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The terrorists I party with

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Part 3 It was a "fuel-air bomb" that would create "a superhot fireball". Anyone care to guess what I'm referring to here? A diabolical new weapon from some DoD skunkworks, perhaps? A metaphorical description of the space shuttle Challenger exploding, maybe?

Actually, that was how ABC News's The Blotter with Brian Ross described the comically dysfunctional car bomb found in London a few weeks ago. That's right, the device that was not a bomb in any sense. The device that could not have detonated even under absolutely ideal conditions, as The Register explained at the time.

In another article, Ross & Co called the device "a most lethal anti-personnel bomb", while BBC News ran a headline reading, "Police avert car bomb 'carnage'". This was based on a comment by counterterrorism official Peter Clarke, who said, and carefully, that if the device had been activated, "there could have been serious injury or loss of life". (our emphasis)

And Clarke is right: had the triggering mechanism worked, anyone standing beside the car at the moment of ignition could have suffered serious injury or loss of life. But that wasn't good enough for the BBC, which went for "carnage averted" instead.

And what about al Qaeda? Surely those devils must have been involved. The earliest reports strained to say it, but could only say that a suspect caught on CCTV looked to be of Middle East descent, and might have resembled someone believed to be a terrorist. But within a day or two, they all gave in to temptation, pretty much at once.

ABC's Ross & Co claimed in one follow-up item that the attack scheme "bears al Qaeda's trademarks" (of course, one of al Qaeda's more important trademarks is that their bombs are in fact, well, bombs.)

The Guardian reported that police were hunting for "a suspected al Qaeda-inspired terrorist cell after the discovery of two 'Iraqi style' car bombs, which UK officials said were designed to cause mass murder".

Every paper I read at the time went out of its way to work the phrase "al Qaeda" into the story, even though there was not one shred of evidence of its involvement.

Why did this happen? Because someone made the mistake of saying to a reporter that the London devices looked like ones used by al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), a different outfit from Osama bin Laden's original terrorist franchise based in Pakistan. The British and American press declined to note the distinction between the two groups, because "al Qaeda terrorists" is so much sexier than an accurate discussion of who's who in the world of international terrorism.

This al Qaeda nonsense was a deliberate distortion based on someone's observation that the devices looked like AQI bombs (although they certainly didn't function like them). And that was the tiny opening that the press had been begging for. The first step in mis-reporting was to "forget" that there was merely a superficial similarity between the dysfunctional London devices and a type of actual bomb used in Iraq.

The second step was to "forget" that al Qaeda and Al Qaeda in Iraq are separate outfits. Of course, it was inevitable that some paper would succumb to the ultimate temptation, and the Evening Standard claimed the honour by labelling the crew, "the al Qaeda car bombers" (believe me, if the fools behind the London car "bombs" and the Glasgow airport immolation are members of al Qaeda, then the war on terror has been won hands down, and the Bush Administration is modest to a fault for not taking the credit they deserve).

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