Mon, Aug 14, 2006 - Page 7 News List

Britons and others cast skeptical eyes on terror plot claims

AFP , LONDON

Had it gone ahead, or so police say, the alleged plot in Britain to blow up US-bound airliners in mid-flight would have resulted in "mass murder on an unprecedented scale."

But it did not go ahead -- and in its place, some bloggers and newspaper letter-writers have laid bare a degree of public cynicism about this latest, and still inconclusive, chapter in a never-ending worldwide war on terror.

"Funny how they know there's a threat that they've been monitoring for months and yet they have a scatter-gun approach in disrupting every airport," wrote one John Byng on BBC Online's "Have Your Say" blog.

"While I appreciate there may be terrorist threats I remain very skeptical -- the tactics seem more a ploy to keep the public in fear rather than a genuine attempt to stop an atrocity," Byng wrote.

Byng's posting was the single most-recommended entry about the terror plot to appear on BBC Online as of Saturday, but it was by no means exceptional in tone.

ORWELLIAN OVERTONES

"Has anyone else read 1984 and it's perpetual state of fear?" wrote Obe from Coventry, near Birmingham, where one of the alleged masterminds, Rashid Rauf, 25, who was arrested in Pakistan, hails from.

"The way in which this crisis is handled seems to be designed to instill maximal fear in the population," concurred a contributor to BBC Online, using the moniker "gwcomment."

"The timing of the discovery of this plot seems very convenient for both [British Prime Minister Tony] Blair and [US President George] Bush," chimed in Elizabeth Church from Toronto, Canada.

"What does it say about our trust in our politicians that that was the first thought to cross my mind!!" she wrote.

SCEPTICISM

Informing such scepticism, political observers say, has been the ongoing conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan and now Lebanon, as well as a number of embarrassing setbacks that the police in Britain have yet to live down.

Few people have forgotten how, in June, police raided a house in east London and arrested two brothers -- one of whom was shot and wounded -- in an anti-terrorist operation that ultimately turned up nothing.

Trust in the British police has also suffered from the point-blank shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes, a young Brazilian electrician wrongly presumed to have been a suicide bomber, in the tense days after the London bombings in July last year.

Many have meanwhile recalled Blair's insistence, on the eve of the Iraq invasion in 2003, that former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein's regime had a stockpile of deadly weapons of mass destruction -- weapons that in fact no longer existed.

Of the nearly 900 people arrested under the Terrorism Act 2000 since the Sept. 11 attacks in the US in 2001, a majority -- nearly 500 -- have been released without charge, and only 23 have been convicted.

HYPE AND SPIN

In the Independent, letter-writer Damian McCarthy from central London condemned the "hype and spin" and "terrorism porn" surrounding the alleged airline plot, stating that "no chemical or bomb making equipment has been found."

In his letter to the daily he lashed out at the police for having "created a media circus to assist the ailing credibility of themselves and their political master John Reid, the home secretary" who has been trying to bring order to his scandal-dogged ministry.

Writing to the editor of the Times newspaper, Richard Horton of Purley, south London said the decision to shut down British airports on Thursday "just proves that you can inflict any amount of inconvenience and humiliation on ordinary people as long as it is in the name of security."

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