Ten plots foiled: another one looming
Ten attacks on cities across the world were disclosed as having been disrupted since September 11, 2001, just as the New York mayor was declaring a heightened level of security amid the most specific, yet least likely, threat to the most famous city in America yesterday. As President Bush was proclaiming the successes of breaking up plots by terrorist groups to recreate the events of 9/11, Michael Bloomberg was assuring New York citizens to go about their everyday lives, fogging off the threats revealed by a recently-captured insurgent in Iraq as highly unlikely.
The ten putsches that have been released to the press are chilling in their bluntness: amongst the plots were two attacks in two years in an attempt to revive the legacy of the events of September 11, when two planes crashed almost simultaneously into the two high-rise towers of the World Trade Centre, sending them crashing to the ground and killing over 3,000. One attack, broken up in 2002, was to be focused upon West Coast cities, with the distinct possibility that Los Angeles, CA, the 'New York of the West Coast' would have been a target. Another disrupted plot involved hijacking planes and bearing down on East Coast landmarks, rubbing salt in the wounds that still smarted just two years after the worst terrorist attacks the United States had ever seen. A third terrorist horror was to take the form of a nuclear - or 'dirty' bomb - being exploded in a major city, in what would possibly be more damaging than any number of transport-based attacks. According to intelligence gathered, a 2003 plot to use airplanes to divebomb Heathrow airport was also broken up by British and American forces working together.
It is public transport that is the focus of concerns in New York City today, however, the third month after the July 7 bombings in London, which left tens of people dead. It is the worry of intelligence officials that US terrorist cells seek to emulate the successes of the London bombers, and information released indicates that a plan had been hatched to simultaneously bomb the New York subway network, stretching across 468 under-and-overground stations, with 19 bombs concealed underneath prams and pushchairs. These innocuous props would hide the instruments of sheer horror that would be detonated, affecting a large number of the 4.6 million people who use the subway system each and every day.
New York sits and waits to see whether such an attack will materialise: until that point, it will carry on.
Four die in 'Great' North Run
While the pride of the North East was broadcast the length and breadth of the country, a staggering 50,000 people convering together on the central motorway dissecting the Town Moor in central Newcastle, for four men, the oldest of whom was just fifty-two, were preparing for what would end up being their final steps, pounding the tarmac of the most famous half-marathon known to the world.
While a highlight video of the tens of thousands of fun-runners, or masses, in their wild and wacky uniforms, was being televised to the backdrop of inspirational music, showing everything that is right about this rapidly reforming community in what was one of the most impoverished regions in the United Kingdom, four families, from the south coast to the far reaches of the north east, were mourning their losses.
The former mining town of Consett in Country Durham, set on the steep embankment of a hill, is the closest thing to a tight-knit community that one can get in this day of modern living. Most of the people who live in the town know each other; almost certainly their relatives worked together down the coal pits, or on the shipyards nearby. Housing a golf club and a small shopping precinct, Consett is a community where pensioners come to wind down their lives and young families come to raise their children away from the hubub of city life, but close enough to be close to all amenities. Today, those children who attended the local comprehensive school where one of the four men who died while running the Great North Run, celebrating it's twenty-fifth birthday yesterday, taught, were wondering just how a healthy 52-year-old Physics teacher, competing in his twenty-fourth Great North Run, could collapse and die.
For one sixteen year old who had left the confines of his old comprehensive, it was all too much. He broke down and cried in front of myself, and his friends, when he called his old school, having heard a half-rumour that someone had died as a result of the run.
According to those who ran the world-famous race, there was not a single water stop for the first five miles of the race. On a day when the temperatures rose to 20c, and while running a 13.1 mile race, this was a disastrous oversight.
One of the dead men, in his late 20s, was left lying on the road in South Shields for three-quarters of an hour before any help arrived for him.
Although the organisers of the race maintain that there were two rapid response motorbikes running the route, accompanied by 23 ambulances equipped with defibulators, that will be little consolation to the families of those who died.
In a year during which the north east has officially welcomed the Sage music centre, the Tall Ships Race and the 25th anniversary of the Great North Run, this news comes as a bitter reminder that for all the region's efforts, we are still criminally underprepared for a major occurence in the region.
On anniversary of 9/11, those countries liberated hit stumbling blocks
As the fourth anniversary of the terrorist attacks on New York City, Philadelphia and Washington D.C. is observed across the civilised world, the situation in the countries which were taken to task as part of Britain and America's war on terror has only worsened, with the news of an attempted assassination attempt on the Afghani Defence Minister yesterday, coupled with a helicopter crash in which everyone survived and another assassination attempt on an election candidate, both also in the supposedly liberated country of Afghanistan, the first pin bowled over by the war on terror which was put into place as America finally began to realise the horrors that had reached their shores on September 11, 2001.
