Today's Papers

Buffalo Soldiers

The Los Angeles Times and the New York Times lead with the arrest of five Arab-American men on Friday night outside of Buffalo. They are charged with operating an active al-Qaida terrorist cell. The Washington Post fronts the five—all of them born in the U.S. and of Yemeni descent—but leads with the search for al-Qaida operatives in Yemen itself.

The Mayor of Lackawanna, N.Y., where the five suspected terrorists were apprehended, says in the NYT lead that he was told six months ago that the FBI was conducting an investigation in his city. “When you first hear about it,” he says, “you get that initial shiver. You almost tell yourself, ‘Not in my backyard, not in my community.’ ” The Lackawanna five were apparently done in by two of their comrades, who were cooperating with the government. The official charge against them is providing “material support” to a terrorist organization, like al-Qaida, which the men allegedly did by training at a camp near Kandahar last summer—along with John Walker Lindh, the NYT reports. The crime’s maximum sentence is 15 years.

“Unfortunately, we are aware that this is not an isolated case,” an unnamed U.S. official says in the LAT. “There are other cells in this country in which American citizens are actively participating.” The FBI says the Lackawanna case was only one of several reasons for putting the country on orange alert last week.

The men all attended Lackawanna High School, and two of them played on the soccer team, the NYT reports. The LAT includes a summary of their professions—all remarkably ordinary. One worked at something called Satellite Services in a nearby town called Medina and another was a student at Erie Community College. “I know my son, and he is a good boy,” says one of the mothers in the NYT. “Everybody is telling lies.” 

Meanwhile, in the “forbidding dunes and hill country” of Yemen, Islamic militants are harboring al-Qaida members, according to the Post lead. “[I]mpoverished, isolated and ruled as much by competing clans as by the central government in Sanaa,” Yemen lends itself to the terrorist trade. The Post compares President Ali Abdullah Saleh to Pervez Musharraf in that both men have to appease competing interests: the U.S. on the one hand and anti-American militants on the other. 

The LAT fronts a long piece on an oil pipeline in Colombia, under the rather pointed headline “Blood Spills to Keep Oil Wealth Flowing.” Once a target for leftist guerrillas trying to disrupt the government, the pipeline—owned jointly by California-based Occidental Petroleum and the Colombian state oil company—is now guarded by “the majority” of the Colombian army. This leaves no one behind to protect the people of Arauca, which is, in the LAT’s words, “now the most violent province in one of the most violent countries in the world.” Right-wing paramilitary squads have taken over, killing and kidnapping hundreds of politicians, journalists, businessmen, and ordinary residents. The U.S. will become formally involved next month, training Colombian soldiers so that they can better protect the pipeline. 

The WP also has an oil fronter, this one about the ways in which a war with Iraq might spell big dollars for American oil companies. Iraqi crude may also work as leverage for President Bush, as he tries to convince the Security Council countries—all of whom have international oil companies that want a piece of the Iraqi pie—to support his campaign against Saddam. “It’s pretty straightforward,” says former CIA Director James Woolsey. “France and Russia have oil companies and interests in Iraq. They should be told that if they are of assistance in moving Iraq toward decent government, we’ll do the best we can to ensure that the new government and American companies work closely with them.”

The Sopranos makes the NYT Book Review in a big way with the sudden appearance of five—five!—scholarly treatises deconstructing the first three seasons. A “Book Review” editor, David Kelly (not David E. Kelley), expresses his affection for the show and more or less ridicules the books. Best is his skewering of Tony Soprano’s America, written by a University of North Florida adjunct. “For him, ‘The Sopranos’ is a ‘symbol of our national pathologies.’ Crowding virtually every page with statistics, he expounds on the military-industrial complex, the Warren Report, Vietnam, Iran-contra, Enron and so on. Occasionally he returns to Tony’s ‘inauthentic existence’ and his organized-crime family, which represents ‘the tip of a transnational crime iceberg.’ ”  

The NYT fronts the battle for airspace within the 88.1 to 91.9 zone on your FM dial. In some parts of the country, listeners standing by for All Things Considered and Car Talk are now being treated to Home School Heartbeat and the Phyllis Schlafly Report, as Christian stations gobble up noncommercial space. They’re taking advantage of a federal law which allows noncommercial broadcasters with licenses for full-power stations to trample over those with weaker signals—”the equivalent of the varsity team kicking the freshmen out of the gym,” as the Times puts it. Many public radio stations have long been run on the cheap, retransmitting signals from bigger stations rather than operating full-power stations of their own, leaving them vulnerable to savvy Christians. But stay tuned: The Birkenstock set is rallying the troops.