The New York Times leads with President Bush's comments that he suspects al-Qaida was connected to the bombings in Bali. The Los Angeles Times' lead notes Bush's comments but goes higher with the Indonesian defense minister's statement that he's sure the attack was the work of al-Qaida and a local group he didn't name (Jemaah Islamiyah, said diplomats). Though he didn't offer any details or evidence, that's the first time a top Indonesian official has acknowledged that terror groups are operating in the country. The Washington Post and USA Today lead with news of yet another shooting in the D.C. area that looks to be the work of the sniper. A woman was shot once in head and killed while loading her car in a Home Depot parking lot in Virginia. Police say witnesses saw a cream-colored Chevy Astro leave the scene.
Everybody details other signs that Indonesia may be ready to move against terrorists. The Post says that even the country's vice president, who has in the past allied himself with extremist groups, said he will combat "the threat of terrorism, whoever the perpetrators are, whether they are ordinary people, government authorities or clerics." Not everybody was on board. According to the Wall Street Journal, which tops its world-wide newsbox with follow-up to the bombing, one of the heads of the vice prez's party said, "There is always the possibility that the CIA might have been involved" in the bombing.
The Journal mentions that Indonesian authorities said they have found traces of C-4 explosives amid the wreckage. That's advanced stuff—it's what was used to hit the Cole—and if true gives credence to the theory that the bombing at least involved al-Qaida-trained men.
Midway through a Post piece on the attacks is this intriguing line: "U.S. intelligence officials said they intercepted communications in late September signaling a strike on a Western tourist site. Bali was mentioned in the U.S. intelligence report." Late September would mean that the intercepts came after the much-publicized warnings that resulted in the closure of the U.S. Embassy in Indonesia. So, is this the first time that this information has been made public?
An editorial in the Post says that the U.S. should push Indonesia's president to respond to terror by using her country's "democratic institutions, rather than by using the military," which has been so corrupt and abusive that it has actually "helped create Indonesia's problem with extremism."
Everybody notes inside that unidentified gunmen reportedly shot at U.S. troops in Kuwait. At least that's what the U.S. Embassy there said happened. Kuwaiti officials disagreed and said that the alleged attackers were merely bird hunters. Nobody was hit. If it happened, it would be the third attack on U.S. soldiers in Kuwait within the past week.
Both the WP and NYT front pieces on how al-Qaida is changing: The Post makes the obvious point that the group is now focusing on small-scale attacks, while the NYT has a deeper analysis: The danger of al-Qaida lies in its existence as a loose-knit ideological movement rather than as an actual cohesive organization. In fact, AQ itself is really tiny, about 300 people. The larger problem is that there are plenty of like-minded local groups. They typically focus on their own regional agenda, but occasionally, drawing inspiration from the globalists at AQ, branch out to engage in a bit of international-focused terror. The NYT says that some FBI officials have even stopped using the term "al-Qaida" and instead simply refer to a global jihadi movement. Speaking of the importance of regional Islamist groups, none of the papers has yet profiled Jemaah Islamiyah. They should.
Despite the front-page play in the Times, the devolution of al-Qaida isn't a new trend, and it hasn't gone uncovered. Back in May an op-ed in the Christian Science Monitor made a similar point. Last month, TP briefly mentioned it. But the most insightful article appeared in the Economist in January. It details the long-running tensions between regional Islamists, who mostly want an Islamic state in their own country, and globalists, such as Osama, who want to focus on bigger fish.
A front-page piece in the NYT says that after having flirted with a compromise last week, the U.S. and France have now dug into their respective positions regarding a U.N. resolution toward Iraq. France wants a two-step process, while the U.S. is still insisting on a one-resolution solution.
The LAT fronts a bizarre piece on Iraq's sham elections today. The article—headlined, "FOR IRAQIS, VOTE FOR HUSSEIN IS AN EXERCISE IN DEMOCRACY"—acknowledges that the vote may be less than democratic, but emphasizes that many Iraqis really do want to vote for Saddam, as a way "to show popular support for keeping Hussein in power." How does the LAT know that? The article quotes a few Iraqis summarizing that opinion, but unlike the NYT, it doesn't point out that Iraqi government handlers always attend interviews. Also, in a lame effort to be counterintuitive, the story says, "Of course the outcome [of the election] is preordained. But then, so is Western reaction." What's that supposed to mean? Is the election not, objectively speaking, a frickin' fraud? Although LAT forgets to mention it, Iraqis will notbe casting their votes in secret.
A column by the NYT's Paul Krugman and a Times editorial both argue the same point: An invasion of Iraq could tick-off the "Muslim street" and thus make the war against Islamic extremists more difficult. Meanwhile, in a front-page dispatch, the Times' John Burns wanders the streets of Baghdad: "To be asked your nationality, and to answer American or British, is to hear the same response again and again: 'America good,' 'Britain good,' often accompanied by raised thumbs, a broad smile and a wrist-wrenching handshake."