Daily Archives: May 25, 2008

Sentient world: Psyop war games on the grandest scale

The US Department of Defense (DOD) may be creating a copy of you in an alternate reality to see how long you can go without food or water, or how you will respond to televised propaganda.

Register | Jun 23, 2007

By Mark Baard

Perhaps your real life is so rich you don’t have time for another.

Even so, the US Department of Defense (DOD) may already be creating a copy of you in an alternate reality to see how long you can go without food or water, or how you will respond to televised propaganda.

The DOD is developing a parallel to Planet Earth, with billions of individual “nodes” to reflect every man, woman, and child this side of the dividing line between reality and AR.

Called the Sentient World Simulation (SWS), it will be a “synthetic mirror of the real world with automated continuous calibration with respect to current real-world information”, according to a concept paper for the project.

“SWS provides an environment for testing Psychological Operations (PSYOP),” the paper reads, so that military leaders can “develop and test multiple courses of action to anticipate and shape behaviors of adversaries, neutrals, and partners”.

SWS also replicates financial institutions, utilities, media outlets, and street corner shops. By applying theories of economics and human psychology, its developers believe they can predict how individuals and mobs will respond to various stressors.

Yank a country’s water supply. Stage a military coup. SWS will tell you what happens next.

“The idea is to generate alternative futures with outcomes based on interactions between multiple sides,” said Purdue University professor Alok Chaturvedi, co-author of the SWS concept paper.

Chaturvedi directs Purdue’s laboratories for Synthetic Environment for Analysis and Simulations, or SEAS – the platform underlying SWS. Chaturvedi also makes a commercial version of SEAS available through his company, Simulex, Inc.

SEAS users can visualise the nodes and scenarios in text boxes and graphs, or as icons set against geographical maps.

Corporations can use SEAS to test the market for new products, said Chaturvedi. Simulex lists the pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly and defense contractor Lockheed Martin among its private sector clients.

The US government appears to be Simulex’s number one customer, however. And Chaturvedi has received millions of dollars in grants from the military and the National Science Foundation to develop SEAS.

Chaturvedi is now pitching SWS to DARPA and discussing it with officials at the US Department of Homeland Security, where he said the idea has been well received, despite the thorny privacy issues for US citizens.

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Surging inflation will stoke riots and conflict between nations, says report

Gap between rich and poor to worsen

The Guardian | May 23, 2008

by Andrew Clark

Riots, protests and political unrest could multiply in the developing world as soaring inflation widens the gap between the “haves” and the “have nots”, an investment bank predicted yesterday.

Economists at Merrill Lynch view inflation as an “accident waiting to happen”. As prices for food and commodities surge, the bank expects global inflation to rise from 3.5% to 4.9% this year. In emerging markets, the average rate is to be 7.3%.

The cost of food and fuel has already been cited as a factor leading to violence in Haiti, protests by Argentinian farmers and riots in sub-Saharan Africa, including attacks on immigrants in South African townships.

Merrill’s chief international economist, Alex Patelis, said this could be the tip of the iceberg, warning of more trouble “between nations and within nations” as people struggle to pay for everyday goods. “Inflation has distributional effects. If everyone’s income moved by the same rate, you wouldn’t care – but it doesn’t,” said Patelis. “You have pensioners on fixed pensions. Some people produce rice that triples in price, while others consume it.”

A report by Merrill urges governments to crack down on inflation, describing the phenomenon as the primary driver of macroeconomic trends. The problem has emerged from poor food harvests, sluggish supplies of energy and soaring demand in rapidly industrialising countries such as China, where wage inflation has reached 18%.

Unless policymakers take action to dampen prices and wages, Merrill says sudden shortages could become more frequent. The bank cited power cuts in South Africa and a run on rice in Californian supermarkets as recent examples.

“You’re going to see tension between nations and within nations,” said Patelis.

The UN recently set up a taskforce to examine food shortages and price rises. It has expressed alarm that its world food programme is struggling to pay for food for those most at need.

