November 26, 2003


(See previous article) Well, as Juan Cole has rather triumphantly pointed out, the video of the SAM attack at Baghdad airport does clearly show SA-14s, not SA-7s, being used, suggesting earlier reports were wrong.

The video shows two guerillas with SAMs, following two others carrying RPGs to their launch area (the RPGs are presumably for protection against helicopters... one is shown in the distance), then one of them changing into attire more appropriate for firing a rocket off your shoulder, then launching his missile. Then they all run like hell.

Reports in the press that the missile takes a sharp U-turn are incorrect. SAMs don't do that, for one thing, and there's clearly an explosion just before the smoke trail changes direction, suggesting the "U-turn" is actually the intersection of the missile's track and smoke from the flaming Airbus wing. The tape, as far as I can analyse it, is almost certainly authentic (not a splice job).

One of the two missiles shown clearly has the forward assembly of a SA-14, the other is indistinct. But even if you couldn't see that, the behaviour of the missile is indicative. It's clearly fired at an aircraft crossing left to right, from roughly amidships, or at most a little to the rear in relation to the aircraft (Baghdad airport is probably roughly 90 degrees to the left in relation to the shooter). SA-7s won't do that; they need to be fired from nearly directly behind. Time of flight is approximately 10 seconds, suggesting the missile firing point was 5 km or so from the aircraft at impact, at the extreme end of a SA-14's range. The shooter knew his equipment, for sure. If they'd fired both missiles, they could well have bagged their bird. [UPDATE: The photos show that they did fire both, but the second failed, in fact, probably due to the aircraft moving out of range... it seems they deserved less credit than I first thought.]

The SA-14 is not new technology; it's been around since 1978. It was the first "all-aspect" Soviet SAM, a counterpart in its day to the American Stinger. Note the limitations of SAMs as demonstrated by these guerrillas. It has to be "shoot and scoot;" you need to work from an area open to observation, and you can't hesitate even a second to visually confirm the target (you're firing at a dot, at best.) There's no sign of good optical equipment (binoculars, etc.) so it's almost certain the firing party had a cell phone connection to someone with eyes on the runway, who told them when to put the weapon to shoulder and turn the seeker on. [UPDATE: In fact, they didn't, but they probably should have; they were looking to hit a military jet, and the wasted time in detection probably cost them their kill.] This kind of attack can be foiled with stronger local security in the airport area, although it's always a cat and mouse game. SA-14s don't totally change that equation, although they can certainly increase the likely firing positions considerably. Modern missiles like the SA-16 and 18 are even better in that regard. As I said last December, "Firm reports of those weapons [SA-16/18] in terrorist hands, when it eventually comes, will be considerably more alarming."

This, however, was still only a relatively mediocre missile by modern military standards, not quite the equal of an early-model Stinger, albeit in the hands of a skilled operator (almost certainly ex-military) in a well-planned operation (filming it was brilliant). For Americans, that should be alarming enough for now. [UPDATE: Evidence from the Paris Match article would suggest luck was more a factor here than skill, in fact. See the later article.]

Posted by BruceR at 01:34 PM


A lot's happened since I posted the "Canadian terrorism roundup," the comprehensive list of Canadian Al Qaeda members and suspected members, in custody and at large. The original post is here. You may want to read it first, if you haven't already. Updates follow.

1) The Khadr family is in the news a lot right now. The father, Ahmed, was rumoured to have been killed in Pakistan, but those rumours were denied by the Pakistani government. Meanwhile Abdul Rahman Khadr, the elder son, was released by the Americans but refused entry by Canada, and is now a man without a country, wandering the Middle East. Unlike his father, Abdul Rahman has nothing more than a familial association with terrorism. While his brother Omar shot an American soldier in Afghanistan in a gun battle, was wounded himself, and captured and sent to prison in Cuba, Abdul Rahman was picked up peacefully in Afghanistan. Many believe he was taken more for any information he could provide about his father's whereabouts, than any actual terrorist intent on his part.

2) Of the Ottawa cell suspected of plotting an attack against an American target in Canada, the apparently innocent Maher Arar has been released from Syrian confinement, and both Canadian and Syrian authorities say they have no reason to believe he's a danger to anyone. Arar, whose name was almost certainly produced through the torture of one of the other Canadians involved, was evidently sent to Syria for ten months in a move approved at the highest level of the U.S. Justice department, in the hope he would name more names through his own torture. Unfortunately, he turned out to be innocent, so that didn't quite work out.

3) The Canadian immigration fraud cases (the "flying planes into reactors" sensation of last August) have now all been released pending appeal of their immigration status or deported for immigration violations. All terrorism claims have been dropped. As said here before, all the Canadian government claimed officially was that the fraud ring provided a *potential* ingress route into Canada for terrorists... the press played it as a real active route, and some people got their life plans ruined.

4) The one thing I didn't report on before was the five immigrants previously held on national security certificates. Immigrants to Canada, as opposed to citizens, can be held indefinitely without charge if they are judged a threat if released. There are currently five in custody:

a) Muhammad Majoub (arrested June, 2000) and Mahmoud Jaballah (arrested August, 2001): Egyptian immigrants, with apparent ties to anti-government terror groups there connected with the Islamic Brotherhood (Mahjoub is on Egypt's "most wanted" list, and allegedly a leader in the al-Zawahiri-led Al Qaeda antecedent, Al-Jihad). They claim they came to Canada to start a new life, but the government's evidently not convinced. Note that these predate Sept. 11, with both individuals living in Canada for several years prior to being picked up, so it's hardly kneejerk anti-Muslim feeling that first placed him there (whether it's keeping him there now is an open question).

b) Hassan Almrei (arrested October, 2001): originally from Syria, Almrei reportedly laundered money for Al-Qaeda through his Saudi Arabian business before coming to Canada. Not a violent terrorist to anyone's mind, but a possible small-fish facilitator.

c) Mohamed Harkat (arrested December, 2002): Algerian, and a former member of the Islamicist GIA there. Like the Egyptians, he claims he came to Canada in the mid-90s to start anew. The government isn't buying it.

d) Adil Charkaoui (arrested May, 2003) Moroccan, arrived here in the mid 1990s. Currently a PhD student, and young father in Montreal. Allegedly being held because he refused to act as an informant against others he knew, he was apparently fingered as an Al Qaeda sleeper by Ahmed Ressam (the LAX bomber) and Al Qaeda lieutenant Abu Zubaydah.

The government has only three choices legally on resolving these situations: release, deportation/extradition to the home country to face what would undoubtedly be harsh justice, or continued imprisonment. None of them have as much as spat on the sidewalk here in Canada. The only problem is, the recent Arar fuss has had the side-effect of making deportation to Middle Eastern countries no longer viable... we can't complain easily about Americans doing it to one of our citizens, and then send people from Canadian jails to the torturers themselves. All five apparently face death or torture in their home countries if deported, making it impossible for the government to get rid of them at present. And so their detentions drag on... I'll report back on any further developments.

Posted by BruceR at 01:31 AM