Death, Lies, and Videotape

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
March 14 2004 6:56 AM

Death, Lies, and Videotape

All three papers lead with Spain's discovery of more Islamic connections to Thursday's terrorist bombing. (The government arrested three Moroccans and two Indians linked to a cell phone found with an undetonated bomb, and it received a videotaped statement of responsibility from a man purporting to represent al-Qaida.) The New York Times fronts the CIA's conclusion that Pakistan's Khan Laboratories helped North Korea restart its nuclear-weapons program.

The five bombing suspects were arrested for the "sale and falsification" of a calling card and cell phone (which was rigged as a detonation device for the unexploded bomb, says the Los Angeles Times). Two Spaniards of Indian descent are also being questioned. Spain's interior minister said that some of the arrested Moroccans "might have ties to extremist organizations" but stopped short of fingering Islamists as the bombers. However, a "high-ranking law enforcement official" (presumably Spanish) tells the LAT that "it's looking more like Islamic groups did it."

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Spain acquired the alleged al-Qaida videotape after an Arabic caller told a television station to look in a public trash can (located, the NYT reports, near Madrid's main mosque). Speaking in Arabic (with a Moroccan accent, according to the two Timeses), a man using a name unknown to authorities said that al-Qaida "claim[s] responsibility for what happened in Madrid just two and a half years after the attacks in New York and Washington. This is an answer to your cooperation with the Bush criminals and their allies." (The NYT helpfully links to this English transcript of the video, presumably translated from Spanish by the Associated Press. TP found the Spanish government's translation from the original Arabic on El Mundo's Web site.) The LAT and Washington Post remind readers that suicide bombers linked to al-Qaida blew up several Spanish targets in Casablanca last May, and the Spanish government is prosecuting several dozen people for operating an al-Qaida cell. Everybody reports that protesters in Madrid accused the government of trying to obscure, on the eve of today's national elections, a link between Thursday's terrorism and Spain's participation in the Iraq war.

The CIA's classified report finds that Khan Labs probably sold North Korea a "build a bomb" kit similar to the one it sold Libya, according to "American and Asian officials who have been briefed on [the report's] conclusions." Contacts began in the early '90s and accelerated between 1998 and 2002. The Pakistani technology probably enabled the North Koreans to circumvent their older weapons facilities, which had been frozen by a 1994 agreement with the U.S. The CIA's assessment is based partly on Pakistan's interrogations of Abdul Qadeer Khan, its pardoned nuke seller.

On the NYT Op-Ed page, NASA administrator Sean O'Keefe defends his cancellation of the space shuttle's mission to service, and extend the life of, the Hubble space telescope. He argues that new, post-Columbia safety procedures designed for trips to the International Space Station might not be adaptable to a Hubble trip. "Accordingly, it may not make sense to devote time and energy to a mission to the Hubble—only to find that the safety actions and procedures required by the [accident] board could not be followed."

On the Post's opinion page, Fareed Zakaria argues that the massive, indiscriminate nature of Spain's terror attack betrays the marginalization of the bombers' political agenda. In the 1940s and 1950s, European communists used low-fatality, high-publicity terrorism to advance their cause; as their support dwindled in the 1960s, they turned to random, high-fatality attacks without a clear political message. Similarly, the unfocused destruction unleashed by modern-day Basque separatists and Islamic jihadists results from the unfocused and impractical nature of their political demands.

Iran kicked out all international nukes inspectors yesterday after the International Atomic Energy Agency criticized it for playing hide and seek with its suspected weapons program. The NYT editors, meanwhile, criticize the U.S. energy department for its "pathetically weak efforts" to recover the uranium it passed out like candy in the 1950s and '60s as part of its Atoms for Peace program to promote nuclear power.

Four U.S. soldiers were killed by bombs in Iraq yesterday. Nine soldiers have been killed in the last four days.

Both the WP and NYT run dispatches from a driverless vehicle race in the Mojave Desert sponsored by the Defense Advance Research Projects Agency, a kind of R&D outfit in the Pentagon. The event, designed to help meet a congressional mandate to convert a third of all battlefield vehicles to robotic operation by 2015, featured fifteen prototypes designed by universities and high tech firms. All of them broke down a few miles into the race.

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