Thursday, June 10, 2004

Apartment "boom" in U.S. and Russia

American citizen Jose Padilla, an accused Al Qaeda associate, has been held without charge since 2002. His lawyers have asked to have the all-inclusive "enemy combatant" label dropped. The political winds were shifting in his favor; even the highly conservative Orrin Hatch made inquiries on his behalf.

In response, the United States government -- which has spent the past two years scrambling for a triable charge -- now accuses Padilla of masterminding a plot to use natural gas to blow up large apartment buildings. This charge has led to some discussion of the technical feasibility of such a plan. Representatives of the natural gas industry (not a disinterested party, obviously) have voiced some doubt as to whether a terrorist could easily employ such a tactic.

Few have noticed a frightening parallel.

In an earlier post, we discussed the apartment bombings that rattled Russia in 1999. These atrocities led to charges that Chechen terrorists bore responsibility -- charges backed by onionskin-thin evidence.

In the years since, many have argued that the bombings were, in fact, the work of the FSB. (You may know that lovable bunch better as the KGB.) These arguments come not from manic conspiracy buffs, but from sources worthy of respectful attention. One such source is Mikhail Trepashkin, a former FSB agent who was set to argue in court that his old employer committed the crime. Alas, he now faces legal problems of his own. By an odd coincidence, cops pulled over his car and "found" an illegal weapon in his trunk; Trepashkin says the gun was planted.

There's a pattern here: Heroin was "found" on a journalist investigating the case.

Eyewitness evidence indicates that FSB men rented a basement apartment in one of the buildings. Most damning of all: Toward the end of 1999, FSB operatives were caught red-handed (no pun intended) planting a bomb in another building's basement. They said it was a training mission. Believe that if you will.

A new documentary called "Assault on Russia" looks at this controversy, and at the actions of former FSB chieftain Vladimir Putin. I hope this film becomes available in the United States.

Now flash back to Padilla.

Even if the charges against him collapse, the seed has been planted. The American public now expects Al Qaeda to blow up large apartment buildings.

Am I suggesting a possible frame-up in the future?

Never. Never, ever would I say such a thing. Only a conspiracy maniac of the lowest sort would contemplate such an absurd notion.

Even so, it may be prudent to get one fact on the record. All I have in the trunk of my car is some antifreeze, oil, a spare tire, some ordinary tools, and a change of clothes. Honest. That's it. Anyone who says different is lying.

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