Tuesday, February 09, 2016
Anti-Vaccination Cranks Versus Academic Freedom
Writing from Australia, lawyer Michael Brull below sets out very ably why the University of Wollongong should not have awarded a Ph.D. to an anti-vaxxer nut. But he also argues that stripping a PhD in response to bad science is not the solution.
Brull is one of those unhappy souls, an anti-Israel Jew. He doesn't like Australia or Christians much either, but he loves Muslims. Rather a waste of a good brain it seems to me. I have written before about his tergiversations. So his judgement is severely flawed. And judgement is what is involved here. As he shows below, the science is not in dispute.
And his judgement is that a dangerous bit of bad science should be tolerated in the name of free speech. As the proprietor of two free-speech blogs, I might be expected to agree, but just about everyone agrees that infinite tolerance is not possible. Toleration must have its limits.
We do not tolerate people who go around raping and murdering, for instance. And there is a similar issue here. The anti-vaxxers do kill. By persuading others of their cause they destroy herd immunity -- and it is only herd immunity that protects newborns from such dangerous diseases as whooping cough. Newborns cannot be vaccinated until their immune system is strong enough. And, for me, protecting children is a huge priority. It is a normal human instinct, in fact -- though one that can be submerged by both Islam and Leftism. So giving any credence to an anti-vaxxer is a fatal mistake. I would therefore support the many who argue that the University of Wollongong must rescue its scholarly reputation by withdrawing a foolishly granted Ph.D.
One might in passing note that Brull's defence of an anti-vaxxer is consistent with his Leftism. Anti-vaxxers destroy and that is the basic Leftist aim too. They hate "the system"
A little while ago, Judy Wilyman’s doctoral thesis was accepted by the University of Wollongong. Now with PhD, she will title herself a doctor, in recognition of her academic achievement. For some at least, this will increase the respectability of her advocacy, now that she has fancy new credentials for the arguments she set out in her dissertation.
This has alarmed many. This is because Wilyman is sceptical of the value of vaccinations.
Take for example, Helen Petousis-Harris. Her web page identifies her background as “predominantly biological sciences, and she did her PhD in Vaccinology, specifically around vaccine reactions. She has worked at the Immunisation Advisory Centre at the University of Auckland since 1998 where she has developed a passion for all things vaccine. Currently Helen has an appointment as a Senior Lecturer in the Department of General Practice and Primary Health Care and her teaching is largely around vaccination.”
She analysed the abstract of Wilyman’s dissertation. Her conclusion: “It is [a]litany of deceitful reveries. How it could possibly pass as a piece of Doctoral level work is inexplicable and it has made no contribution to knowledge. Shame on you University of Wollongong.”
Other scientific reviews were no more flattering. And a wave of academics at the University of Wollongong reacted too. As reported at the Australian Medical Association, “Sixty-five senior medical and health researchers including Professor of Public Health Dr Heather Yeatman, Dean of Medicine Professor Ian Wilson, and Professor Alison Jones, Executive Dean of the Faculty of Science, Medicine and Health, have jointly signed a public statement backing the evidence supporting vaccination and its importance in preventing disease.”
Meanwhile, “Professor Peter McIntyre, director of the National Centre for Immunisation Research & Surveillance and an advisor to the WHO, told The Australian that he had offered to advise Wilyman but withdrew his offer as she was “not willing to entertain” evidence which contradicted her beliefs.”
As far as I can tell, there are zero relevant experts who think Wilyman’s PhD has even the vaguest connection to what the relevant science actually shows. The dissertation is an embarrassment to the University of Wollongong, and the academic standards it supposedly upholds.
The dissertation, however, raises two interesting questions. The first is how it came to pass that this dissertation was able to gain acceptance. The second question is what is the appropriate response is to the dissertation.
As to how it was accepted, SBS explains that according to the requirements of UOW PhDs, “The requirements include that there be at least two external examiners who are from different countries and they do not have a relationship with the students’ supervisors and not affiliated with the university in question.” So it seems the blame can be shared around. If this protocol was followed, there were two external examiners who were adequately impressed by Wilyman’s purported scholarship. It is not on the public record who those two people are.