Last month, the World Bank’s president, Robert Zoellick, suggested that 33 countries could erupt in social unrest following a rise of as much as 80% in food prices over three years.

Merrill’s report said the credit crunch has contributed to a global re-balancing, drawing to a close an era in which American consumers have been the primary drivers of the world’s economy.

In a gloomy set of forecasts, Merrill said it believes the US is in a recession – and that American house prices, which are among the root causes of the downturn, could fall by 15% over the next 18 months.

The bank said Britain’s economic outlook is “deteriorating” as consumer confidence weakens. The Office for National Statistics yesterday said that retail sales fell by 0.2% in April compared to March.

Global inflationary pressures have led to higher prices in Britain highlighting the dilemma for the Bank of England’s monetary policy committee, which sets interest rates.

The MPC voted by eight to one to keep rates on hold last month in spite of a rapid slowdown in the British economy. The Bank is concerned about food prices that rose by 6.6% over the past year and soaring fuel costs, feeding higher inflation, which is now at 3%.

Alistair Darling, the chancellor, met representatives of supermarkets and farmers yesterday to discuss the threat to the economy from the rising cost of food.

The US Federal Reserve, which has cut interest rates to 2%, is gloomy in its outlook for the US economy because of the combined challenges of slow growth and soaring commodity prices. The Fed is predicting that unemployment and inflation will be higher than expected.

Oil prices are expected to continue rising rapidly after hitting a third record in a row yesterday, as supply continues to outstrip demand.


Revolution, flashmobs, and brain chips. A grim vision of the future

President of California State University initiated into Knights of Malta

CSUS President Ham Shirvani in his office for a profile on his religious life and as a future Knight of Malta, a position in the Catholic Church that emphasizes service and financial donations to the handicapped and ill, as well as to protecting the Catholic Church.

Modesto Bee | May 24, 2008

Ham Shirvani, president of California State University, Stanislaus, is a modern-day knight. He’s a member of the Holy Sepulchre group and a provisional knight for the Malta fellowship.


In “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade,” in order to save his father (Sean Connery) from a gunshot wound, the title character (Harrison Ford) must choose the correct chalice used by Jesus Christ on the eve of his crucifixion. The task is challenging because many potential Holy Grails rest in a chamber guarded for centuries by a medieval knight.

Knights in the Middle Ages served in a variety of roles — as military support to kings, lords and religious leaders — and as defenders of their faith. Usually sons of aristocrats, the future knights were sent to other families at about age 8 to be raised without a lenient parent to spoil them. In their midteens, the boys became squires, assisting other knights, before attaining knighthood in early adulthood.

Although there are no knights in shining armor sitting around King Arthur’s round table today, knights remain active in the Catholic Church. The Knights of Columbus, for instance, were founded 125 years ago and exist in many parishes to help raise funds for needy individuals and families.

Less well known are the Knights of Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem and the Knights of Malta, which trace their lineage back to the 11th and 12th centuries. They were established to protect people making pilgrimages to Jerusalem and to care for the sick and handicapped.

Ham Shirvani, president of California State University, Stanislaus, is a modern-day knight. He’s a member of the Holy Sepulchre group and a provisional knight for the Malta fellowship. He carries no sword and rides no steed, but his mission otherwise is much unchanged from those performed centuries ago.

“Obviously, there are no military components to the order anymore. The promotion of the faith is not by the sword,” said Monsignor Jim Kidder, pastor of the Holy Trinity parish in El Dorado Hills and chaplain to the two orders in the Sacramento diocese. “The mission hasn’t changed. From the beginning, it was taking care of the sick and nurturing and promoting the faith.”

There aren’t many knights from the two orders in the area, he added — about 25 in the Sacramento diocese, which numbers roughly 600,000 Catholics. No one is quite sure how many exist in the Stockton diocese, which has about half that many Catholics on its rolls.

“I haven’t met anyone yet from Stanislaus County,” Shirvani said. “Most of the activities are in San Francisco or Palo Alto. But I’ve heard there are people in Stockton and Fresno. I’ll be interested to meet them.”

