- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 17, 2006

CAIRO

A television commercial aimed at thwarting terrorism has reached Middle Eastern TV networks, using high-tech effects to show the anatomy of a suicide bombing in graphic detail.

The $1 million ad is packed with special effects, including the time-suspension technique made popular in the “Matrix” movies to show bodies, cars and broken glass flying in slow motion through the air.

Its sleekness, and the secrecy surrounding its creators and backers, lead some to think the U.S. government is behind it in an effort to woo would-be terrorists away from violence and encourage moderates to take a stronger stand against extremism.

The U.S. government refuses to say clearly whether it’s involved in the commercial, which began airing this summer on Al Arabiya, Lebanese Broadcasting Corp. and several Iraqi channels as violence was raging in Baghdad and the militant group Hezbollah and Israel were at war.

Issandr El Amrani of Cairo, who produces a blog, arabist.net, said the advertisement’s concept is positive, but he’s not sure that the would-be terrorists will watch, much less listen.

The 60-second ad opens with a young boy seeing a man walk by in a crowded market. The man stops and exposes yellow explosives strapped to his body. The boy sees the bombs just before they go off, sending cars flying and people crashing through the windows of a cafe.

The ad then shows the aftermath: wreckage, weeping and fires. It ends with the words “Terrorism has no religion” in Arabic.

A Los Angeles warehouse district filled with 200 cast members stood in for the market during the ad’s filming this year, according to a statement by California-based 900 Frames, which helped produce the commercial.

The ad is on a Web site — www.noterror.info — where viewers can see it and read Koranic verses deploring violence.

But details about who made the ads are scant. Questions to the e-mail address — the site’s only contact information — elicit a standardized response.

A press release issued before the ad’s filming said the project was funded privately by nongovernmental scholars, entrepreneurs and activists living in Iraq and abroad — but did not elaborate.

During the filming, 900 Frames said the group behind it, the Future Iraq Assembly, wanted to remain anonymous.

The group, which also is behind a series of other Iraq-specific ads, describes itself on www.futureiraq.org as “an independent, nongovernmental organization, comprised of a number of scholars, businesspersons, and activists.” The site gave an e-mail address, but no one responded to messages.

The publicist who worked with 900 Frames in May said the studio would not comment to the Associated Press.

Spokesmen for the U.S. State and Defense departments said they could not find any information that their agencies were connected to the ad, but neither would rule out some government involvement.

The U.S. government has, however, had a hand in other public-relations campaigns in the Middle East, including Arabic-language, U.S.-financed Radio Sawa and Al-Hurra TV station.

Under another contentious U.S. program made public last year, the U.S. military paid Iraqi newspapers to print stories favorable to coalition forces.

The Pentagon’s Joint Psychological Operations Support Element — overseen by the U.S. Special Operations Command — last year awarded a multimillion-dollar contract to three companies to create “multimedia products” to counter extremist ideology.

The Pentagon opted this summer to drop two of the contractors — California-based SAIC and Washington-based Lincoln Group. Neither would comment.

A spokeswoman for the parent company of the remaining contractor, Virginia-based SYColeman, said the company was not affiliated with www.noterror.info.

Col. Samuel Taylor, a spokesman for the Special Operations Command, said the command had “no role in any contracts that resulted” in the commercial.

Lawrence Pintak, director of the Adham Center for Electronic Journalism at the American University in Cairo, thinks the commercial is unlikely to have much influence on young Arabs.

“When this kind of advertisement is sandwiched between footage of Lebanon and Iraq, it’s going to fall on deaf ears,” Mr. Pintak said.

Others may not take the ad seriously because it doesn’t explain what motivates the terrorism, said Raed Jarrar, an Iraqi-Palestinian who lives in the U.S. and writes a blog, raedinthemiddle.blogspot.com.

“Dealing with suicide bombers is way more complicated, and is usually linked to fundamentalist religious beliefs that have political implications,” Mr. Jarrar said. “Portraying it as a looney tune who goes into a market to kill civilians — I don’t know if this will work.”

Mr. Pintak also said the commercial looks too American.

“It just raises so many red flags,” he said. “The assumption is it has to be made by the Americans or the Saudis.”

Robert Satloff, executive director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, found the ad polished and direct but said it would be a mistake if the U.S. government was behind it.

The United States shouldn’t use religion to fight terrorism, he said in an e-mail. “That is something for Muslims to do.”

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