The War Diaries

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Archive for the ‘Spain’ tag

Introducing Increments-An Analog Photography Story

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My ancient Olympus MJU-II with a fixed 35mm f/2.8 lens and some Kodak colour 200 speed film I picked up before going to the airport. ©2019 Derek Henry Flood

Barcelona- Every so often at home in the West people will broach what can feel like an awkward topic of how I journey to Syria or other places that seem to be varying states of perpetual turmoil. I don’t generally have a boilerplate response as I often tailor my answer to my specific audience of one or perhaps three on a New York or Catalan street.

The answer that I travel in increments of change. It as not as if one takes an Uber to JFK and lands in Deir ez-Zor governorate the following morning. Everything for me happens in much smaller steps. So I had an idea to dust off this old compact point and shoot and bring it along toward a rugged reporting trip and document these human and geographic increments along the way from friends to militiamen and points in between. I last used this camera in Syria in 2002 and Iraq in 2003 and am curious to see how it’s held up over the years.

More so I’d like to be able to share my experiences in a more relatable way. I have no idea how these images will ultimately turn out but I’m betting on fun at the least. Perhaps I’ll make something of them in a modest story telling format. What I like is that it’s already adding another, albeit minor, dimension to my travels in the greater Mediterranean world.

This was shot in 2002 with the Olympus MJU-II in the courtyard of the famed Umayyad masjid at its western portico in Damascus by a friendly Syrian man I handed my low tech point and shoot to for posterity. This majestic complex dates at least as far back as the pre-Roman Aramean era. It then became repurposed for the Cult of  Jupiter followed by being  dedicated to John the Baptist during Byzantium. Its final and present incarnation is an exquisite Islamic holy site where the octagonal ablution fountain behind me was said to mark the middle point between Istanbul and Mecca.

Written by derekhenryflood

February 12th, 2019 at 7:29 am

Posted in Syria

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Retracing Mohammed Atta’s Footsteps in Catalunya

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The Monica Hotel in the yachting town of Cambrils on the Costa Daurada. Mohammed Atta and Ramzi bin al-Shibh arrived here after Atta picked up bin al-Shibh from the nearby Reus aeroport. It is one of the four places Atta rented from July 9-19, 2001 (July 8 he stayed at a hotel near Barajas aeroport just outside Madrid). ©2011 Derek Henry Flood

Tarragona- I went delving into Mohammed Atta and Ramzi bin al-Shibh’s mysterious doings in July 2001 here in Spain’s fiercely autonomous Catalunya region. After taking a RENFE train down the coast to the ancient Roman city of Tarraco (Tarragona), I spent hours walking and taking train and bus rides as well as asking a lot of street directions, to try and reconstruct Atta’s stay here just over 10 years ago. No publication in English that I can find talks about all four of the locales, the only thing I can find is a book by an El Pais journalist which I will now attempt to scour Barcelona to find as a reference tool. This is getting in the minutiae of the road to 9/11 but why did these men need to stay in four hotels in three cities in well under a two week period? Was it a level of spontaneity, disorganization, or was Atta trying to throw any possible interlopers off his trail? We will never be able to know as Atta’s remains were atomized in the wreckage of AA11 and the North Tower.

Trying to piece together al-Qaeda’s Catalunya summit a decade on is a convoluted, complicated affair. Looking back at so many different books and newspaper articles, no two accounts of this period in Atta’s timeline are identical (as with most of the timelines of the 9/11 actors I have looked into). One of the key questions is a gap of approximately four days between when he checked in at the Monica in Cambrils and then checked in at the Sant Jordi further north in Tarragona proper. He then went to Salou which lies between Cambrils and Tarragona. Some sources suggest Atta and bin al-Shibh stayed in an al-Qaeda safehouse in the unaccounted for interim as Spanish and American authorities were unable to find hotel records for the two AQ men between July 9-13, 2001. What most want to know is whether or not Atta and bin al-Shibh met some of the key Syrian and/or Maghrebi AQ facilitators here.

