September 22nd 2001

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Articles from this issue:

STOP PRESS: Who has declared war on the United States?

COVER STORY: Canberra to blame for Ansett's demise

CANBERRA: Asylum seekers bring ill tidings for Beazley and the ALP

COMMENT: Boat people reaction - echoes of the 1970s

NEW ZEALAND: Army caught in political imbroglio

STRAWS IN THE WIND: Send in the counsellors / Good morning, Vietnam

MEDIA: Out of touch with majority sentiment

LETTERS: Tristar: another view

Letter: Poor reception

Letter: Let them stay

REGIONAL AFFAIRS: Why East Timor chose Portuguese

TRADE: Lamb exports: where to now?

BUSINESS: Selling wholesome food to Australia's homes

FAMILY: Well-being of families and nation intertwined

Books promotion page

Who has declared war on the United States?

by Peter Westmore

News Weekly, September 22, 2001
"Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity."
  • The Second Coming, by W.B. Yeats

This brief comment on the horrific bombings of the twin towers of the World Trade Centre, New York, seen as a centre of American "capitalism", and the Pentagon, centre of US defence forces, in Washington, was written just hours after the attacks took place, and before all the facts were known.

Nevertheless, we can draw some tentative conclusions from what is known about these tragic events, which resemble the theme in a Tom Clancy novel in which terrorists crashed a Boeing 747 on the Capitol, killing the US President, Congress and Supreme Court.

It is very clear that the attacks - conducted by simultaneously hijacking four commercial jets, full of aviation fuel - which had just departed from airports in Boston, New Jersey and Washington, required extremely detailed planning.

All this was apparently done in complete secrecy, without any prior warning, and without any detection of their plans by Western intelligence agencies.

Quite probably, the operation included getting hijackers into the United States without being detected, getting hijackers past airport security, with knives, and onto target aircraft.

Additionally, the hijackers would need to have seized control of the aircraft, possibly kill the flight crew, and then be capable of flying the passenger jet aircraft to their targets, using skilled jet pilots.

To achieve this would have required resources beyond those available to some of the most likely suspects, such as the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, or Hamas/Islamic Jihad.

The exiled Saudi terrorist, Osama bin Laden, who ordered the bombings of US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, might have been involved; but the level of sophistication of these operations, and the secrecy with which the operation was planned and implemented, may have required the support of a nation state.

What states could have been involved?

Some of the early suspects, including Libya, Syria, and Iran, disqualified themselves by immediately condemning the attacks. In any case, these countries have recently been trying to rehabilitate their international reputations by co-operating with Western governments' attempts to control international terrorism.

North Korea would not have the technical capability, so that leaves Afghanistan or Iraq, the country which attacked Kuwait and then was defeated in the Gulf War, but is still engaged in military operations against the West.

The bombings are clearly an attack on the US role in the world, possibly due to its support for Israel, or as a reprisal for the Gulf War, or both. It may well have been intended to provoke a war between the United States and the Islamic world, a danger referred to by Malaysia's Prime Minister, Dr Mahathir. In the circumstances, it will be important to maintain strong links with moderates in the Islamic world.

President Bush has promised that the US will "hunt down and punish" those responsible for these acts of terror, which are potentially as serious as the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941, and the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, nephew of Austria's monarch, by a Serbian terrorist in 1914, the event which triggered World War I.

These acts of terror show that even the most sophisticated nation in the world is highly vulnerable to fanatics who are willing to kill thousands of innocent people in pursuit of their evil objectives.

  • Peter Westmore

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