As part of his provisional training, Shirvani traveled last month to Lourdes, France, where he helped people with physical and mental ailments get to various sites for healing. Following the claims that Jesus’ mother, Mary, appeared to a peasant girl and others in 1858, Lourdes has become a major place of Catholic pilgrimage and reported divine healings.

“We put the people in something like a wheelchair, but it’s much larger,” he said. “One person pulls on it and one pushes it. Lourdes has a bunch of hills and slopes, so it’s up and down. We take them either to the grotto or the main church or a variety of religious places where Masses take place.

“It’s all about spirituality and service. I was sometimes pulling, sometimes pushing. It’s an incredible experience. While you are there in that holy place, you are also serving.

“I’ve fulfilled my mission of taking a person who couldn’t afford to go to Lourdes and have that holy water and ask to be healed.”

From Iran to England Shirvani’s journey to knighthood began when he was a boy. Born in Tehran, Iran, in 1950, to a Catholic family, his early education was in Catholic schools.

“There is a perception that everyone in Iran is Muslim, but that is untrue,” he said. “During the Shah’s reign, there were several minority groups — Christians, Jews, Zoroastrians — the original religion of Persians — and Baha’is. There were several French and English Catholic schools in Tehran. You could find Muslim and Jewish students there, too. They were quality institutions.”

Like knights centuries earlier, Shirvani was sent from his home at age 11. His parents sent him to a Catholic boarding school in London.
“My mother, mostly, but also my father, believed that most of your values get formed in your teens,” he said. “If they sent me to England, I would be brought up with Western, particularly English, values. Basically, the Catholic faith was the major part of it. In Iran, even though you had Catholic schools, the broader environment wasn’t embracing Catholic values.

“My parents debated. My mother wanted to send me to Dublin; my father was more concerned about the educational system. I went to Saint Augustine Academy in London from age 11 until
age 17.

“I truly enjoyed it. The first three months were hell, because you’re in a completely new environment. Although we were taught French and English, we still had language problems. And then, of course, there were no parents (to nurture you). But after six months, I was as happy a camper as you could get. There were wonderful Irish nuns there who acted as a second mother. It was a small school and a wonderful environment. There was a lot to learn, and I gained a lot of support.”

Shirvani said he’s always had a strong faith. “I do believe strongly in the Lord,” he said. “It’s mostly spiritual within yourself. My brother is not like that, and we grew up in the same family.

“Being faithful is a very important aspect of daily life. The Lord said it beautifully: ‘I am with you.’ What he means is that ‘I’m inside you; I’m also in infinity — out there.’ To me, the spirit connects the soul to the body, so if you are faithful, it helps you get a strength and make your contributions and be committed to your work.

“Everything is a privilege, not a right. When they give you a privilege to serve, you really have to deliver. You can’t just sit back and take advantage of it. As much as possible, you have to help as many people as you can.”

That attitude led to his 2007 award by the statewide CSU student organization as president of the year. It’s also what led him to become a knight.

A bad rap

Shirvani is aware that knights are linked to the Crusades, which today are often viewed as a time of murder and religious intolerance, especially against Islam.
“Religion has been abused by power-hungry people,” he said. “You cannot punish the religion or lose your faith because of it.”

As a secular college president, Shirvani has been criticized for his religious views. In 2007, he wrote an opinion piece on spirituality and college students for The Bee and concluded, “Each of us addresses the spiritual dimension of our lives — or lack thereof — as we decide how to interpret and interact with the world. For the academy to ignore this component of critical thinking is to fail to serve our students as they prepare for life. To fail to do so puts at risk the state of our nation’s soul.”

He said he received quick negative responses from “a couple” of CSUS professors. He also was dinged by a Bee letter writer who questioned the use of the CSUS campus to host a Christian event last summer, the Greg Laurie Harvest Crusade. “I try to separate religion from my job, because religion to me is a very personal thing,” Shirvani said. “I usually try to be private about it. I do have a crucifix in my office. I think that’s a personal right.

