Turkish President and ISIS Share Hatred of Lawrence of Arabia

Gaziantep

My Daily Beast piece yesterday on President Erdogan’s remarkable rant against T.E. Lawrence and the Sykes-Picot Agreement. The Turkish leader appears oblivious to the fact that Lawrence did all he could to sabotage the Anglo-French deal and kill it at birth.

Article Here

Assad Unleashes Fuel-Air Bombs On High School

And so it continues. The Russian-brokered deal that would strip President Bashar al-Assad of his chemical weapons – a deal that averted a U.S. airstrike on Syria – appears to have emboldened the regime in launching ever more brutal attacks with “conventional weapons”. On Sunday (September 29), a Syrian government warplane dropped two bombs on a high school in rebel-controlled Raqqa in northern Syria killing at least 16 and wounding 25 others. Many of the killed and injured were teenagers attending their first day of the school year.

As I report for the Daily Beast rights groups believe the bombs dropped were fuel-air ones that detonate in mid-air and create a fireball of burning fuel. A 2000 U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency study compared fuel-air bombs in their violence to chemical weapons. You can read my article here.

When a Jihadist Bomber Bungled

Earlier this week I cast more light on the April 23 bombing of the French embassy in Tripoli. In a piece for the Daily Beast I added to a previous report of mine where I revealed that there was more than one jihadist target that day – bombers sought also to attack the British Council with the explosion planned to go off about six minutes after other members of a suspected Al Qaeda cell managed to detonate a powerful blast outside the French Embassy.

You can read both Daily Beast articles here and here.

The British Council attack apparently failed not because of the vigilance of security guards but as a consequence of bungling and panic by the driver of the rigged car. The driver parked his car too close to high concrete bollards, preventing him from opening his door.

The “Keystone Bomber” tried to exit through a window, prompting a guard, oblivious to the danger, to call out, offering help, according to my sources. The offer spooked the driver who reversed and made off. His companion in the getaway vehicle also made a hasty escape, smashing into a parked car round the corner.  

Below are still photographs leaked to me from the British Council’s CCTV recording of some of the saga.

Approach

The getaway vehicle, an SUV, approaches the British Council. In the distance you can see the rigged car.

 

Rigged

 The rigged car approaches the British Council.

 

Parking

 The getaway vehicle is at the end of the road while the driver of the rigged car parks in front of the British Council.

 

Reverse

 A guard opens a metal door to ask if he can help as the jihadist reverses the car. The getaway SUV has already left.

 

 

 

To Publish Or Not

 Beirut

I wrote recently for the Daily Beast about the assassination of Lebanon’s intelligence chief Wissam al-Hassan and what it means — or could mean —  for the country as it tries to avoid spillover from the sectarian war raging in neighboring Syria.

The piece opened thus: “Ten days on from the Oct. 19 bombing, Lebanese security experts are still painstakingly collecting evidence and placing it in large bags under two white tarpaulins drawn across a courtyard, where they are trying also to assemble what remains of a car. After The Daily Beast arrived at the scene and started to take notes, skittish intelligence officials decided to haul this correspondent in for three hours of questioning.”

The backdrop to the story was ironic for me. As many of you know Newsweek will cease publishing the magazine at the end of the year and will go totally digital. Newsweek will be a separate subscriber-only online product but with some stories posted on the Daily Beast as well. I think the strategy a good one and trust Tina Brown’s commercial sense. However, if the magazine had ceased publication in October my troubles with the Lebanese intelligence officials in Beirut would have increased.

This is the email I sent my foreign editor explaining:

“Don’t wish to sound like a Luddite. But the only thing that satisfied the Lebanese intelligence guys about my bona fides was a copy of the latest edition of Newsweek! They complained that my International Federation of Journalists press card could have been forged. Remained unimpressed with my UK passport. And said web sites could easily be spoofs so I told them to get the latest international edition of the magazine. The first store apparently had sold out — good and bad news, I supposed.”

 

Syrian Rebels Ignore Human Rights Pledge and Torture

Syria

From my Daily Beast piece today:

“During a disturbing and at times surreal visit to a detention center in Al Bab in northeastern Syria on August 10, members of the Free Syrian Army (FSA), the main rebel-fighter force, still appeared to be involved in torture and abuse.

Their instruments of pain were on clear display: in the small dusty yard in front of the facility, not far from where guards lounged and smoked cigarettes, wooden sticks and iron bars were scattered in the shade, still coated with blood.”

 

Syria: A Haunting Rape Testimony

Syria

From my latest depressing filing from inside Syria for the Daily Beast:

“She speaks haltingly. Telling the story isn’t easy for the 38-year-old Syrian Sunni Muslim, and she won’t be explicit about the physical details that suggest her friend had been raped before dying….Her story adds to mounting allegations that Syrian forces—most especially the pro-government Shabiha civilian militia, the ultraloyal enforcers of embattled President Bashar al-Assad’s regime—are using sexual violence and rape to terrify and punish rebels.”

Why Rebels Are Finding It Hard To Hang On To Aleppo

Syria

Running low on ammunition and faced by a fierce onslaught from President Bashar al-Assad’s forces, rebels from the Free Syrian Army are finding it tough going in Aleppo. I reported on this last week for the Daily Beast. Yesterday, FSA commanders met in Turkey to discuss what to do about the ammunitions crisis but could come up with no immediate solution. They are encouraging brigades with a surplus to share with those running low, hardly a sustainable policy.

Libya: Two Competing Realities of Women

Tripoli

Will they be heard?

From article in Newsweek/Daily Beast: “At times there are two competing realities in post-Gaddafi Libya. For most ordinary Libyan women, there’s domestic drudgery and subordination to their men. For the more educated, drawn from higher ranks and involved in newly minted nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), there’s hope of change and greater opportunities. The two realities seldom meet…

Another fight will be over changing the judicial code. Currently, there’s no such crime as spousal rape. Activists want to see that changed and want to see the banning of rape victims being prosecuted for adultery or judges coercing rape victims and rapists to marry in order to restore “family honor,” something that condemns a woman to a life of injustice.”

Who Survives?

An interesting take on who might survive through the economic crisis and beyond among the online news and commentary sites from Matt Pressman at Vanity Fair . His points are fair and his comments about news aggregators such as Drudge and Google News are spot on: what happens to them when content is not free and content providers hide behind a pay-barrier? 

But he could have been more cutting about some of the news sites owned by newspapers. As my friend Jay Byrne, president of v-Influence Interactive, pointed out in a blog a few weeks ago, the newspaper industry has been lacking in practical development sense. I quote him: “What many newspapers don’t realize is that they have yet to perfect the basic mission of successful Web publishing: Link relevant content with relevant audiences for increased ROI opportunities for relevant advertisers. When they do, they may staunch their current hemorrhage and – gasp – perhaps make money online.” 

I think Jay in the blog could have added that newspaper sites are not good at bringing together, too, videos, blogs and Podcasts with text. And many newspapers are employing young hacks who just don’t write well.

 What is missing from Pessman’s piece is a wider viewpoint of producers and how knowledge-based organizations such as universities, NGOs, think tanks and charities, are beginning to be news and commentary platforms in themselves and are thriving in the world of RSS feeds. Of course, they don’t have the same kind of commercial constraints that for-profit news-sites and agrregators face.