For the families of the three-thousand plus that perished in the co-ordinated attacks on the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center, deep in the heart of the financial district of New York; the Pentagon, where another hijacked jet was sent careering into one of the boundary walls, leaving a burning gash in the civil defences of the governmental building; and those on board the passenger plane that crashed above fields in Philadelphia, Pennsylvannia, September 11 is a memorial to those who were so coldly killed in a disgusting attack by terrorist groups hell-bent on bringing the western world to its knees. As memorial events are held from Anchorage, Alaska, to upstate Utica, NY, the world will fall silent in remembrance of the few hours of hell where planes were directed towards key buildings in America's democracy, then eventually fell to the ground, sending dust and debris scattering across Manhattan island, which would linger for days, only beaten by the overwhelming sense of greiving that still hangs over the relatives of the dead on this, the fourth anniversary of the attacks.
Yet still, despite President George Bush promising to wreak vengeance on the perpetrators of the attack since September 12, 2001, Osama Bin Laden is still missing, presumed well and truly alive, and Al'Qaeda and the Taliban have been displaced from their preferred places but still have a foothold in the countries which have been supposdely freed from suppressive rule by Allied forces. In Iraq, members of the National Guard have been refused a reprieve in their task to keep the peace in order to mourn the dead in the terrorist attacks of four years ago, or even to search for relatives still missing, now presumed dead in Louisana, which was rocked by a category four hurricane two weeks ago tomorrow.
In Kabul, Afghanistan, Defence Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak was the victim of a presumed assassination attempt when his motorcade came under fire, a bullet shattering the window at which he was supposed to be sitting near. Luckily, Wardack was not in fact inside the car, which was heading for a memorial service of an opposition leader to the Taliban, Ahmed Shah Massoud, who was killed September 9, 2001. His murderers were believed to be part of Al'Qaeda. Nine men, all wearing battle fatigues, were arrested under suspicion of an attempt on the life of the minister, but the Defence Ministry believe now that the shooting was not specificially aimed at Wardak, but was instead a result of an argument between the men. Whether this is the truth or an attempt to cover-up more deep-set problems in keeping law and order in Afghanistan, now more than three years free from the rule of the Taliban, is unknown.
What is known is that there were two more serious incidents in Afghanistan yesterday, including what could have been a fatal helicopter crash involving more high-profile ministers, and the chief of the military in the country. The helicopter, leaving the ceremony of remembrance for Massoud in the Panjshir Valley, lost control and burst into flames upon colliding with a tree - all aboard were able to escape without serious injury.
One was killed in the third incident on Saturday, slightly more than one week before Afghani elections, when a candidate for election, Ghulam Nabi Balouch was pinned down under a hail of bullets from several attackers. One was shot and arrested, and will be put on trial for attempt to murder Mr. Balouch as well as the murder of one of his bodyguards, who died in the exchange of shots.
Sixth aircrash in three months hits Indonesia
While planes transported supplies to the disaster zone in New Orleans, they created yet another one in the city of Medan this morning. The Boeing 737's flight path was to be from Medan to Jakarta, but it was barely a minute towards the Indonesian capital when it nosedived into a group of houses, its forward momentum carrying it through the residential area, flattening houses, before travelling across a busy main road. In addition to the 100 killed on the flight, including the governor of Northern Sumatra and another high-ranking official who used to be the governor, 31 were killed on the ground as the flaming fireball tore through ten or more houses and businesses.
Sixteen people managed to escape death on the doomed flight, the majority of whom were seated at the rear of the plane, which had 24 years of service and was expected to stay in circluation for another eleven years before being decomissioned.
As Indonesia was reeling from the pictures from the southern states of America, which were so similar to the scenes broadcast across the world as most celebrated the dawning of a new year nine months ago, it has suffered from what is the sixth major air accident in three months. Boeing, who has been involved in more than half of the accidents, five of which resulted in massive deaths, is coming under fire for its ageing fleet which seemingly becomes unreliable as it reaches its half-life.
Five days after disaster, aid wagons roll
The most far-reaching point of the Asian Tsunami at the back end of 2004 had a faster response than this.
Five days after the waters crushed several points in Asia, American help had extended to the most unknown towns in the most unknown countries. Five days after the Gulf Coast was flattened, only the very first shipments of aid packages, food, and water tentatively waded their way through the waters in New Orleans, heading for the completely forgotten refugees that made their home at the Convention Centre in downtown New Orleans. This is only the start of the aid operation, we are told. Nine months ago, the smallest hamlets in southern Asia were feeling the benefits of the first aid drops. Towns such as Gulfport and Slidell still remain untouched by FEMA officers.
The United States have been inundated with offers of aid from foreign countries, with the strangest bedfellows stepping forward to offer their services to George Bush, who, much maligned over the past five days, is desperately trying to make up for lost time spent at his ranch in Crawford, TX. The usual suspects are there, giving aid: Russia, Great Britain, Germany and the likes, but it is the most unusual sources that show the extent to which this natural disaster, and the fallout of it, has touched the hearts of the world. Taiwan has stepped forward, offering three Chinooks and 38 servicemen to help deliver food and water to those who have gone without any staples of life since their homes and possessions were swept away in several feet of water, much of which still lies stagnant over their homes, now concrete and wooden shells. Most touchingly, Sri Lanka, a country plauged by debt who rely on aid from other countries to keep their population alive, offered all they could: $25,000 to the American Red Cross. While this may be little more than a tiny crack in the towering concrete wall of $15billion to rebuild and repair the Big Easy, it is something.
As of yet, the United States have refused all offers of help. President Bush made a short stop-off at Biloxi, MS, but will not make a visit to New Orleans, instead choosing to view the destruction in the second city of Louisiana from the immunity of Air Force One.
President Bush will see the charred remnants of a chemical fire in the Railway Quarter of New Orleans, opposite the French Quarter, separated by the Mississippi River. That fire raged for several hours without a single fire truck being sent to the scene: those in the emergency services are too busy trying to tend to the starving, hungry, gun-toting crowds that have been abandoned because they could not afford to escape what quickly became a oversized lake.
The average annual income of an Afro-American family living in the state of Louisiana is just $11,000. The majority of those still stuck in the city are of African-American descent, and it is not a coincidence that the two figures are interlinked.
Another fire still burns, in the Financial District, which started at midday local time.
Those who managed to escape the burning, flooded city were not granted a reprieve from the immense stress they have felt over the past five days, however. Upon arriving at Houston, TX, having been bussed across the state line, they found that the Houston Astrodome was filled to capacity, and had been since late last night. Still the buses came, piling yet more people onto the tarmac outside the giant stadium. Some were relieved to just be out of the state of Louisiana. Others were still angry.
With some refugees now outside the confines of the Superdome, a clearer picture of what occured inside the concrete superstructure began to form. Feces littered the floor of the Superdome, and the story of the child raped in the Superdome was confirmed, and clarified further. She was just seven years old, and the man who molested her in the bathrooms of the dome was arrested. White English tourists have been taunted by the overwhelmingly large black population inside the arena; they took the first opportunity to escape to a nearby shopping mall before being put onto the Greyhound buses and taken to the Astrodome.
Those that cannot fit into the decomissioned stadium in Houston are being placed in the nearby Reliant Centre. When that is filled, people will be bussed to other areas of Texas. People who have settled into the Astrodome are now seeking loved ones who they have been separated from, and some are even buying newspapers to find a job, to try and earn a wage to feed their family. Evidently these people foresee a long wait before they will be able to return to their home state and try and salvage a life from the wreckage of their homes and workplaces.
A refugee at the New Orleans Convention Centre, overlooked by the authorities and denied to be holding any people until this afternoon by FEMA, described the situation as "a genocide." National Guard troops have entered the city with supplies and one of their first stops is the Convention Centre to deliver food and water to those that have been ignored by the same people that advised them that this would be a place of support. These troops have been ordered by the Washington commander put in charge of tightening up the morality of the city to keep their guns low: now that the Capitol has become embroiled in the situation, they dread the thought that these troops, veterans of Iraq, display in any way the same sort of manners that befell the citizens of the invaded country.
Ray Nagin, New Orleans mayor, is furious at the long-standing inaction and current attempts, which he sees as too little, too late. Talking to WWL radio last night, he spoke about the statement issued by Washington yesterday saying that help had arrived: "my answer to that is 'B.S'." He said that he "needs troops man, I need buses" to take away the stranded Louisianians caught up in "a national disaster...this is crazy!"