“It’s a beautiful part of the Western democracy, that religion has always been part of individual life.”

For him, that includes knighthood, which combines financial donations and hands-on work.

“It’s a very time-demanding and personally involved organization of lay people,” said Kidder. “They spend a lot of time and give a lot of themselves in terms of working with the sick and promoting the faith.”

Shirvani said he enjoys the work. “One of the biggest joys above and beyond giving and helping is the joy of being with other people who believe in the same cause, engaged in conversations with them and listening to them,” he said. “In most meetings, there are usually people saying, ‘We need to fix this; we have a problem there.’ In these groups, people are saying, ‘What can we do to help?’

“(The Knights of the Holy Sepulchre) was established in 1099 to protect Jerusalem and care for the needy. Now they help older Christians living in the entire area, whether Palestine or Israel. They help the churches there and raise money for education.”

As a provisional Knight of Malta — he expects to become a full knight within the next year — Shirvani has financial obligations as well as meetings and work.

“There are similarities, but Knights of Malta have as their major goal people who are sick or in the hospital, and the protection of the Catholic faith,” Shirvani said. “Besides the gatherings during the year, I am required to do certain community service work, literally going and helping the sick and poor, trying to do whatever I can. It’s extremely humbling.”

When he’s not running the university or spending time as a knight, Shirvani can be found with Fathmeh, his wife of nearly six years, in the home he designed — he holds degrees in architecture, urban planning and landscape architecture, as well as a master’s of science degree. He and his wife both enjoy cooking, Shirvani said.

A member of Sacred Heart parish in Turlock, he attended St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Modesto when he first moved to the area, and said he “can’t wait” for the new St. Stanislaus church on Maze Boulevard to open later this year.

“Architecturally, it’s really magnificent,” he said.

The Order of Malta

The Order of Malta is the common name for The Federal Association of the Sovereign Military Hospitaller Order of St. John of Jerusalem of Rhodes and of Malta. It is a lay religious order of the Catholic Church, founded in 1099. According to its Web site (www.smom.org), there are about 12,500 Knights and Dames of Malta worldwide. To become a member, applicants:

▪ Must be Catholic lay men or women in good standing with the church

▪ Must be at least 25 years old

▪ Should be regarded as leaders in their fields and in the community

▪ Must have a record of service to the Catholic Church and hands-on volunteer service to the poor

▪ Must be sponsored by two members of the knighthood

▪ Must participate in a year of formation, which includes meetings and volunteer activities

▪ Must pay an initiation fee of $3,500, part of which goes toward international relief programs

Barack Obama wants Bill to heal Hillary Clinton wounds

Obama’s team think their man and Bill Clinton can reunite the party

Sunday Times | May 25, 2008

An assassination remark is the latest twist to sour relations between the two rivals

By Sarah Baxter in Washington

Barack Obama, the probable Democratic presidential nominee, wants Bill Clinton to help him heal the deep party rifts created by his wife Hillary’s divisive campaign – culminating in her dramatic claim this weekend that the 1968 assassination of Robert F Kennedy was a reason not to be pushed out of the race.

The tension between Hillary Clinton and Obama intensified after she told the Sioux Falls Argus Leader in South Dakota, which holds the last primary contest in 10 days’ time: “We all remember Bobby Kennedy was assassinated in June.”

She quickly apologised, ashen-faced, for a comment which appeared dangerously close to wishful thinking about Obama, but the damage was done.

Senior officials on Obama’s campaign believe Bill Clinton has the unique status and political gifts to reunite the party after such gaffes. They expressed confidence that the former president would rise above the perceived slights and grudges of a hard-fought campaign and work flat out for an Obama victory in November’s presidential election.

“If anybody can put their arms around the party and say we need to be together, it is Bill Clinton,” a senior Obama aide said.

“He’s brilliant, he has got heart and he cares deeply about the country. It’s tricky because of his position as Hillary’s spouse, but his involvement is very important to us.

“Bill Clinton will give permission to Hillary supporters to come into our camp and become one party. He is critical to this effort.”

