Reaching the Summit

Reaching the Summit

Reaching the Summit

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
May 18 2003 7:07 AM

Reaching the Summit

The Washington Post leads with, and the Los Angeles Times catches, word that a suicide attack on a Jerusalem bus killed at least seven passengers and wounded at least 20. Another suicide bomber detonated explosives nearby. Only that attacker was killed, and no one was hurt. The attacks happened overnight U.S. time. According to the Moroccan official the New York Times interviewed in its lead, the five synchronized suicide bombings that hit a Spanish restaurant and cultural center, Jewish organizations and a hotel in Casablanca Friday night were the work of a Moroccan organization with ties to an international terrorist group. The official didn't want to say on the record yet that the group was al-Qaida. The death toll from those bombings was 41 people, including perhaps 13 attackers. One hundred were wounded. Most victims were Moroccan, a few were European, and none was American. The LAT leads with the Moroccan bombings as well: Its angle is that the bombings were the work of al-Qaida (European law enforcement officials said so) and that they represent a "widening war of terror" because Moroccan and Spanish interests have not been attacked in recent years by Islamic militants.

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The LAT says some Spanish officials think Spain was targeted because it has been an ally of President Bush's campaign against Iraq; others don't think that's the case. Morocco may have been hit because it is a moderate Arab state that cooperates in the American war against terrorism. Moroccan authorities are sweeping up Islamic militants, the papers report.

Everyone notes that the first Palestinian-Israeli summit in over two years did little to move the sides forward along the American-proposed road map for peace. The papers say that Israeli Prime Minister Sharon is still refusing to accept the road map until he talks Bush into changing the plan so it doesn't undermine Israeli security. Sharon did go through with the meeting with the Palestinian prime minister despite a suicide bombing in Hebron on Saturday that killed an Israeli husband and pregnant wife. He has canceled a trip to Washington scheduled for this week after the Jerusalem bus bombing, the WP says.

The WP IDs a key al-Qaida planner behind last week's Riyadh bombings. American officials say he's Saif Adel, an Egyptian, a former mid-level al-Qaida operative, and now the organization's new top military commander. According to U.S. officials, he's based in Iran—though Iran says he isn't—and is part of what the paper calls one of two key command groups for al-Qaida.

The WP and LAT say that U.S. officials fear that the attack in Riyadh is the first in a series. The LAT suggests the Casablanca attacks are the second. Last week when this concern appeared in the papers, it seemed based more on speculation than concrete intelligence, TP noted. Now, it appears there's something a little more solid behind it: According to the WP, American officials think Saif Adel is trying to carry out as many attacks as possible within a short time frame to demonstrate al-Qaida's viability. The LAT says that lots of intel indicators, including electronic intercepts and human sources, point to impending attacks concentrated overseas.

On Iraq: The NYT follows up on yesterday's announcement that there would be no interim government in Iraq for now by seeing how leaders of Iraqi political groups feel about that. Predictably, they are unhappy, the leader of the Kurdistan Democratic Party so much so that he left Baghdad to go home. Iraqi political leaders warn that the U.S. will face a hostile nation if the allied forces refuse to create an interim government. In Kirkuk, Kurds and Arabs shot and stabbed each other, leaving at least five dead and 40 wounded. The U.S. captured another most-wanted Iraqi official, the secretary of the Republican Guard.

The LAT off-leads an attempt to assess the number of Iraqi civilian casualties in Baghdad. It says 1,700 were killed and 8,000 wounded according to Iraqi hospital records. There are no official civilian casualty counts. The piece offers caveats about the reliability of the hospital record keeping: The hospitals didn't seem to have any rigorous systems for identifying civilian vs. military casualties other than the patient's word or any indication on his person that he was military. Furthermore, records were incomplete or withheld in some cases. Given this, does the story deserve such prominent play?

The WP fronts an embarrassing ("darkly comic," the paper calls it) assessment of what the weapons of mass destruction hunters actually have found in places where U.S. intelligence had pointed to evidence of WMD in Iraq: vacuum cleaners, housed in a facility ranked 26 on CENTCOM's list of sites that deserved priority searches, a playground, a research paper written by a failing grad student, a high-school science project, and a swimming pool. One time a WMD search team geared up its specialists to chopper out to a site where anthrax had reportedly been discovered. Turned out they were responding to a lone Marine who told them he had what he thought was anthrax in his pocket.