A Metropolitan Police spokesman said: “Six men who were arrested under the Terrorism Act 2000 on Friday, 17 September, were all released without charge late on Saturday night (September 18) and early this morning (Sunday September 19).” MORE from the Sunday Telegraph.
Within the first hour after the initial arrests most media reports were claiming the men were suspected of threatening Pope Benedict. Within three or four hours the media claims were increasingly confident.
But even reading the same media reports it was possible to perceive particular police restraint regarding the arrests. You can track my blog updates (below) signaling increasing skepticism.
Still, for several hours the media — especially broadcast media — gave considerable attention to allegations that six North African men had conspired to kill the Pope.
Today the Sunday Mirror — not always the most credible source — is being quoted by other British media in explaining it was all a joke.
Six binmen accused of plotting to assassinate the Pope were arrested after they “joked” in the staff canteen about blowing him up with a rocket-propelled grenade.
The binmen – all of North African origin – were drinking tea on Thursday when they started to talk about how easy it would be to assassinate the pontiff.
One of the men said: “It would be pretty difficult to shoot the Pope, wouldn’t it, as his car is bulletproof?”
One of his pals then said: “Yeah, but I bet an RPG (rocket propelled grenade) would get through that easily enough.”
The group laughed, before changing the subject.
But a colleague at cleaning firm Veolia Environmental Services was concerned enough about the sinister comment to call the police. MORE from the Sunday Mirror (UK)
Given the Pope’s schedule, the police were correct to give the tip serious consideration. Without knowing more, I would not second guess the co-worker’s judgment or the value of see something, say something (or in this case hear something, do something).
But I do perceive the case encourages a bit more restraint by the media. If two-hours in a bloody blogger began to smell something was not quite right, a good editor should have been able to make a similar judgment much earlier.
Original Friday noontime post begins below:
The BBC and plenty of other news outlets are reporting the arrest of five terrorist suspects in London on Friday late afternoon/early evening local time. Media is making a connection to the current visit of Pope Benedict to London. No official statements are — yet — connecting the two events. (I am posting about 11:30 Eastern.)
On Thursday evening Imran Farooq, a leading Pakistani politician, was murdered in London. According to Dawn, “The slaying could have implications for national political stability, especially if the MQM accuses its rivals of being involved. On Friday, an MQM leader said the party thought Farooq was killed in response to controversial statements made by another party leader. Farooq’s body was found in north London on Thursday with multiple stab wounds and head injuries. London’s Metropolitan Police said a 50-year-old man was treated by paramedics but pronounced dead at the scene. No arrests have been made, and police said they were waiting for formal identification of the body.” Pakistan’s largest city, Karachi, has reportedly been largely shut down as a result of the murder.
Earlier today in comments focused on the upcoming London Olympics — not on either matter noted above — Jonathan Evans, the head of the UK’s MI-5 domestic intelligence service said, “So, to sum up the Al Qaida related threat. The country continues to face a real threat from Al Qaida-related terrorism. That threat is diverse in both geography and levels of skill involved but it is persistent and dangerous and trying to control it involves a continual invisible struggle. Counter-terrorist capabilities have improved in recent years but there remains a serious risk of a lethal attack taking place. I see no reason to believe that the position will significantly improve in the immediate future.” (The full transcript of Evans’ speech is available via the Telegraph.)
I arrived early for a lunch. Traffic was not nearly what I expected. It will be a long lunch… not unrelated to the topics above. By dessert the dots may be completely disentangled, mere temporal coincidences. But it is worth being attentive and I decided — since I had the time — to share the attention with you.
Update following dessert (about 3:30 Eastern): A sixth suspect has been arrested. British media are also increasingly confident in claiming a connection with the Pope’s visit. The connection seems mostly a matter of those arrested being street-cleaners with assignments near the venue for a speech by the Pope.
So far official reports on the arrests are understated. Comments from Scotland Yard imply an entirely precautionary intervention, rather than clear evidence of a assasination plot against the Pope.
Within the last few hours, according to the BBC, “Scotland Yard’s counter-terrorism unit, SO15, has taken over the investigation into Imran Farooq’s murder.”
Analyzing the MI-5 chief’s speech in The Guardian, Richard Norton-Taylor, argues, “Evans correctly warned that the assumption that terrorism was 100% preventable, which he said had been imported from the US media, was “nonsensical”… Intelligence gathering and countering terrorism is, crucially, a question of judgment, nuance and managing risk.”
Update at day’s end, TGIF:
The MI-5 chief’s speech — to the Worshipful Company of Security Professonals (I hope feathered hats are involved) — is a measured but comprehensive consideration of the terrorist threat to the United Kingdom. With the exception of his attention to the risk posed by dissident IRA elements, the principal points are very similar to those made by Peter Bergen and Bruce Hoffman in their September 10 BPA report: Assessing the Terrorist Threat.
The Bergen/Hoffman report is, by the way, a good read and only 43 pages (including a detailed bibliography). It helps to have no more than two authors and articulate, organized thinkers at that. They offer a particular take on resilience that I will address in my Thursday post next week… pending emerging events.
Nothing really new (and credible) that I can turn-up on the supposed plotters of the Pope’s assassination. The big event today is an outdoor prayer vigil in Hyde Park scheduled for 6:15PM. Security will be tight, but these open-air events are always nightmarish for law enforcement planners. Tomorrow the Pope moves on to Birmingham to preside at the Beatification of John Henry Newman, and then fly back to the Vatican.
Life in Karachi has largely returned to normal today after being locked-down Friday – the Muslim sabbath – upon hearing the news of Imran Farooq’s Thursday evening murder in London. The dead political leader’s father says a Karachi burial is being planned. No date has been set.
According to the Telegraph, next week the British Defense Secretary will warn of severe vulnerabilities associated with a past due Solar Super-flare. NASA scientists are predicting a so-called “solar maximum” sometime in the next two years.
So, there, MI-5, I will match your terrorist threat and raise you a natural threat of Hollywood proportions.