Hillary, 60, claimed that her remark about the assassination had arisen because the “Kennedys have been much on my mind” after Senator Edward Kennedy, Robert’s younger brother, was diagnosed with a brain tumour last week.

She insisted she was referring to the timing of his assassination in June, when he was still a presidential candidate, rather than his killing, to make the point that there was nothing unusual about her determination to take this year’s race for the nomination into the summer.

However, while she expressed regret for “referencing that moment of trauma for our entire nation”, she did not apologise to Obama, who has been receiving secret security protection for the past year after death threats.

“We have seen an x-ray of a very dark soul,” wrote Michael Goodwin, a New York Daily News columnist. “One consumed by raw ambition to where the possible assassination of an opponent is something to ponder in a strategic way. Otherwise, why is murder on her mind?”

The outburst joins “Sniper-gate” – Hillary’s imaginary landing under fire in war-torn Bosnia – as one of the most memorable mistakes of a historic fight to the finish between two remarkably evenly matched candidates.

With just three contests to go – in Puerto Rico, Montana and South Dakota in early June – Obama, 46, is ahead of Clinton by 158 pledged delegates after winning the most states.


His lead is insurmountable unless superdelegates – the party leaders who will determine the outcome of the vote at the Democratic National Convention in August – break in her favour.

After the Kennedy gaffe, however, the implausible has become the unthinkable.

It is a delicate matter to bring Bill Clinton on board. The former president believes that Obama should offer his wife the vice-presidential slot as a mark of respect after she proved her electoral strength in the big must-win states for Democrats, but her latest error is widely perceived to have squandered what little chance she had.

“It would be hard to take the country in a new direction with the Clintons in the White House,” a source in the Obama campaign said. “They bring controversy.”

Discreet merger talks between key campaign staff and leading fundraisers in both camps are already under way. But the process of healing is fraught with friction after accusations of sexism, racism and other insults.

Bill Clinton has been stung by accusations that he played the “race card” by referring to Obama’s story as a “fairy-tale” and comparing his early success in South Carolina with that of the Rev Jesse Jackson, the failed black presidential candidate, in the 1980s.

Nevertheless, friends said they expected the former president to campaign hard for Obama once the nomination is settled.

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World eyes Japan’s rice mountain to ease food crisis

AFP | May 24, 2008

by Shingo Ito

TOKYO (AFP) – World leaders looking for ways to ease global food shortages may have found one answer in warehouses dotted around Japan where a rice mountain is standing idle.

The United States is considering relaxing a trade agreement between the world’s two largest economies to allow Japan to sell imported US rice on the global market.

Tokyo is already preparing to ship 200,000 tonnes to the Philippines, but that is just a fraction of the 1.5 million tonnes of imported foreign rice that is stored in sacks piled high in air-conditioned government warehouses.

“We have a big stockpile of Japanese rice, so we can export rice for poor people worldwide to save their lives in an emergency,” said Nobuhiro Suzuki, an agriculture professor at Tokyo University.

Rice, a staple food for the Japanese, was scarce following the end of World War II but as agricultural advances boosted global harvests, Japan erected barriers to protect its farmers.

Under pressure from heavyweight trading partners, Tokyo agreed in the early 1990s to open the door to a minimum amount of imports, and now accepts 770,000 tonnes of foreign rice every year.

To sell these stocks outside its domestic market, Japan is required to obtain approval from the exporting countries.

Vice farm minister Toshirou Shirasu told reporters last week that the government plans to respond to the Philippine request for rice “as quickly as possible” and would favourably consider other approaches.

Japan also announced Friday that it will send 20,000 tonnes of rice to developing countries in Africa and elsewhere from its stockpiles to help ease food shortages.

Manila said last week prices were softening on expectations that Japan would ship some of its stockpile and amid news of bumper world harvests for 2008.

One of the world’s largest rice importers, the Philippines made the request as it scrambles to fill an expected 2008 production shortfall of 2.7 million tonnes amid rocketing grain prices worldwide.