However, Wilyman’s supervisor is. His name is Brian Martin, and he is a professor of social sciences. He has a PhD in theoretical physics. He posted an essay in which he came to Wilyman’s defence against her many critics. Martin presents Wilyman’s dissertation as addressing question of policy, not purely questions of science:
“[Stop the Australian Anti-Vaccination Network] and some others apparently believe the only people qualified to comment about vaccination policy are “experts” who have degrees and refereed publications in scientific journals, for example in immunology or epidemiology. A moment’s reflection should reveal the flaw in this claim: being an expert in immunology or epidemiology — usually a narrow aspect of such a field — gives no special insight into vaccination policy, which involves many different areas of knowledge, and includes matters of ethics and politics. If anyone can lay claim to having special knowledge about policy, it is those who have researched policy itself, including critics of the Australian government’s policy such as Judy.”
So what issues of policy does the dissertation address? This is Martin’s summary:
“It makes four main critical points in relation to Australian government vaccination policy. First, deaths from infectious diseases had dramatically declined in Australia before the mass introduction of most vaccines, suggesting that vaccination is not the only factor in controlling these diseases. Second, Australian vaccination policies were adopted from a one-size-fits-all set of international recommendations, without consideration of the special ecological conditions in Australia, for example the levels of sanitation and nutrition, and the incidence and severity of diseases. Third, nearly all research on vaccination is carried out or sponsored by pharmaceutical companies with a vested interest in selling vaccines; the conflicts of interest involved in vaccine research can lead to bias in the research design and conclusions drawn. Fourth, there are important areas of research relevant to vaccination policy that have not been pursued, but should have been; a plausible reason for this “undone science” is that the findings might turn out to be unwelcome to vaccination promoters.”
In fact, these questions are issues of both politics and science. The first is an empirical question, subject to scientific research. So is the second, though if its premises were established, then a policy question would arise. The third is indeed a policy question requiring no special expertise to investigate. The fourth is mixed.
Perhaps some areas of research aren’t being pursued – Wilyman would not be the first to observe that scientific research is biased towards wealthy or powerful interests. That this “undone science” would be unwelcome to vaccination promoters is again an empirical question.
Given that the focus of the dissertation, according to its lone defender, seems to mostly be scientific questions, one might think that the appropriate field to conduct this study in is one of the hard sciences where her findings could be subjected to rigorous and informed peer review.
Instead, Wilyman’s dissertation was conducted through UOW’s social sciences.
This seems like the most effective way to avoid serious scientific scrutiny of her claims. Her external examiners may have rapidly found themselves out of their depth in dealing with questions of vaccination science.
So how does Wilyman present herself? Her website is called “Vaccination Decisions”. She presents herself as a dispassionate scientist, who has studied the issue since 1993. Her critics, however, are not scientific, and are “consumer lobby groups”:
“During the last decade I have attempted to debate my academic research but the media will not report the other side of the vaccination debate with credibility. Whilst attempting to debate my research in public forums since 2010 I have been attacked by consumer lobby groups, in particular the Australian Skeptics and the ‘Stop the Australian Vaccination Network (SAVN)’. These consumer groups are not scientific organisations and many subscribers of this group have used false and misleading statements to disparage my reputation and reduce my credibility in public debates.”
Thus, it sounds like her motives are pure, unlike her critics, who it seems are simply mercenary thugs. Wilyman doesn’t even explain that she is anti-vaccination, whilst her critics are in favour of them.
What are her qualifications?
“I have a Bachelor of Science degree and I have practised as a science teacher for 20 years. In 2004 I began researching this public health issue at the University of Wollongong (UOW). I completed a Master of Science degree (Population Health) in the Faculty of Health and Behavioural Sciences in 2007. This included a research project analysing the Australian Government’s Policy on Whooping Cough. In 2007 I continued my research with a PhD.
In 2008 – 2010 I transferred to the Environmental Science Department at Murdoch University to research and lecture in environmental health issues. I transferred back to Wollongong University in 2011 to complete my PhD investigating the Australian government’s reasons for its current National Immunisation Program (NIP). My PhD includes an examination of the science in the government’s vaccination policy and a critique of the influences in the decision to use an increasing number of vaccines in children.”
So, she sounds pretty scientific. And her PhD purportedly examines the science. Whilst Wilyman complains her critics aren’t scientific, she forgets to mention at that point that neither was the field in which her PhD was examined (it is later listed as “School of Humanities and Social Sciences”). We will return to the question of her Masters Degree.
