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Tuesday, Jun 15, 2004, 2:28 pm

Nuradin Abdi: More Ashcroft Fear-Mongering?

By Jim Rinnert
TV Morning News Watch: 6/15/04
Another installment in Ashcroft's Fear-mongering

I confess I'm into watching morning TV news programming, as a way of keeping in touch with what Americans are being fed with their morning coffee, you understand. I wake up around 6 a.m. and flip on CNN's "American Morning," say hello to Bill and Solidad and start my day. Around 7 I check in with Katie and Matt on NBC's "Today" show. This morning both channels were telling me about a Somali dude arrested in Columbus, Ohio, for planning to bomb a local shopping mall. Cut to a clip of Attorney Generalissimo John Ashcroft at a news conference yesterday speaking on the subject: "The American heartland was targeted for death and destruction by an al-Qaeda cell" was his soundbite.

I immediately thought of Jose Padilla's arrest, announced in June 2003 by Ashcroft, several months after the fact, from a news conference in Moscow. Fascinated by Ashcroft's soulless manipulation of popular fears, I had watched the Padilla news item unfold on morning TV and wrote up my observations in a screed seen here in February (see http://www.inthesetimes.com/site/main/article/jose_padilla_were_all_in_trouble_here/).

I was interested now to see how this Columbus arrest was going to play out in today's news. When I got to work I checked CNN's web site (http://www.cnn.com) to follow up, but the story seems to have dropped off their radar. The way Solidad had approached the story (with a screen-overlay headline posing the question "al-Qaeda plot?") suggested that CNN was not really ready to buy into the threat in exactly the way Ashcroft's Justice Department would like us to. Solidad's inflections denoted the same. Even Columbus' mayor, whom she interviewed on screen, couldn't say if there was anything real behind the FBI's accusations--but he was grateful for the Justice Department's diligence and he, too, wanted to reinforce the impression that the government was actively engaged is saving American shoppers from death and destruction at the hands of al-Qaeda.

Information was available from other sources, however. Apparently, Nuradin Abdi, the owner of a cellular telephone sales business who had recently been awarded political asylum in the U.S, was also an al-Qaida operative with plans to blow up an unspecified Columbus-area shopping mall. His plans were thwarted by his arrest...last November. The announcement comes these many months later. According to the Cincinnati Post http://www.cincypost.com/2004/06/15/terr061504.html), the indictment announced Monday (on four counts -- two each of supporting terrorist activity and fraud and misuse of immigration travel documents) does not detail the planned attack. Kevin Brock, special agent in charge of the Cincinnati Division of the FBI, in discussing Abdi's indictment Monday, assured us that Abdi underwent "jihad training" to commit a terrorist act.

As pointed out on Ohio News Network's site (http://www.onnnews.com/Global/story.asp?S=1941114), Columbus is home to more than 30,000 Somalis, the second-largest Somali community in the United States, after Minneapolis. According to Abdi's brother, Mohamed AbdiKarani, 17, Abdi loved the freedom of the United States and never spoke out against the U.S. government. "He really hated terrorists," AbdiKarani said. "He loved it here. He said it's good to raise his kids here." Abdi has a young son and daughter and his wife is pregnant.

USA Today's coverage of the arrest (http://www.usatoday.com/news/nation/2004-06-15-mall_x.htm), pointed out that the FBI has repeatedly warned us recently that al-Qaeda might shift away from trying to hit tightly guarded installations, such as government buildings or nuclear plants, to more vulnerable targets such as malls, apartment buildings or hotels. Remember a couple of weeks ago when Ashcroft held a press conference to warn us that al-Qaeda terrorists wanted to ruin our Memorial Day cookouts...at the same time that Homeland Security head Tom Ridge was making the TV talk/news circuit telling us "not to worry," party on as usual? So now Ashcroft has a case in point-- a chance to show us that not only are we in danger, but the Justice Department is doing a bang-up job saving us from such disasters.

Ashcroft is very interested in keeping us worried. You might say his job depends on it. If we don't stay worried about terrorism at home we might not re-elect his boss, the "war president," the man who gave John a job after the good people of Missouri voted him out of his Senate seat. (In fact, to get rid of Ashcroft, the "show-me" people elected Jean Carnahan, the then-unpolitical widow of his rival, Gov. Mel Carnahan, who was killed in a airplane crash during the last days of the 2000 campaign. In the days after the election, when Ashcroft saw a loser every time he looked in the mirror, he probably swore he'd never be jobless again! ...if he can keep the American people scared enough, maybe he'll get to keep his vow. But don't count on it, John.

A rundown of news items dealing with Nuradin Abdi's arrest can be found at somali.net (http://somalinet.com/news/

Jim Rinnert is the art director at In These Times.

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