned. Overall, these men seem to have demonstrated a very nearly funny inability to actually be competent terrorists. They weren’t even sure who the Canadian prime minister was.
Suspect X: “What happens, what happens at the Parliament?”
Suspect Y: “We go and kill everybody.”
Suspect X: “And then what?”
Suspect Z: “And then we read about it …”
Y: “We get victory!”
Z: “And take uh Paul um, what’s his name … Paul loser
Y: “Paul Martin”
Y: “Nah I wish he had won, guy.”
Z; “What you … What you talkin’ about?”
Y: “Now it’s the other guy. …Harper.”
Yet for all these uncertainties and all their incompetence, these men are almost certainly screwed. Deciding to attend terrorist training camps with the apparent intent of killing quite a few people is a profoundly bad and stupid thing to do at the best of times. Now? These many are lucky that Canada doesn’t have the death penalty.
- Alpha Sources’ Claus Vistesen takes a look at the parlous state of the Icelandic economy, caught–like many central European states–between “a large current account deficit coupled with high inflation at a time when the housing bubble and consumer credit boom.” Will it be a hard or a soft landing?
- Phil Hunt at Amused Cynicism wonders why religion should be privileged over other belief systems when it comes to matters of conscience.
- Centauri Dreams has two interesting posts on the Saturn satellite system, one on Titan’s apparent subsurface water, the other on the discovery of relatively warm water and organic compounds being emitted by Enceladus.
- Edward Lucas compares Tibet to the Baltic States. Tibet’s biggest advantage, he argues, is that the Balts never had anyone like the Dalai Lama as their leader.
- Invisible College defines “The Rule of Law, in a Nutshell”.
- “Who Were the Indo-Europeans?”, Language Hat wonders. There is the non-trivial question or whether or not they existed as a group, but the comments are fun regardless of your stance.
- Peteris Cedrins at Marginalia commemorates the 59th anniversary of the Stalinist deportations from Latvia and the other Baltic states, actions which particularly targeted the current and future leaders of those countries.
- J. Otto Pohl links to a collection of documents recording atrocities committed against Sudeten Germans during their 1945 expulsion from Czechoslovakia.
Browsing Wikipedia in the aftermath of Saturday’s linkage to articles on the brightest gamma-ray burst ever discovered, I came across an interesting link to the star WR 104, located about eight thousand light years away from the Earth. WR 104 is a binary star, both components of which are Wolf-Rayet stars, relatively evolved, quite hot, and quite massive stars that shed their mass quickly though not always quickly enough to avoid going supernova. As it turns out, WR 104 might actually threaten Earth with a nearby gamma-ray burst–Bad Astronomer has more on WR 104’s specialness.
GRBs are a special type of supernova. When a very massive star explodes, the inner core collapses, forming a black hole, while the outer layers explode outwards. Due to a complex and fierce collusion of forces in the core, two beams of raw fury can erupt out of the star, mind-numbing in their power. Composed mostly of high-energy gamma rays, they can carry more energy in them than the Sun will put out in its entire lifetime. They are so energetic we can see them clear across the Universe, and having one too close would be bad.
Enter WR 104. The brighter of the two stars might, just maybe kinda possibly, be ready to go GRB on us. It’s not at all clear if it can, and there is reason to believe it can’t (young stars like this one tend to have characteristics that make it very hard for them to form an actual GRB). Also, even if it does blow up that way, the beams are a double-edged sword; yes, they pack an unbelievable punch, but they’re narrow. A GRB would have to be aimed precisely at us to damage us, and the odds of that are pretty low.
Except that for WR 104, it’s possible the star does have us in its sights.
The only way to know which direction a potential GRB’s beams will blast out is to look for some signs in the system of symmetry; a disk of gas, for example, would orbit the star’s equator, so the poles of that disk would be the direction the beams would follow. WR 104 does have a feature that allows us to determine its orientation — a vast spiral of material being ejected from the system.
[. . .]
The thing to note is that we really are looking at this spiral almost face-on, more-or-less down the pole of the system (it appears to be tilted by about 12 degrees from face-on, but it’s difficult to measure, and could be tilted by anything from 0 – 16 degrees — [Dr Peter] Tuthill’s technical paper has details). It’s hard to say exactly, but it’s close enough to make me wonder.
If the brighter of WR 104’s stars were to explode and if its axis points towards the Earth, it could well irradiate the Earth. The impact wouldn’t be planet-destroying so much as mass extinction-causing, between the high-energy radiation that would bathe the Earth and the muons that would impact the Earth at relativistic speeds and do something (we’re not entirely sure what; the computer models aren’t complex enough). We have, in short, a reasonably plausible cosmic apocalypse in WR 104 A.
Tuthill’s page on WR 104 is here, while the abstract and pre-print of Tuthill et al.’s “The prototype colliding-wind pinwheel WR 104”, available in the 1 March 2008 issue of Astrophysical Journal, is available here. He also is kind enough to provide a page linking to some of the press coverage of WR 104.