They’re still trying to kill us: terror bust in Belgium

December 21, 2007

Police in Belgium made a series of overnight arrests, foiling a plot to free a convicted would-be suicide bomber:

Belgian police Friday arrested 14 Muslim extremists suspected of planning the jailbreak of an al-Qaida prisoner convicted of plotting a terrorist attack on U.S. air base personnel, officials said.

Extra police were deployed across the capital at airports, subway stations and other public places. The U.S. Embassy warned Americans of "a heightened risk of terrorist attack in Brussels," although it had no indication of any American targets.

Police arrested the 14 in all-night raids across the country and discovered arms and explosives apparently intended for the jailbreak.

The prisoner, Nizar Trabelsi, a 37-year-old Tunisian who played soccer for several German teams, was sentenced to the maximum 10 years in jail four years ago. He had admitted planning to drive a car bomb into the canteen at Kleine Brogel, a Belgian air base where about 100 American military personnel are stationed.

Trabelsi was sent to the high-security unit of Lantin jail, 60 miles east of Brussels, but there have been reports that he has been moved since then. Police have refused to confirm the reports.

The federal prosecutor’s office said the 14 were planning to free Trabelsi by force, and the government did not rule out the possibility that other attacks had been planned.

"If a group with an extremist view of Islam were ready to use arms and explosives to release Mr. Trabelsi, there is no guarantee that they would not use them for other ends," said Lieve Pellens, spokeswoman for the federal prosecutor’s office.

Note that the base Trabelsi wanted to hit also contains nuclear weapons under American control.

This isn’t the first jihadi plot in Europe, by any means. In addition to the attacks on the London subway and bus systems and Madrid train station, Islamic fascist plots in recent months were broken up in Denmark, Norway, and Germany.  These won’t be the last, either: according to the German Interior Ministry, 180,000 German Muslims support violence in the name of Islam, while the head of MI-5 in Britain is tracking over 1,600 suspected terrorists and investigating over 30 possible plots. That they know of.

This isn’t a war that will often be fought in the usual ways, with large armies clashing across battlefields, but it’s a war nonetheless.

(hat tip: Blue Crab Boulevard)

UPDATE: Belgium let them go?

A day for science

December 21, 2007

First there was the news of a possible asteroid hit on Mars next January, and now via Blue Crab Boulevard we learn the Chinese have raised an 800-year old merchant ship from its watery grave:

After 800 years at the bottom of the sea, a merchant ship loaded with porcelain and other rare antiques was raised to the surface Friday in a specially built basket, a state news agency reported.

The Nanhai No. 1, which means "South China Sea No. 1," sank off the south China coast with some 60,000 to 80,000 items on board, Xinhua News Agency reported, citing Wu Jiancheng, head of the excavation project.

Archaeologists built a steel basket around the 100-foot vessel, and it took about two hours for a crane to lift the ship and surrounding silt to the surface, Xinhua said. The basket was as large as a basketball court and as tall as a three-story building.

Green-glazed porcelain plates and shadowy blue porcelain items were among rare antiques found during the initial exploration of the ship. Archaeologists have also recovered containers made of gold and silver as well as about 6,000 copper coins.

The ship dates from the early Southern Song Dynasty (1127-1279). It was discovered in 1987 off the coast near the city of Yangjiang, in Guangdong province, in more than 65 feet of water.

I love moments such as this: it’s like briefly stepping through a time machine for a fleeting glimpse of a world long gone. And not just for the beautiful artifacts, either. One wonders at the fate of the crew: did any of them make it to safety? What became of their families?

Neat! thumbs_up

Mars in the crosshairs?

December 21, 2007

According to scientists at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, there’s a decent chance that a large asteroid will smash into Mars around January 30th of next year:

Mars could be in for an asteroid hit.

A newly discovered hunk of space rock has a 1 in 75 chance of slamming into the Red Planet on Jan. 30, scientists said Thursday.

"These odds are extremely unusual. We frequently work with really long odds when we track … threatening asteroids," said Steve Chesley, an astronomer with the Near Earth Object Program at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

The asteroid, known as 2007 WD5, was discovered in late November and is similar in size to an object that hit remote central Siberia in 1908, unleashing energy equivalent to a 15-megaton nuclear bomb and wiping out 60 million trees.

Scientists tracking the asteroid, currently halfway between Earth and Mars, initially put the odds of impact at 1 in 350 but increased the chances this week. Scientists expect the odds to diminish again early next month after getting new observations of the asteroid’s orbit, Chesley said.

"We know that it’s going to fly by Mars and most likely going to miss, but there’s a possibility of an impact," he said.

I hope it happens; it would be so neat to watch. To paraphrase my hero, "there’s going to be a Mars-shattering kaboom!"

(hat tip: Susan Polgar)

Bill’s real motive?

December 21, 2007

There’s been speculation floating around the Internet that Bill Clinton really doesn’t want Hillary to win, for fear she could lessen the Golden Age luster of his presidency. I’ve never quite bought into it, but there’s no doubting that the former Satyr-in-Chief is a quintessential narcissist, and he shows it every time he campaigns for Hillary.

On the other hand, Fausta has a theory that I find all too plausible: that Bill wants Hillary to win so he can have her seat in the Senate:

The way I see it, once Hillary’s in office and her Senate seat vacated, Eliot Spitzer can name Bill, and Bill can look forward to being the next Ted Kennedy, safely ensconced in the halls of power (with all those perks) for the rest of his mortal life. Bill might mind being “NY’s junior senator”, but if there’s one person who can hog the public light even more than Chuck “Where’s my camera?” Schumer, that’s Bill.

This fits his ego to a tee, giving him a place in history for doing something that hasn’t been done since John Quincy Adams: serving in the legislature after being president.

If this comes to pass, someone had better place an armed guard on the Senate interns….