The LWOT: Suicide bomber targets Sweden; Holder pushes back against criticism of stings

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We, like many others around the world, mourn the death of Amb. Richard Holbrooke, a towering intellect and force for good who brought peace to the Balkans, among his many other achievements, and whose final mission was to bring lasting stability to Afghanistan and Pakistan. We extend our deepest sympathies to his family and to his many friends and colleagues. — The Editors of the AfPak Channel and the Legal War on Terror.

Suicide bombing targets Stockholm

Two explosions minutes apart tore through the busy Stockholm shopping street of Drottninggatan Dec. 11, injuring two and killing one in Sweden’s first terrorist attack in nearly thirty years and its first suicide bombing (WSJ, VOA, BBC, AP). The first explosion came from a white car packed with gasoline canisters, while the second came from a series of pipe bombs carried by the bomber and only mortal casualty of the attack, Taimour Abdelwahab al-Abdaly (Washington Post, NYT, Guardian, AJE). Minutes before the bombings, Sweden’s intelligence service and a major Swedish media outlet received an email containing a recording in Arabic and Swedish condemning the country for its troop presence in Afghanistan and "silence" on cartoonist Lars Vilks’ drawings depicting the Prophet Muhammad as a dog (CNN, AP). The email ends with the chilling phrase, "Now your children, daughters and sisters will die like our brothers and sisters and children are dying."

Sweden’s Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt called the bombing "unacceptable" while urging caution, and calling on his country to "stand up for tolerance" (Washington Post, BBC).

Swedish officials yesterday positively identified al-Abdaly, an Iraqi who moved to Sweden with his family in 1992 and lived until several weeks ago with his wife and children in London, as the bomber. Swedish and foreign media were the first to report his identity, which was later picked up by pro-jihad internet forums (NYT, Washington Post, Telegraph). Police now say that al-Abdaly carried three types of explosives, including a suicide vest, a backback filled with nails and an explosive, and another device in his hands (LAT). They believe that one of the devices detonated prematurely, heading off what could have been a far more devastating explosion (NYT).

Several papers have profiles of al-Abdaly, who studied sports medicine in the United Kingdom and reportedly traveled to Jordan, from where authorities suspect he transited to Iraq for jihad (NYT, Washington Post, Guardian, NYT). Police are investigating the possibility that al-Abdaly had accomplices, as well as links to established militant groups (AJE, NYT, Telegraph). Investigators are also looking into al-Abdaly’s time in Luton, a hotbed of extremism in the United Kingdom. British authorities raided a house there Sunday, and were probing reports of his radicalization while living in the country, after a non-religious adolescence in Sweden that reportedly included beer, sports, and an Israeli girlfriend. (WSJ, NYT, Telegraph, FT, Telegraph). In a notable incident in 2007, al-Abdaly quarreled with Luton mosque leaders during Ramadan after his comments about Muslim oppression and overthrowing Muslim rulers disturbed some of the faithful, leading al-Abdaly to storm out of the mosque (NYT, BBC, Guardian).

Gitmo in the courts and Congress

A German court has dismissed a lawsuit from German citizen Khalid el-Masri seeking to try 13 alleged CIA officers el-Masri says abducted him in 2003 in Macedonia, thinking he was an al Qaeda operative with a similar name  (AP, Jurist). El-Masri says that he was taken to Afghanistan, where he was allegedly abused before being released five months later.

Protesters gathered in London this weekend to demand the release of Britain’s last Guantánamo detainee, Shaker Aamer (BBC, AFP). Eight cases involving detainees are currently before the U.S. Supreme Court (AFP).

And the Senate this week will likely debate whether or not to pass an omnibus spending bill containing a provision that would prevent any of the bill’s funds from being used to bring Guantánamo Bay detainees, and specifically 9/11 plotter Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, to the United States for imprisonment or civilian trials (Washington Post).  

Holder defends sting operations

In a speech before the annual dinner of the civil rights group Muslim Advocates, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder explained the Justice Department’s commitment to protecting Muslims from crime, while forcefully defending the use of sting operations in terrorism cases (NYT, Washington Post, AP). While the recent use of elaborate sting operations against Muslim men in Maryland, Oregon, and Northern Virginia have stoked mistrust among some Muslims and organizations like Muslim Advocates, Holder insisted that the stings were "essential law enforcement tool in uncovering and preventing potential terror attacks" (Politico).  He also told the 300 assembled guests that "Those who characterize the FBI’s activities in this case as ‘entrapment’ simply do not have their facts straight – or do not have a full understanding of the law" (Reuters).

In a separate interview, Muslim Advocates director Farhana Khera said that while "there are actual threats that do exist, and as Americans who care about the country, we want law enforcement to be effective," sting operations had led to anti-Muslim crime and diverted attention from "actual threats" (NYT). And the Maryland man arrested last week in an FBI sting operation, Antonio Martinez, appeared briefly in court on Dec. 13, and was ordered to remain in custody (Washington Post, AP, CNN). His lawyer argued in court that Martinez was entrapped by authorities, an argument the presiding judge said would wait "for another day."

Trials and Tribulations

  • German police raided "Salafist networks" in three states today on suspicion that the groups in question wanted to install an "Islamic theocracy" in Germany (NYT).
  • The newest set of documents released by the website WikiLeaks reveal that U.S. diplomats in 2007 were so concerned with jihadist activity in Barcelona that they proposed setting up a counterterrorism center there (AP, Reuters).And according to other documents, during a meeting last year with then-National Security Advisor James L. Jones, India’s defense minister alleged that there were 43 terrorist training camps in Pakistan, including 22 in Pakistani-controlled Kashmir (Reuters).
  • The web video sharing site YouTube will allow users to "flag" videos promoting terrorism for removal, a move made in response to pressure from lawmakers to do more to combat the use of the site by supporters of terrorist groups and acts to market their cause online (LAT, France24).
  • Radical Indonesian cleric Abu Bakar Bashir has been charged with inciting terrorism  by police, a charge that in Indonesia carries the death penalty (BBC, CNN).Indonesian police today arrested four people on suspicion of possible links with terrorism (AP).
  • And lawyers for radical Egyptian cleric Abu Hamza, who preached at London’s once-infamous Finsbury Park Mosque during the 1990’s, will appear in a British court to ask for their clients’ early release from prison on account of his several illnesses (UPI).
Andrew Lebovich is a visiting fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations and a doctoral candidate in African history at Columbia University. He is currently based in Senegal and has conducted field research in Niger and Mali.
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