The World Today for March 28, 2017


The New Norm of Low Tech

Investigators are still trying to figure out why 52-year-old British national Khalid Masood drove a car into a group of pedestrians on Westminster Bridge last week before trying to storm the Houses of Parliament in London.

They still don’t know if Masood, whose March 22 attack was the deadliest in Britain in more than a decade, acted alone or with accomplices, wrote the Telegraph.

Masood was known to United Kingdom authorities as a criminal, but he was not considered a serious threat. Details of what lead to his eventual radicalization are also scarce, noted Reuters.

While the Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack, the extent of the jihadists’ involvement is also unclear.

Still, one thing has become apparent as a result of Masood’s violent rampage: the “low-tech” terror on display here has become the new norm.

In this type of terror attack, assailants eschew sophisticated plans and complex equipment in favor of striking familiar urban landmarks with more mundane weapons like kitchen knives.

Earlier attacks in Nice and Berlin – where trucks were used as a weapon to drive into crowds and kill dozens – reflected this shift in the tactics of groups like the Islamic State.

After last week’s incident at Westminster, it looks like low-tech terror might be the new face of modern terrorism, wrote the Independent.

As Reuters pointed out, authorities have long known that Western cities were vulnerable to attacks like these.

But unfortunately, that doesn’t make counterterrorism work for security services any easier.

After all, the crude, improvised nature of these attacks makes them “almost impossible to prevent and easy to copy,” as MSN wrote.

For cities across Europe and North America, this poses a new challenge for governments that have to strike a balance between tight security and public access to civic and political sites – many of which double as lucrative tourist spots, noted the Wall Street Journal.

As one engineer told the Journal, “More than ever we’ve got to protect these sites without the ominous presence of security barriers. These places don’t want to look like fortresses.”

The upshot is that Wednesday’s events showed that strategies used in the UK – those that attempt to minimize the effects of terror attacks as well as prevent them – are holding up.

Masood may have breached parliament’s gates, but well-trained and prepared officials prevented him going any further, wrote the Guardian.

Hopefully that remains the case going forward.


Scotching May’s Plans

The Scottish parliament is expected to back First Minister Nicola Sturgeon’s call for a second independence referendum in a vote Tuesday.

After resuming a debate that was postponed by the terror attack at Westminster last week, the members will vote on the proposal, the BBC reported.

But even if Sturgeon wins support for a move to pursue a “Section 30” order from the UK government that would allow the Scottish parliament to hold a referendum – a right ordinarily reserved for the UK parliament – the vote might not come to fruition.

The UK government has already hinted it would reject the move, with Prime Minister Theresa May saying “now is not the time” to discuss a referendum, the BBC said.

The question of Scottish independence – which was defeated 55 percent to 45 percent in a 2014 referendum – has become more urgent since May invoked Article 50 to trigger negotiations for the UK’s exit of the European Union, as an independent Scotland might opt to stay in the EU.

A Reluctant Investigation

Investigating alleged human rights abuses committed during former President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s brutal campaign to stamp out the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) would worsen divisions between Sri Lanka’s two main ethnic groups, according to the erstwhile leader’s brother – who is one of the principals accused of war crimes.

“How can you talk about investigations and foreign judges at the same time bringing these communities together?” Reuters quoted former Defense Minister Gotabaya Rajapaksa as saying Monday, four days after the United Nations Human Rights Council slammed Sri Lanka for failing to conduct a credible investigation of alleged war crimes. “By trying to do these things, you only try to bring people apart.”

A UN panel has said that some 40,000 people, mostly ethnic minority Tamils, were killed in the final phase of the 26-year civil war – which ended in 2009. Gotabaya Rajapaksa has himself been accused of committing war crimes as well, though he denies those allegations.

After refusing to allow foreign judges to run the war crimes probe, Sri Lanka’s Sinhalese-oriented government has launched its own investigations. But ethnic-minority Tamils have complained they’re not progressing fast enough.

A New Ally

Iran’s courting of Russia continued on Tuesday, with Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif saying that Russia could use Iranian military bases to launch air strikes against militants in Syria on a “case by case basis.”

The statement comes as Iran’s president visits Moscow in a bid to strengthen a budding alliance that has been bolstered by Russia’s and Iran’s joint support of President Bashar al-Assad in the war in Syria, Reuters reported.

Russia launched attacks from an air base in Iran to strike targets in Syria last summer, the first time a foreign power had used an Iranian base since World War Two. But the move was stymied when some Iranian lawmakers said it violated Iran’s constitution.

The growing cooperation is a concern for Washington and Saudi Arabia, America’s key ally in the Middle East, where Russia has been exerting ever-greater influence since the beginning of the Syrian conflict.


Cellars in the Sea

Age is usually a distinction for fine wines – the older, the better.

But some vintners are experimenting with new ways to age their vintages prematurely by submerging their wines underwater.

Connoisseurs have long suspected that wines age differently underwater. And tests have shown that factors like atmospheric pressure and water currents can change a wine’s chemical compounds, according to National Geographic.

French champagne house Veuve Clicquot, for example, has taken the plunge by submerging 350 bottles of champagne in the Baltic. They plan to retrieve and analyze them periodically over 40 years to see how they hold up under a program called “Cellar in the Sea.”

Other wine merchants have already seen similar experiments bear fruit.

According to one sommelier, a Napa-based winery that had buried 240 bottles in the harbor in Charleston, South Carolina “turned a 2009 cabernet into a 2007 in three months.”

Better make that old saying “the wetter, the better” instead.

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