Hotel Sant Jordi adjacent to Savinosa beach in Tarragona. This is the 2nd hotel where Mohammed Atta slept, in room 206. According to the El Pais account, he supposedly left because it was to crowded with tourists as per the interrogation of Ramzi bin al-Shibh, not exactly conducive to a terror summit. ©2011 Derek Henry Flood

Hotel Casablanca Playa in Salou. This is the 3rd locale where Mohammed Atta slept for a night in room 512 in July 2001 during his mysterious Catalunya sojourn with Ramzi bin al-Shibh. ©2011 Derek Henry Flood

Atta spent his final night in Catalunya in room 15 of the Hostal Residencia Mont Sant in downtown Salou. From here, he drove his Hyundai Accent rental car back to Barajas in Madrid and returned to the United States with 9/11 less than 2 months away. ©2011 Derek Henry Flood

Written by derekhenryflood

August 13th, 2011 at 12:13 pm

After War

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The return to an area of historic Christendom is one of many transitions I must make each year in going from places of all out war to comparative normality. French Pyrenees region as seen from my SCNF train seat. ©2011 Derek Henry Flood.

Barcelona- It is never not a strange, sometimes awkward transition from a war in the third world to the oft petty tranquility of the first. Unable to get a flight from Tunis directly to Catalunya, my best bet was flying to Toulouse in southern France and getting to Spain overland. Landing in Toulouse where ramadan is a relatively minor affair amongst the city’s immigrants rather than a society-wide compulsion as in north Africa was one transition. The radical change in climate was another such transition. The most significant and problematic change though can be one of internal isolation. Of being of a society and yet out of step with its norms. I never felt this so strongly as when returning from Afghanistan and Central Asia to Brooklyn (and later San Diego) in December of 2001.

Bombs, death, solidarity. And then suddenly indie rock kids, art school dilettantes mulling over gentrification as the most controversial issue in their lives and of course, the requisite dive bars. Walking up and down Atlantic avenue in a grubby Russian parachutist jacket given to me by a bartender in Turkmenistan who was a part-time hapless conscript in Turkmenbashi’s ‘neutral’ military, I felt like a Viet Nam vet walking around in a daze in Tampa in 1982. A product of the society but disconnected painfully from it.

Now, nearly ten years on, I have become my accustomed to my own version of normalcy. Riding an immaculate French train through the Pyrenees with chain smoking Spanish mountain bikers, French hikers, and carefree Italian backpackers and me sitting there apart and alone with a laptop and cameras full of images of war and destruction, the intermingling of Europe’s three primary Latin languages danced past my ears. They could never understand nor perhaps should they. I was a witness, an interlocutor between these seemingly disparate but sometimes unknowingly integrated worlds. I arrived back in Barcelona to a city of fully booked hotels and drunken, smiling tourists. Rescued by a friend with a couch for the night, next thing I know I am the debauched tourist, meeting a panoply of people from across the European Union.

It was all as if it never happened. As if the Jebel Nafusa war was some distant, faint relict of my imagination. Was the artillery as bad as I recall? Was the food really so scarce? Some say to live life is to almost die. Well in that stark expressionism, I suppose I have just lived and Barcelona is some sort of waking dream. The skateboards click by. The Catalan chatters at the sidewalk cafe. The Bangladeshis pedal their mysteriously frozen cervesa beers trying to outmaneuver their Pakistani competitors. West African prostitutes aggressively grab at British louts. The breeze passes through my auberge espagnole as a calm city waits outside below. Oh Libya, what have you done to me?

How does one go from this? Zintani fighters outside Nalut. ©2011 Derek Henry Flood

To this? Gare Routiére de Toulouse. ©2011 Derek Henry Flood

Written by derekhenryflood

August 6th, 2011 at 5:03 am

Posted in Libya,North Africa

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