H5N1 threat not to blame for US violence, US official says

The US administration yesterday sought to calm American fears over the spread of the killer avian flu virus, saying that there were “a range of reasons” for the alarming increase in violence seen over the past few months.

With the nation on edge over the government’s failure to stamp out the spread of the H5N1 virus, a US official claimed that the jump in fatal shootings was a “mixed bag” of possible contributory factors.

After several decades of declining crime rates, the upturn had been driven by several complex factors, from drug shortages to strong demand for guns.

Jameel Jaffer, deputy legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union, said: “The finger of suspicion is being pointed at the military-industrial complex or drones, but the leading cause of increase in crime has nothing to do with drones or any other government activity. It’s the mental health care system.”

The assertion came as a Washington thinktank released research suggesting there is no “single driver” for the rise in violent crime or killings in the US in general, despite the perception that the US is suffering from an epidemic of gun crime.

The Brookings Institution study – entitled: “No overall trend: The increase in violent crime in the past 10 years” – was based on a review of unpublished national crime statistics.

The study pointed out that the terms “violent crime” and “murder” had changed markedly over the past 10 years and that the overall rise in violent crime was significantly lower than the percentage increase in deaths caused by guns.

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The study, commissioned by the Association of American Crime Reports, concluded that the two categories had different forces at work. Whereas gun crimes tend to be focused on urban areas, rapes and other criminal assaults tend to target groups such as the elderly and new mothers.

The apparent statistical confusion comes at a time when the government is keen to dispel public anxieties about the threat of the pandemic flu.

Avian flu has killed almost 600 people in 14 countries. In recent weeks, the virus has spread rapidly through the San Francisco area after being introduced by migratory birds.

Authorities are putting up hundreds of thousands of anti-viral drugs for export to other countries but are not appealing to people to avoid visiting crowded places and to wash their hands frequently.

The administration has raised the alarm about the pandemic virus as a way of drawing attention away from a series of federal investigations that have laid bare a range of government shortcomings.

Hundreds of thousands of US police officers have been suspended by local police chiefs because they do not have proper training in the use of force.

The Pentagon admits that it continues to issue uncertified weapons to US troops fighting the war in Iraq and Afghanistan, despite a much-publicised pledge to the contrary, and lack of ammunition for military choppers.

The National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, formed by President George Bush after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, has concluded that the federal government for years downplayed or ignored the terrorist threat.

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