Egypt’s Ancient Heritage In Peril As Turmoil Continues

Egypt
Mallawi Museum One of the stolen artifacts.

The political instability in Egypt is taking a heavy toll on the country’s ancient heritage.

Thieves have taken advantage of the chaotic situation to steal artifacts to sell on the illegal antiquities market, while vandals have been satisfied with simply destroying them.

Both groups recently struck at a museum in Mallawi, about 190 miles south of Cairo. When supporters of deposed president Mohamed Morsi held a protest in the museum’s garden, thieves took advantage of the police being distracted to break in and steal more than a thousand artifacts. When vandals saw the museum was open and unguarded, they rushed in and smashed up the place.

National Geographic has published some sobering pictures of the destruction. The museum has put up a Facebook page detailing what has been stolen in the hope that it will make it harder for the thieves to sell the artifacts.

Looting has been reported at numerous museums and archaeological sites around the country. Instability and lack of income from tourism also means many archaeological sites are suffering from neglect. There may be a political motivation for some of the thefts. Egyptian newspaper Al-Ahram quotes Mokhtar Al-Kasabani, professor of Islamic Archaeology at Cairo University, as saying the thefts are to raise money for the Muslim Brotherhood and Al-Gamaa Al-Islamiya. The Muslim Brotherhood is Morsi’s party, and Al-Gamaa Al-Islamiya (Islamic Group) was allied with him when he was in power.

Al-Gamaa Al-Islamiya claimed responsibility for a 1997 terrorist attack in Luxor that killed 62 people, mostly tourists. So it appears fundamentalists are destroying Egypt’s past in order to raise money to endanger its future.

Selling Fake Bomb Detectors Lands UK Businessman In Jail

fake bomb detectors
What Bolton and McCormick really deserve. (Image courtesy Wikipedia)

Back in April we brought you the story of James McCormick, who was found guilty in a British court of selling fake bomb detectors to several nations, including Iraq. When I was traveling in Iraq I saw his useless products, based on a novelty golf ball detector, being used at checkpoints everywhere. McCormick endangered the lives of countless people, including myself, and I’m glad to report that he’s now serving ten years in jail.

Well, not totally glad. A life sentence would be far more appropriate, but corrupt businessmen so rarely end up behind bars I’ll take what I can get.

Now another UK businessman has been sent to jail for peddling fake bomb detectors.

Gary Bolton, 47, of Chatham, Kent, has been sentenced to seven years in prison for selling what he claimed were sophisticated electronic devices. In fact, they were simply little plastic boxes with handles and antennae. The prosecution proved that Bolton knew they didn’t work yet his company Global Technical Ltd. sold them for thousands of dollars apiece to numerous security and law enforcement agencies in half a dozen countries, including Mexico and Thailand. Bolton also claimed they could detect drugs, cash, tobacco and ivory.

It appears Bolton may have been inspired by the success of McCormick’s bogus device, as one of them was found in Bolton’s home.

Who’s up for a good, old-fashioned tarring and feathering?

UNESCO Reports Damage To Timbuktu Worse Than Previously Reported

Timbuktu
Emilio Labrador

A team from UNESCO has visited Timbuktu in Mali to make its first on-the-ground assessment of the damage caused by last year’s occupation by the Islamist group Ansar Dine (Defenders of Faith).

The group took over Timbuktu in April 2012 and imposed a harsh form of Shariah law. Believing the city’s famous shrines and medieval manuscripts to be against Islam, even though they were created by Muslims, they began to destroy them. Early this year a coalition of Malian and French forces pushed Ansar Dine out of the city and into the northern fringes of the country, where they remain a threat.

Now that the situation has temporarily stabilized, UNESCO sent a team to investigate the damage. They had some grim findings. While recent reports stated that the damage wasn’t as bad as originally thought, that turns out not to be true.

Expedition leader Lazare Eloundou Assomo of UNESCO’s World Heritage Centre said, “We discovered that 14 of Timbuktu’s mausoleums, including those that are part of the UNESCO World Heritage sites, were totally destroyed, along with two others at the Djingareyber Mosque. The emblematic El Farouk monument at the entrance to the city was razed. We estimate that 4,203 manuscripts from the Ahmed Baba research center were lost.”

Thousands of other manuscripts were taken away from Timbuktu before the Islamists could get their hands on them. Most are now in the capital Bamako. While this saved them, Mr. Assomo told the BBC that they need to be returned to the controlled environment of the research center before the humid rainy season sets in and causes damage to the fragile pages.

Report: Government Oversight Allowed Known Terrorists Onto US Flights

Pmocek, Flickr

Some “suspected or known terrorists” on the TSA’s No Fly list were able to board commercial flights in and over the United States for years, according to a new internal report from the Department of Justice.