But analysts say that unless Japan digs deeper into its rice mountain, it is unlikely to solve Manila’s problems.

“If Japan provided only 100,000 or 200,000 tonnes, the impact could be limited,” said Yukino Yamada, a commodities analyst at Daiwa Institute of Research.

The Philippines would need 600,000 tonnes from Japan on top of its imports from Pakistan and other countries, he said.

“The situation surrounding the rice industry has worsened since the cyclone hit Myanmar (a major producer),” Yamada added.

Imported rice, unpopular in Japan, often ends up in processed food or is kept until it deteriorates. It is then sold as livestock feed.

“To protect Japanese farmers, the government promised that imported rice will not go into Japanese direct consumption,” said Professor Suzuki.

“Foreign rice, including California rice, will be used for secondary purposes like prepared food,” he said.

About half of the imported rice stocks are from the United States, with the remainder mainly from Thailand and Vietnam.

Many Japanese view foreign rice as vastly inferior to its own, short-grain variety and there are few complaints about prices in the shops that are several times higher than in many overseas countries.

“I tried Thai rice once, but it’s not my taste. I’ve never tried it since,” said Katsue Watabe, a 42-year-old housewife in Kanagawa, southwest of Tokyo.

In addition to the mountain of imported rice, Japan is also boosting its reserve of domestic grain by about a third to one million tonnes as “emergency measures” to prop up domestic prices.

“Rice is the long-time staple of our diet and our stockpile is necessary for the security of people’s life in case of famine,” said Hirotaka Shoji, agricultural ministry official.

Global food prices have nearly doubled in three years, according to the World Bank, with experts blaming the soaring costs on trade restrictions, poor crop-growing conditions, higher energy and fertiliser tariffs and the rising production of biofuels that rely on staples such as corn.

The food crisis has sparked protests and even riots in some countries and export limits in others, hurting developing countries where food costs consume the lion’s share of household income.

Tibet could be ‘swamped’ by mass re-settlement of Chinese people after Olympics, says Dalai Lama

Buddhist leader fears attempt to dilute identity

The Guardian | May 24, 2008

By Julian Borger

The Dalai Lama claimed yesterday that Beijing was planning the mass settlement of 1 million ethnic Chinese people in Tibet after the Olympics with the aim of diluting Tibetan culture and identity.

Tibet’s exiled spiritual leader also claimed that some of Asia’s most important rivers which flow from the Tibetan plateau are being polluted and diminished by careless industrialisation and unplanned irrigation.

The Dalai Lama made the claims in an interview with the Guardian after a meeting yesterday with Gordon Brown at Lambeth Palace. He said the talks had been detailed and the prime minister had been helpful “in spite of his difficulties”. The Dalai Lama said: “He met me and he showed genuine concern and he wants to help.”

Downing Street said the discussion focused on talks due next month on Tibet’s future between Tibetan representatives and Beijing officials. The prime minister is said to have stressed the importance of the Dalai Lama’s pledge to oppose violence, not seek Tibetan independence, nor support a boycott of the Beijing Olympics.

The Dalai Lama said he feared the Chinese authorities could take a tougher line on Tibet after the Olympics, and possibly flood it with Han Chinese, the world’s largest ethnic group.

The Dalai Lama said he had been informed by Tibetan residents that large areas of empty land had been marked out, as if for construction, in the past two years. “Then last year we received information – after the Olympics 1 million Chinese are going to settle in the autonomous region of Tibet,” he said, adding the information came from a “military source” in Tibet.

“There is every danger Tibet becomes a truly Han Chinese land and Tibetans become an insignificant minority. Then the very basis of the idea of autonomy becomes meaningless.”

There has been an increasing influx of Chinese settlers into Tibet in recent years as transport has improved, but the exact figures are a matter of dispute. According to an official census in 2000, there were 2.4 million Tibetans in the region and 159,000 Han Chinese. The government in exile says there are many more Chinese if migrant workers and soldiers are counted. The Dalai Lama has said there is a Han majority in Lhasa, the regional capital.

