He believes everything he reads..

Just when you think the British tabloid press can’t any worse, The Sun goes and surpasses itself. In a recent ‘story’ entitled ‘Radicals’ deadly booby trap’ (can you see what they did there?) the Sun claimed that ‘radical doctors’, who of course had been trained in London teaching hospitals, had pioneered a new technique of concealing explosives in female suicide attacker’s breasts and in the buttocks of male suicide attackers. This was apparently with the intent of bypassing airport security scanners. The claims are likely a fanciful evolution of the so-called ‘butt-bomber’ incident (mentioned in this earlier post), where an individual attempted to kill a Saudi security minister with an explosive device claimed to be have been concealed rectally. In the event, the bomber managed only to kill himself and make an awful mess of the prince’s lounge, despite standing right beside the target when the device was detonated. Personally I think it highly likely that the device was in fact hidden in the bomber’s underwear, similar to the attempt by a Nigerian student to bring an airliner during Christmas 2009. Such outlandish claims of surgically implanted explosives have been seen before,  and even if such an attempt was feasible, it has been pointed out that concealing  explosives inside the human body render it fairly ineffective, as the carrier’s body absorbs a good deal of the blast.

What’s much more interesting that the content of the story is its origin. The apparent source for this startling revelation,  an individual named Joseph Farah, a leading proponent of the US ‘birther‘ movement. That would usually be enough to discredit the report by itself. However, it would appear that these claims were too outlandish even for Farah, who issued a denial that he had originated the story and the quotes attributed to him. In fact Farah claims that the story originated with one Gordon Thomas, who contributes to one of Farah’s online publications and is claimed to have ‘deep contacts in British intelligence’. The Sun allegedly simply lifted some of the material from Farah’s G2 bulletin and attributed it to him rather than Thomas. Depressingly, the story was then picked up almost verbatim by the Daily Telegraph, which is supposed to be a serious newspaper, along with a string of other media outlets.

Now the Sun has a track record of publishing stories of dubious provenance on such issues. As noted by Barth’s Notes on Religion, in January 2009 the Sun ran a story claiming that threats had been made on a website against a series of prominent British figures of Jewish descent. However, it transpired that the threats, posted on Ummah.com. had in fact been made by one Glen Jenvey who fancied himself as some sort of freelance intelligence operative. He was one of the members of the ‘Vigil‘ group which claimed to be helping to fight terrorism. Interestingly, Jenvey’s activities also formed the basis of a book by Neil Doyle, ‘Terror Tracker’. Doyle also runs an eponymous website. Jenvey had posted the threats using the alias ‘Abuislam’ and claimed it was part of some sort of ‘undercover operation’.

Well, the Sun had to recall the story (it is no longer on their website), but sought to defend its conduct in a letter to the Press Complaints Commission. One of the individuals purported to be on the list, Alan Sugar, then began legal proceedings against the Sun, claiming, ironically, that it had endangered his personal security. Highly unusually, the Sun ran a story on its own withdrawal of the piece. Then, to cap it all, in December 2009 Jenvey, the apparent source of the fake story, was arrested by police on suspicion of inciting religious hatred. Marvelous.

All in all, a revealing insight into how some elements of the media generate stories relating to terrorism. It makes me wonder, for every story that gets exposed in such a way, how many similarly dubious pieces are published and not subjected to such scrutiny. And how many of these so-called ‘terrorism experts’ out there are simply using the issue as a vehicle to promote their own particular line or to make some cash. Its a tired and somewhat trite expression, but don’t believe everything you read.

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