Tidbits for Political Junkies with Short Attention Spans & Hearty Appetites


Monday, June 14, 2004


The Mall Scenario

It’s always a challenge – when the announcements are coming from John Ashcroft – to sift through the sensationalism & suspect timing, and separate what is deliberately misleading from the genuinely scary.

First, the AP version of the story, as presented in the Washington Post:

A Somali native living in Ohio has been charged with plotting with other al Qaeda operatives to blow up a Columbus-area shopping mall, according to an indictment unsealed Monday.

Attorney General John Ashcroft announced the indictment at a Justice Department news conference and used the occasion to warn anew of al Qaeda's threat. "Current credible intelligence indicates that al Qaeda wants to hit the United States, to hit the United States hard," he said.

The relevant facts here are that there was a real indictment – not just an arrest or detention – in connection with an alleged plot (details undisclosed) to blow up a shopping mall, in a place that serves as well as any as a surrogate for ‘Heartland, USA’: Columbus, Ohio. Since Ashcroft disclosed no details of the alleged plot, it is impossible to know if this means that a couple of suspicious characters were overheard saying “Hey, wouldn’t it be cool if…” – or if there were actual explosives, and the plans and means to use them.

The other key fact, reported by CNN and others, is that the arrest took place last November 28th, which happened to be (though no one saw fit to mention this) the Friday after Thanksgiving: one of the busiest shopping days of the year, and not a bad day to pick if you’re a terrorist intent on screwing with the minds & wallets of Americans.

Oddly missing from any of the reports I have seen so far is any indication of when the indictment itself actually took place: only that it was unsealed, and announced today. Unsealed by whom? And why now?

One might also reasonably ask why Ashcroft said nothing at all back in November, at the time of the arrest. If it made sense not to alarm the public at the time, why does it make sense to do so now? Inquiring minds would like to know.

And if he has other information, unrelated to this arrest, that actually is "current and credible" -- why is he undermining his own credibility by mixing it all up with six-month-old news?

[UPDATE: Liberal Oasis has more; and Krugman opens today by calling Ashroft the "worst attorney general in history."]

[UPDATE II: The NYT has the most telling detail: "The indictment against Mr. Abdi makes no mention of the alleged plot to blow up a shopping mall. That reference was contained in the motion filed by prosecutors to keep Mr. Abdi in custody." As Jon Stewart would say, "Whaaaahh?"]


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