The report, released this month and cited by Breaking Travel News, focused on the U.S. Marshals Service and another office’s handling of terrorists in the federal witness security program (WITSEC), commonly called the witness protection program. It concluded that those authorities were not communicating with “national security stakeholders,” such as the FBI, before admitting terrorists into the program and giving them a new identity. Part of the problem was that the new names didn’t make it onto the Terrorist Screening Center’s watch list or the TSA’s No Fly list, creating a serious and surprising loophole:

We found that WITSEC Program participants include individuals known or suspected by the government to be involved in terrorism. This includes individuals trained in areas such as aviation and explosives, involved in plotting bombing attacks, and guilty of serious offenses such as conspiracy to murder U.S. nationals.

We identified some WITSEC Program participants who were on the TSA’s No Fly list yet were allowed to fly on commercial flights with WITSEC Program officials’ knowledge and approval. Moreover, these individuals, on their own accord, could have flown without WITSEC Program officials’ knowledge and approval.

But that’s not even the worst revelation in the report. This is:

In addition, we found that the Department did not definitively know how many known or suspected terrorists were admitted into the WITSEC Program.

This alarming example of the potential problem isn’t much better:

In one instance, we noted that in a June 2009 field report a USMS Inspector reported his belief that a WITSEC participant was trying to gather intelligence on sensitive policies and procedures of the USMS WITSEC Program for militant Muslim groups. We found no evidence that this information was shared with the FBI when it was reported to USMS WITSEC headquarters personnel near the time the Inspector recorded this concern.

The DOJ issued 16 recommendations to address the situation. Since March, 15 of those have been implemented, and the final one is in the works.

It is unclear from the report whether participation in the witness protection program overrides the terrorist watch list, but the fact that the loophole sparked a lengthy DOJ investigation suggests that it does not. At the very least, the government was supposed to know if witness protection participants who also appear on the terrorist watch list were attempting to fly, and it didn’t.

Notably, the report acknowledges the value of allowing terrorists into the witness protection program:

These witnesses cooperated in major terrorism investigations and prosecutions that the Department described as integral to its primary counterterrorism mission, including the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, the East Africa Embassy bombings, the “Blind Sheik” prosecutions, the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building attack in Oklahoma City, the New York City subway suicide-bomb plot, and the plot to bomb John F. Kennedy International Airport.

Via Breaking Travel News

The Day I Was Mistaken For A Terrorist

For some reason, people sometimes mistake me for a terrorist. Once I got interrogated by an air marshal for merely looking out a window, and the following year in London I totally freaked out several people on a bus.

The second incident was, I suppose, partially my fault. I boarded a city bus with a large suitcase, which I put on the luggage rack. Since the rack was right next to the door, I moved a little away from it so I wouldn’t be in the way.

For a couple of minutes I stood there, keeping an eye on my bag and not listening to the buzz of voices around me. One conversation, however, began to get my attention.

“I just don’t think it looks right,” a worried woman’s voice said.

“Well, then mention it to the driver,” a man said.

“I don’t want to make a fuss,” the woman replied.

“Look, you’re worried about it just sitting there. You don’t see the owner. So go up to the driver and mention it,” the man said. He didn’t sound worried himself. Instead he sounded a bit condescending.

I turned to them.”Are you talking about my bag?” I asked.

A wave of relief washed over the woman’s face.

“Yes!” she cried. “I didn’t see you put it down and nobody was standing around it, and I got very worried.”

“Don’t worry, no bomb in it, just a bunch of dirty clothes,” I said. Then I turned to the man next to her. “But you didn’t seem worried.”

He shrugged. “Nobody would need a bag that big to blow up a bus.”

I laughed. “Well maybe I’m a really inefficient bomber and I don’t know how to mix explosives correctly.”

“Oh no,” he dismissed that idea. “That is a huge bag. If it was filled with explosives you could barely lift it.”

I studied them for a moment and said, “So how do you know I’m really not a terrorist? All you have is my word.”

They looked back at me – middle-aged, middle-class, white me. The woman suddenly looked embarrassed. The man looked defiant.

“You don’t fit the profile,” he said.

“Remember Timothy McVeigh?” I asked.

He waved his hand in a dismissive gesture. “The right wing loons in your country rarely do such things. Most terrorists look nothing like you.”

I smiled at him. “Who’s to say I’m not a right-wing loon?”

“WOULD YOU PLEASE STOP THIS CONVERSATION?!!!” A woman squawked from a few rows back.

“Sorry ma’am. This was all hypothetical,” I said.

She immediately looked relieved, just like the first woman. All it took was a reassuring word from a complete stranger – a light-skinned, well-spoken stranger.

She, too, had missed the point.

[Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons]