Building a Better Bomb

What the foreign papers are saying.
Aug. 23 2001 9:00 PM

Building a Better Bomb

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Where do members of the IRA go for rest and recuperation? Three Irishmen said to be connected to the IRA's political wing, Sinn Fein, would have you believe that the jungle of southern Colombia is nice this time of year. The three men were arrested in Bogotá after spending five weeks in the Switzerland-sized demilitarized area the Colombian government handed over to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (known in Spanish as FARC), the country's largest leftist guerrilla group, in 1998. On Wednesday, they were charged with "training for illegal activities" and traveling on false passports. They will be held in Bogotá's La Modelo prison, which, according to the Financial Times, "has a reputation as one of the most dangerous in Latin America, where guerrilla supporters and their paramilitary rivals frequently kill each other."

Although the trio deny any IRA connection, claiming they were vacationing in "Farclandia," Britain's Sunday Times identified two of the men as "the IRA's head of engineering" and "a reputed specialist in booby traps." The other has been living in Cuba for five years representing Sinn Fein's interests in Latin America. The paper said the men were spotted by Colombian security forces, who had been warned by Spanish intelligence that FARC had sought advice from members of the Basque separatist group ETA about bomb-making techniques. While on the lookout for gringos, the Colombians spotted the alleged IRA men. The Independent reported that while FARC has ample financial resources, thanks to drug-trafficking and ransom money from thousands of kidnappings, "Accuracy is notoriously lacking in Farc's characteristic cooking-gas-cylinder missiles." Minute traces of explosives, cocaine, and amphetamines were detected on the Irishmen's clothing, but no money or drugs was found in their luggage. The Sunday Times cited "sources" suggesting the IRA would welcome the chance to share its explosives expertise in exchange for access to the vast, unpoliced open spaces of Farclandia where it could develop new weapons to replace the arms that are due to be handed over as part of the Northern Ireland peace agreement. The Financial Times agreed:

Most IRA "spectaculars" are caused by bombs triggered by increasingly sophisticated electronic devices. Practising with the real thing has become increasingly difficult if not impossible in the IRA's traditional training grounds of the Irish Republic. Where better, then, than the Farc's Switzerland-sized fiefdom, free from prying eyes, where the visitors are fed and watered by the revolutionary comrades of Colombia?

Exploding toys: Political violence in Spain's Basque Country reached what Clarín of Argentina described as "a new level of malice" Monday when a woman was killed and her 16-month-old grandson severely injured—he was blinded and lost an arm—by a booby-trapped toy car. ETA has not claimed responsibility for the bombing, but Basque police say that the bomb was left in a San Sebastián bar after a group of young separatists fled from an illegal demonstration over the weekend. Spain's El Mundo described the bar's owner finding the toy "splashing about among urine, toilet paper, and plastic cups" in the men's room. When no one had claimed it by Monday morning, he gave it to an ex-employee for her nephew. The toy exploded as the family rode home.

Cultural adversity: The Guardian reported that the far-right Danish People's Party took a full-page ad in Denmark's best-selling Sunday paper naming every immigrant granted citizenship this year, along with their hometowns. The DPP, supported by around 12 percent of the Danish electorate, supports the repatriation of refugees to their country of origin; according to a DPP spokesman, 60 percent-70 percent of this year's new citizens came to the country as refugees. Meanwhile, Israeli papers denounced xenophobic attitudes against the country's migrant workers. Ha'aretz interviewed a 23-year-old Israeli woman who believes she was denied housing in a kibbutz because her boyfriend is a migrant worker from Slovakia. She told the paper: "Russian immigrants are also not always warmly welcomed, but at least they have some legitimization. Foreign workers are constantly abused, exploited, blamed for unemployment among Israelis." An op-ed in the Jerusalem Post denounced the Interior Ministry's denial of an entry permit to a Nigerian singer who was scheduled to perform a concert primarily aimed at Israel's African workers. A ministry employee stated that "there is no need to provide for the cultural needs of this, or any other, migrant group. … Providing for their cultural needs would … give them a sense of permanency." According to the article, workers from Africa, Thailand, Romania, and other countries were imported when the government began to limit the number of Palestinian workers it allowed to cross from the West Bank into Israel. It concluded, "[I]f we do have migrant labor here, then we are responsible for treating them properly, not as slaves. … Denying them the right to have an entertainer liven up one of their weekends is nothing short of stupidity."

Kabul dreaming: Tuesday's Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung included a fascinating profile of Amanullah Jayhoon, the chargé d'affaires at Berlin's Afghan Embassy. Like all but three of the 43 Afghan embassies around the world, the staff in Berlin represents the Mujahidin, the Islamists that officially ruled Afghanistan until 1996. Currently, the Taliban is thought to control 90 percent of the country, but its ambassadors can only be found in Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates, the states that recognize the regime. Although Jayhoon and his colleagues issue visas, any Germans using them to enter Afghanistan will be disappointed—for the last three years the Taliban has only recognized visas issued at its own embassies. When asked who foots the bill for the Mujahidin embassies, diplomats, and official cars, the envoy replied, "Our compatriots in Afghanistan and abroad." According to FAZ, "Many of the states that continue to recognize the Mujahidin are believed to help maintain its diplomatic operations in exile, financially and otherwise."

June Thomas is a Slate culture critic and editor of Outward, Slate’s LGBTQ section. 

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