China has denied carrying out any deliberate settlement policy aimed at the dilution of Tibetan culture and points instead to the benefits brought to the region by economic development and investment.

The Dalai Lama claimed over-settlement and over-exploitation of Tibet was threatening the quality and flow of rivers flowing out of the Tibetan highlands, including the Yangtze, the Yellow River, the Indus, the Mekong and the Ganges.

“Due to carelessness these waters have been polluted and also reduced, and I think billions of people’s lives depend on these rivers,” the Dalai Lama said. “[There has been] mining without proper care, deforestation … irrigation without proper planning. In some valleys, new diseases have developed which some specialists believe is the result of water pollution.”

Lhasa is now relatively quiet since protests were put down by Chinese troops in March, and the Dalai Lama has threatened to resign if the unrest turns to violence. But he said the Tibetan commitment to non-violence might not outlast him.

“Now there are signs of frustration among Tibetans, not only young monks,” the 72-year-old Buddhist leader said. He said Tibetans were now telling themselves: “While the Dalai Lama remains, we have to follow his advice. That means non-violence. After him, we ourselves will take appropriate action.”

The next talks between representatives of the Dalai Lama and China are scheduled for Beijing on June 11. On Wednesday, envoys of the Tibetan leader visited the Chinese embassy in London to offer his condolences for the dead from this month’s earthquake in Sichuan.

Asked what he thought Gordon Brown should tell the Chinese president, Hu Jintao, when he attends the Olympic closing ceremony in August, the Dalai Lama said: “If within two months it gets more positive then the prime minister must give encouragement and appreciation. If things get worse, the prime minister will have to speak out.”

MI5 fears jihadis will use mentally ill as suicide bombers

Times | May 25, 2008

By David Leppard and Abul Taher

Islamic terrorists may be targeting mentally disturbed or disabled people in Britain in a bid to form a new “brigade” of home-grown suicide bombers, security officials fear.

MI5 and police say the case of Nicky Reilly, who is being held over a nailbomb attack last week in Exeter, may indicate a new strategy of targeting vulnerable people with mental health problems to carry out attacks.

A counterterrorism official said MI5 was investigating the extent to which Reilly had been manipulated by a “charismatic” Al-Qaeda recruiter.

“It is a grotesque concept but they are using people who are clearly mentally subnormal,” the official said. “We know they have clever radicalisers who will take advantage of anyone they think they can manipulate, whether they have an IQ of 60 or 140,” he said.

Reilly, 22, is a Muslim convert who has spent time detained in a mental health hospital. He has been described as a shambling introvert with the mental age of a 10-year-old. He is believed to have Asperger’s syndrome, a form of autism, and may also suffer from schizophrenia.

Security officials say Al-Qaeda appears to have exported the tactic from Iraq, where disabled “foot soldiers” have been used to devastating effect.

They point to a case in February when a suicide bomber in a wheelchair killed an Iraqi general in Samarra, north of Baghdad. Earlier, two women, initially thought to have Down’s syndrome, acted as couriers for a bomb in Baghdad, killing almost 100 people.

Officials say people with mental disabilities are not only easier to manipulate but also less likely to arouse suspicion. If they are white Muslim converts, they are even less likely to be noticed.

The attack in the Giraffe restaurant in Exeter city centre on Thursday caught the authorities by surprise.

Police say Reilly – who is 18 stone, over 6ft tall and nicknamed the Big Friendly Giant – had three primitive but “viable” homemade bombs, which they believe he may have built using instructions on the internet.

One device exploded in the restaurant lavatory, leaving Reilly with severe cuts to his face. Yesterday police said he was in a stable condition in hospital.

Forensic analysis suggests his bombs were made from caustic soda, paraffin and nails in a tin box.

Police say that shortly before the explosion Reilly – who recently changed his name to Mohammed Rasheed – received a text message of encouragement. They are holding two men who were arrested at gunpoint outside an open-air cafe in Plymouth on Friday.

Security officials admitted that MI5 had been aware of Reilly but that he had not been under surveillance.