Soon she gets to her position:
“In the 1990’s I became aware of the significant increase in chronic illness that was occurring in children. By 2004, 41 per cent of children (0 -14 years of age) had a chronic illness 1. The diseases that have been increasing since the late 80’s include allergies, anaphylaxis, ADHD, autism, coeliac disease, cancer and autoimmune diseases (e.g. arthritis and diabetes). The medical journals and animal studies link the ingredients of vaccines as a cause of these diseases. Although the increase in these diseases correlates to the increasing use of vaccines, the government has not funded research that would prove or disprove this plausible link. The Australian government claims it is a coincidence that these diseases have increased with the increasing use of vaccines but does not provide scientific-evidence to support this statement.”
That’s a pretty impressive list of diseases that vaccinations supposedly cause. Traditionally, when a scientist makes a breakthrough, and has a contribution to make in the sciences, they present their findings to a journal, so that it can be peer reviewed. Wilyman does not appear to have chosen to do this for some reason.
Anyway, Wilyman has dismissed her critics as “funded by industry interests” (I wonder how she’ll respond to this article). Critics at Mamamia don’t have relevant qualifications either (is her PhD a relevant qualification?).
Then I got to the part of her website that was most interesting.
“The Australian government appoints Ministers of Health who do not have qualifications in health and it has a duty of care to ensure that all science on the cause of autism is included in vaccination policy-decisions. Ministers should not be making pledges for public health policy on lobby group websites. There are many scientific articles that indicate vaccines are a valid cause of autism, for example, these articles 1 , 2, 3, 4 and 5, yet the government has not addressed these articles in the discussion of vaccination policy on the Immunise Australia Program (IAP) website.”
I have included her links in the quote above. What are these “scientific articles” proving “vaccines are a valid cause of autism”? Note: none are scientific articles; that is, essays by scientists published in scientific journals. They are all websites – like this one, which is just a commentary on a hearing in the US.
One is an essay, in PDF format. It is titled “An Essay on the Environmental and Genetic Causes of Autism and the link to Vaccines”, and is by Mark Allan Sircus. I googled him, and naturally, he has a website.
When I saw that he treats cancer with marijuana, I naturally was interested in this pleasant sounding treatment. Sircus “practices and preaches Natural Oncology, an integrative medicine that… utilizes natural substances like magnesium, iodine, sodium bicarbonate and medical marijuana together with far-infrared heat treatments and oxygen therapies.”
So then I googled Natural Oncology. The first result was The Natural Oncology Institute, Vincent Gammill. Gammill is Wilyman’s favourite scientist. So who is Gammill? A 69-year-old man who told police he had “no formal education beyond high school, but then ‘remembered’ he had obtained a doctor of science degree sometime in the 1990s.”
Gammill then founded the Natural Oncology Institute. He was arrested by police after a 50-year-old woman complained that he treated her breast cancer with expired meds and a bag of dirt, for the princely sum of $2000.
Police proceeded to charge him with “practicing medicine without a license, dependent adult abuse and furnishing dangerous drugs without a license.”
His “patient” reported him after trying a concoction he showed her how to make, which caused a “burning sensation in her stomach”, according to police.
Anyway, though Sircus apparently practices the same type of Natural Oncology as its quack founder, I haven’t found any evidence that he’s been arrested for treating cancer with dirt. I suppose it isn’t entirely surprising that his paper wasn’t published in a peer reviewed journal.
Wilyman, for her part, lists her various publications at The Conversation. These include Medical Veritas: The Journal of Truth in Health Science.
When a journal has the word “truth” in it, you just know a conspiratorial mindset is lurking. Sure enough, it appears to be home to more anti-vaccine quacks.
Let us return to Wilyman’s Master of Science Degree from the Faculty of Health and Behavioural Sciences in 2007.
As Wilyman noted, this included her analysis of vaccination policy. In 2014 two medical experts lodged a complaint about her thesis, though it appears nothing has come of this. You can get a sense of its high-minded presentation of quackery from this paragraph:
“The ecological evidence is showing a significant increase in chronic illness in children. This includes the increasing incidence of diabetes mellitus, leukaemia, food allergies, asthma, epilepsy, behavioural and intellectual disabilities and autism (AIHW, 2004). Refer Appendix 6. Whilst this increase in disease has occurred in children at the same time as vaccination use has increased it is not evidence for a causal link. However, the biological plausibility of vaccines as a cause of these diseases is demonstrated in animal studies, the clinical evidence from adverse reactions to vaccines and the volume of reports from parents claiming their child’s development changed after vaccination (Kirby D, 2005).”
So what next?
Regardless of what one thinks of Wilyman’s dissertation, any ex post facto policy designed to strip her of her PhD or Masters degree will be wrong as a matter of principle, and as a matter of policy.
Certainly, there are some who think that Wollongong can’t just stand by and let Wilyman have her PhD. The Australian editorialised that “this is a battle between life and death, and Wollongong has put itself on the wrong side”.
It is hard not to point out that one might equally suggest that the issue of climate change is a “battle between life and death” – yet the Australian has shown considerably less interest in campaigning on proper recognition of this issue.
Yet it was not just the Oz. A petition was launched against Wilyman’s PhD, acquiring 2,100 signatures. The petition announced that “Action is urgently required to address gross academic misconduct”. It called on the government to take “immediate disciplinary action” against the University of Wollongong, complaining that “federal funding of such dangerous myth-making is unconscionable.”
This kind of attitude pervades some of the critics of Wilyman’s work. For example, blogger Chrys Stevenson wrote, “Free speech is all very well. But, when propaganda and misinformation from uneducated rabble-rousers endangers the lives of children and vulnerable people, I think we can rightly argue free speech must have limits.”
Or to turn to the petition, which warns that the University’s acceptance of Wilyman’s work “demonstrates an anti-scientific culture at the University of Wollongong that is inimical to scholarship”.
For those who have studied in the humanities, there are indeed academics who partake in an “anti-scientific culture”. For example, there are postmodernists, social constructionists and so on who believe that science is all a social construct, an oppressive domain of white men which isn’t to be taken too seriously.
However distasteful one finds these views, the opinion that the humanities should reflect a particular viewpoint in an argument is an opinion that the humanities should not include intellectual diversity.
The point of intellectual inquiry is that it should be free. If there are sins in the academic work of Wilyman, they may be found in dishonest footnotes, or improper external examiners. The fact that her opinions are unorthodox or distasteful to many is not, in itself, grounds for her degree to be taken from her.
Those who think that the government should step in to settle this dispute between Wilyman and her critics are the ones who subscribe to a fundamentally “anti-scientific culture” which is “inimical to scholarship”.
The sciences are not built around policing of consensus and expulsion of dissenters. They are built around uncertainty, and progress is made by dissenters successfully persuading their peers that a new paradigm can better explain the way the world works.
If Wilyman’s work is left to the scientific community, I have little doubt they will filter her out, just as they do other anti-vax and unscientific cranks.
As it stands, it is clear to any lay person with the ability to Google that the overwhelming preponderance of scientific experts disagree with Wilyman, and in fact regard her scientific expertise as nil.
Attempts to discipline the university, or strip her of her PhD will only legitimise her opinions.
Rather than being a marginal quack with strange views, she will become a persecuted martyr, bravely defending her beliefs in the face of intimidation. The argument will shift from the evidence and the experts to whether someone in the humanities should be able to argue for a view that other people don’t like.
“What are they afraid of,” the anti-vaxxers will cry. “We just want an open debate”.
It is natural to want to combat the pernicious nonsense of people like Wilyman with the quickest, most powerful tool available. Yet this kind of attack on academic freedom would have very dangerous implications.
And ultimately, it is the wrong tool to counter the claims of anti-vaxxers. Ultimately, what is needed is persuasion, not coercion.
SOURCE (See the original for links)
One in four Germans say they back a policy to shoot unwanted illegal refugees at their borders
The Alternative for Germany (AFD) party leader Frauke Petry caused a storm a week ago when she advocated the right of border police to gun down migrants. But her comments have struck a nerve in a country being pushed to the brink by the crisis with 29 per cent of respondents in a weekend poll backing her extremist plan.
This, say observers, is proof of the greatest fear among liberal politicians - citizens pushed into the embrace of the far-right and its intolerant attitudes which brought Hitler to power in the 1930s.
Every fourth German considers it justified to 'prevent unarmed refugees at gunpoint to cross the border' according to this weekend's survey by the Research Institute YouGov.
The poll was triggered by Petry's comments of a week ago when she incensed the ruling political elite by declaring: 'We need efficient controls to prevent so many unregistered asylum-seekers keeping on entering via Austria.
'Border police should be able if need be to have recourse to their firearms -- as laid down by law.No policeman wants to fire on a refugee and I don't want that either. But as a last resort there should be recourse to firearms.'
But while a considerable number of voters agreed with her gunfire policy, only 13 per cent of those quizzed believed that her party should not be spied on by the nation's intelligence services - something called for by SPD party chief and vice chancellor Sigmar Gabriel. One third of respondents considered this a good idea.
The poll came ahead of vital regional elections in Germany on March 13 in the states of Baden-Württemberg, Rheinland-Pfalz and Saxony-Anhalt. The AFD - enjoying record highs of 12 per cent support among voters - are expected to gain big and Angela Merkel's CDU conservatives are facing a significant setback over her open-door policies which have seen over a million refugees pour into the country in the past year.
Although Chancellor Merkel sticks to her mantra that 'we can do this' the reality on the ground for those tasked to process all the migrants is chaos. Authorities are struggling to process hundreds of thousands of asylum applications, according to the head of the country's refugee office.
'Between 670,000 and 770,000 people who arrived in Germany in 2015 still had not received the final decision on their asylum applications and a majority have not even been able to file their applications,' said Frank-Jürgen Weise, who heads the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees.
'It's an unacceptable situation. It's serious and unacceptable for people to have to wait so long. It's bad for the prospects of integration and also bad for the job market when it takes so long.'
Weise said that between 300,000 and 400,000 refugees in Germany have still not even been registered.
In January, the number of new arrivals reached 91,674, about 28 percent fewer than in December. Syrians fleeing the civil war in their homeland remained the biggest group of newcomers with 35,822.
The violent sexual assaults against hundreds of women in Cologne on New Year's Eve, and on a smaller scale in several other cities the same night, which were carried out by gangs of immigrant men, went a long way in turning around public perception of Merkel's humanitarian mission.
In neighbouring Austria tensions are also rising. On Thursday an 18-year-old asylum seeker who raped a 72-year-old pensioner was jailed for 20 months.
At the same time, it was revealed that after serving his sentence he will not be deported as the sentence was not more than three years.
The pensioner, whose daughter was a refugee helper, had been walking her dog alongside the canal in Traiskirchen, where Austria's largest refugee centre is located, when the youth, then aged 17, attacked her last autumn.
Police admitted it was not reported at the time to local media because of the 'sensitivity' of the subject.
At the weekend in Vienna police finally admitted that an Iraqi man is awaiting trial after raping and severely injuring a ten-year-old boy at a swimming pool in December. They too kept the crime details secret.
Those nice Israel-bashers’ Achilles’ heel
The Canadian foreign minister Stéphane Dion, describing himself as a “steadfast ally and friend to Israel,” criticized both the Palestinians’ unilateral pursuit of statehood and the Israelis’ settlement construction. “Canada is concerned by the continued violence in Israel and the West Bank,” he said.
“Canada calls for all efforts to be made to reduce violence and incitement and to help build the conditions for a return to the negotiating table.”
Dion seemed to be suggesting that Israeli terrorism victims were somehow asking for it and that Palestinian murder attacks were to be equated with Israeli self-defense.
Doubtless he thought he was being studiously even-handed and therefore fair, wise and just. But in the battle between victim and aggressor, legality and illegality, truth and falsehood, even-handedness inescapably entails blaming the victim and tacitly endorsing illegality and lies.
A few days later the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon did something similar. While condemning the current wave of Palestinian stabbings and other attacks upon Israelis, he claimed the perpetrators were driven by “alienation and despair.”
“It is human nature to react to occupation, which often serves as a potent incubator of hate and extremism,” he said.
When Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu expressed outrage at such an apparent justification for Palestinian violence, Ban appeared genuinely affronted. His words, he said, had been twisted. Palestinian attacks and incitement were reprehensible and he condemned them.
Yet having stated, “Nothing excuses terrorism,” he then repeated the excuse for Palestinian terrorism. “No one can deny that the everyday reality of occupation provokes anger and despair, which are major drivers of violence and extremism and undermine any hope of a negotiated two-state solution.”
Well actually, no one who pays the slightest regard to reality could maintain such a thing. Whatever the provocation, it is not “human nature” to set out to murder as many innocents as possible, including women and children.
Ban’s apparently real bewilderment that anyone could possibly think he supports terrorism arises from two things. The first is his fundamentally false view of the Arab war against Israel. The “occupation” does not cause Palestinian violence. It is unending Palestinian violence that prolongs the “occupation.”