In the most obvious sign of ineptitude and misorganisation, the sick of New Orleans have been left high and dry by those organising the rescue efforts. At one hospital, over 100 patients were carried out onto the tarmac surrounding the building, waiting for a helicopter to constantly come to and fro, airlifting them to safety. No such helicopter arrived. Charity Hospital did manage to transport patients to Louis Armstrong Airport yesterday, the base for all medical operations in New Orleans. Upon arrival, they were told they were not wanted. In an interview on television this morning, staff at the airport said they were willing to accept the patients from Charity Hospital. No-one knew how to get in touch with the hospital to inform them that they could, in fact, bring patients back to the airport. No-one knew whether they would get the most rare of things in New Orleans on this fifth day of the disaster: a bus travelling out of the centre of the city.
As some wave flags to attract attention, others steal
As the chiefs of New Orleans ordered a mass evacuation, the world wondered what would taint minds during such a disatrous occurence to take to the streets and steal from the businesses which, months from now, will be expected to set up shop once again and rebuild a tourist industry under one giant rotating cloud mass that was Hurricane Katrina and the doubts that it implanted in minds the world over about the safety of staying in a city entirely below sea level.
The juxtaposition of families, waving flags and umbrellas, holding up shoddily made signs saying "help us," and common criminals, armed and dangerous taking to the streets in packs, was a most disturbing one - more disturbing than the sight of mangled buildings swept up under a wave of water which still lies stagnant over a huge proportion of the city, and is ever rising. These vigilantes, despite their most ardent of protests, are not taking vital supplies for their families, such as food and water, but instead gold Rolex watches and jeans, selling them on at an astronomical profit. These criminals have been joined by some police officers, who, in the time of crisis, have fallen to their knees and taken the stance of 'if you can't beat them, join them.'
All the while New Orleans looks more and more like a scene from a disaster movie, or a real-life retelling of Lord of the Flies with a modern-day twist.
Carrying boxes of Nike trainers and American football jerseys, clothes hangers and all, they wade out into the polluted water. Police officers see them, and, despite their commanding to shoot those who take advantage of a city at it's most weakest, they ignore them. Some join in, taking their own profit. 10,000 National Guard members have been drafted in to replace those who defect in the face of animosity.
While the military were busy airlifting and driving people out of the New Orleans Superdome, towards their new temporary home in Houston, the forty-year old Astrodome, shots were fired at helicopters and fires were started near the Greyhound buses assigned with the task of herding over 10,000 from a warzone to the relative safety of a stadium which has laid derelict for four years. Within minutes, the operation was halted, and those still remaining in the Superdome were stranded for another day.
Inside that stadium the scenes of horror even topped those outside on the streets.
Three people have died; one comitting suicide by freefalling 50 feet. Stealing is rife, and rape is burgeoning. As the emergency generators are powered down at night to conserve energy, those with perverted minds see their opportunity to attack. One child has been sexually molested. It is not known if the perpetrator was caught - it is not known whether those inside the Superdome know who committed such an inhumane crime. Alarm bells are constantly ringing, and, with thousands upon thousands of people to keep alive, and the lawlessness seen outside the concrete boundaries of the american football stadium starting to creep in, along with firearms, it is the last priority.
One reporter, broadcasting from Biloxi, MS, another city crippled and overlooked, summed it all up. "I have seen better rescue missions in Africa," he said.
Governor of Louisiana has no answers, only tears
The Governor of Louisiana, Kathleen Blanco, could only manage to say the words "it's heartbreaking" before breaking into tears at a press conference yesterday. Indeed, the fate that has befallen the Gulf Coast at the hands of Hurricane Katrina is heartbreaking.
The category four storm, which ripped a 500 foot wide gash in the tidal defence systems of Louisiana, has now claimed at least 100 lives. Many more will without doubt be named as dead in the upcoming days and weeks - for now, though, the priority is saving those who still have a chance of survivng the most horrific natural disaster to sweep this part of America in years.
Numerous bodies that are floating down unwanted and unplanned extensions to the Mississippi River are being ignored by the emergency services, who, aside from having to remove water from the city, clean up wreckage and save the lives of those stranded on rooftops of collapsed houses, will also have to contend with the logistical nightmare of transferring 1,000 patients, many of whom are critical, from various hospitals in the region. Also a key priority are the 10,000 or more who still stay stranded in the New Orleans Superdome, which is providing little comfort and, with a gaping hole in its roof, is no place for refugees and orphans of the greatest hurricane to hit Louisiana to stay while the water still billows around them.
Martial law has been introduced, with looters stopped at gunpoint and ordered to return their stolen goods. Most of these people, however, are generally law abiding citizens, and have been forced by the most extraordinary of circumstances to loot businesses, supermarkets and pharmacies for vital rations which they are not getting from the authorities.