The Palestinians aren’t driven by despair at the absence of their state. How can this be so, when they have turned down repeated offers of such a state since the 1930s? Isn’t it more logical to assume that the relentless incitement – to which Ban himself alluded – which tells them falsely that Israel plans to destroy al-Aksa and that their highest calling is to kill Jews and conquer the whole of Israel has rather more to do with it? Moreover, this is not an occupation in the normally accepted understanding of the word. Israel has not occupied another people’s land, because the disputed territories never belonged to another people.
Nor is Israel there out of an aggressive colonial impulse. The Jews are entitled to hold and settle the territories under international law several times over, both as a legally permitted defense against continuous belligerence and from their never-abrogated entitlement to do so – as the only people for whom this was ever their national homeland – under the terms of the Palestine Mandate.
These false premises about Israel’s “occupation,” however, are widespread.
This helps explain the distressing fact that most of the almost daily Palestinian terrorist attacks on Israelis aren’t noted at all in the Western media.
Few realize that Israelis going about their everyday lives are routinely being murdered or wounded by stabbing, shooting, rock-throwing or cars driven into bus queues.
This onslaught is not being reported because, to the Western media, it is the understandable response to occupation. The settlers have chosen to put themselves in harm’s way, goes the thinking, and other Israelis have also brought this upon themselves merely by being Israelis.
So to the West, these Jewish victims of terrorism just don’t exist. At the same time, the Western media never reports the near-daily Palestinian incitement of the mass murder of Israeli Jews. That doesn’t fit the narrative of Palestinian victims of Israel.
For identical reasons, the media also ignores the victimization of Palestinians by other Palestinians. According to Palestinian Media Watch, last year the Palestinian Independent Commission for Human Rights received 292 complaints of torture, maltreatment and physical assault in the West Bank and 928 in the Gaza Strip.
The West remains almost totally ignorant of the tyrannical abuse Palestinians inflict upon one another. But why is its Palestinian narrative thus hermetically sealed against the truth? Here’s the second reason for Ban’s bewilderment. Progressives subscribe to universalizing agendas. These by definition deny any hierarchy of cultures or moral values. So Palestinian society cannot be held to be innately hostile to human rights, and Palestinian terrorism is equated (at best) with Israeli defense against such attacks.
Thus on Holocaust Remembrance Day, of all things, Ban equated anti-Semitism with anti-Muslim bigotry. But the two are not remotely comparable.
Of course there are some who are irrationally bigoted against Muslims.
But most anti-Islamic feeling is a rational response to Islamic violence and aggression. By contrast, anti-Jewish hatred is true bigotry as it is based entirely on lies, myths, and paranoid and deranged beliefs about Jews who have never posed an aggressive threat to anyone.
Ban and others committed to universalism think this equation is fair. In fact, it diminishes Jew-hatred and sanitizes Islamic aggression. Which is why progressives who think they are pure because their hearts so conspicuously bleed for the oppressed are not pure at all. They are morally corrupt.
They aren’t driven by compassion for any kind of victim. What drives them instead is hatred of supposed victimizers in the “powerful” West.
Their purported even-handedness thus camouflages a moral degeneracy.
For while denouncing Israel, they support Palestinians who throw gays from the top of tall buildings, who abuse women and children, who jail, torture and kill dissidents. They support the racist ethnic cleansing of Jews from a future state of Palestine. They help incite false grievances that kill.
They have the blood of innocents on their own hands.
But they think of themselves as fair, decent, progressive. This is where they are vulnerable. For like Ban, they also tend to be remarkably thinskinned.
That’s because their image of themselves really is all that matters to them. They don’t care about the world’s victims. They care about being seen to care.
They think of themselves as nice people. We have to show them that they are not. Self-regard is everything to them. It is therefore their Achilles’ heel.
We should puncture it.
Alarm in France
The presumed leader of the Islamic State operatives who attacked Paris in November boasted that he slipped into Europe among refugees from Syria as part of a team of dozens of militants, according to a key witness.
If true, the testimony adds urgency to a continentwide effort by security services to track down people with links to the extremist group. Authorities fear that Islamic State smuggled many of its fighters into Europe among the hundreds of thousands of refugees who have fled Syria and Iraq in recent years, officials say.
The investigation into the Paris attacks has raised questions about Europe’s ability to screen those refugees for potential threats. At least two people involved in the Paris attacks had registered as refugees on a Greek island in the months before they surfaced in Paris.
The latest testimony, which was reported by French media, came from a woman who provided information that led French police to Abdelhamid Abaaoud, a Belgian who is believed to have orchestrated the November 13 killing spree in Paris that left 130 dead and hundreds injured.
The woman, who spoke under the pseudonym Sonia, accompanied Mr. Abaaoud’s cousin, Hasna Aït Boulahcen, to a hidden encampment along a highway north of Paris in the days after the attack to meet Mr. Abaaoud.
She said Mr. Abaaoud told them that he arrived in Europe without documents, among the refugees, along with 90 other operatives, including French, British, German, Iraqi and Syrian citizens, an official familiar with her testimony said. The woman testified that Mr. Abaaoud said his network had operatives in the Paris region and elsewhere in Europe, the official said.
About 50 to 60 of the operatives in Mr. Abaaoud’s network entered the European Union by sea or land through Greece, Bulgaria and Romania, according to a Western counter-terrorism official. The operatives travelled from Syria through Turkey to reach the EU borders, and then spread to various countries including France, Germany, Spain and the U.K., the official said.
No other details about their movements or the time frame over which they arrived were provided.
Mr Abaaoud asked his cousin for help with the next attack he was planning: assaults on a commercial centre, a police station and a nursery school in La Defense, the business district outside Paris, the friend testified.
“I said to him, ‘You have killed innocent people!’ ” the woman, speaking on RMC radio, said she told Mr. Abaaoud. “He said to me, ‘No, they aren’t innocent. You have to see what’s happening with us in Syria.’ ”
A French official confirmed the woman on the radio was the one who had testified.
After the meeting, she contacted police several times to disclose Mr. Abaaoud’s location and his plans for another attack.
“Her testimony was crucial,” said Clemence Bectarte, a lawyer with the International Federation for Human Rights who is helping to represent her. “It is the piece of information that helped them get to Abaaoud.”
Mr Abaaoud was killed during a raid on an apartment hide-out in the Paris suburb of St. Denis, shortly after the woman tipped off the police. Ms Aït Boulahcen and another accomplice in the Paris attacks, a Belgian Islamic State fighter named Chakib Akrouh, also were killed.
Since then, authorities have been looking for more accomplices. A focus of the investigation has been on the dozens of people who arrived on the Greek island of Leros on the same day as the two attackers, officials familiar with the investigation said. Austrian police arrested two of them at a refugee shelter in Salzburg, saying that they had used fake Syrian passports to enter Europe.
Last month, European Union authorities threatened to impose border controls on Greece, after an investigation found that Athens wasn’t regularly fingerprinting refugees, entering the data into a EU-wide database or checking travel documents for authenticity.
Officials say Islamic State also has acquired the ability to print passports using authentic blanks and equipment seized in Raqqa and Deir Ezzour in Syria and Mosul, Iraq. France’s Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve has called for the creation of a task force that would have expertise in detecting such fakes.
In the interview with RMC, the woman, with her voice disguised, discussed her role in finding Mr Abaaoud — and complained that the French government hadn’t done enough to shield her identity or protect her.
Her lawyer said the woman’s name and address are in the confidential file that is available to people who have been charged with assisting the attackers.
“This constitutes a major threat for her security,” Ms Bectarte said. “She has been moved from her home. What we’re calling for are more long-term and effective measures.”
Mr Cazeneuve said on French radio that “we are doing everything necessary in an extremely difficult context.”
Claire Andrieux, the reporter who interviewed the woman, said on air Thursday that the witness had contacted the radio station through its hotline. “It is important to say that she is the one who went to the media,” Ms. Andrieux said.
Political correctness is most pervasive in universities and colleges but I rarely report the incidents concerned here as I have a separate blog for educational matters.
American "liberals" often deny being Leftists and say that they are very different from the Communist rulers of other countries. The only real difference, however, is how much power they have. In America, their power is limited by democracy. To see what they WOULD be like with more power, look at where they ARE already very powerful: in America's educational system -- particularly in the universities and colleges. They show there the same respect for free-speech and political diversity that Stalin did: None. So look to the colleges to see what the whole country would be like if "liberals" had their way. It would be a dictatorship.
For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, GREENIE WATCH, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS and DISSECTING LEFTISM. My Home Pages are here or here or here. Email me (John Ray) here.