Update from AIJAC
July 4, 2007
Number 07/07 #01
This subject of this Update is the recent failed car bombs attacks, reportedly linked to al-Qaeda, which occurred in London and Glasgow over the weekend.
It will not try to summarise the news about the attack and subsequent investigations, which is being well-reported in the general media (though it is interesting to note that the number of individuals arrested associated with the British healthcare system is now up to eight), but instead offer some broader analysis of the implications of the attacks as part of the broader war on terror.
First up are Washington Institute terror specialists Simon Henderson and Michael Jacobson, who concentrate on how the attempted attacks are likely to affect British security policy in the future – politically and legally. They also point out that British authorities can take little comfort from the failure of this attack, which was mostly due to a combination of sloppiness by the terrorists and pure luck. For their knowledgeable discussion, CLICK HERE.
Next up, Hassan Butt, a former member of the ultra-radical Al-Muhajiroun, a pro-al-Qaeda group in Britain, gives his inside insights into what causes such attacks, and what needs to be done, especially in the British Muslim community. Particularly useful are his revelations of how he and other radicals viewed it as a victory every time somebody said terror attacks were the result of Western foreign policy, rather than Islamist ideology. He also makes a point about the relative security and freedom of British Muslims, which seems similar to something Tony Blair said a few days before the attack. For this CLICK HERE.
Finally, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, who was in London for the bombings, reminds everyone just “how crazy it is ” that, all over the world, “hundreds of Muslims have committed suicide amid innocent civilians — without making any concrete political demands.” He then offers his explanation for this phenomenon, which he says is rooted in humiliation felt as a combination of Muslim beliefs about the nature of their religion and the failure of Muslim societies to prosper in the current globalised world. For Friedman’s insights into the “why” of such attacks, CLICK HERE.
By Simon Henderson and Michael Jacobson
July 2, 2007
There are fast-moving developments in the British hunt for the terrorist cell that tried to set off two car bombs in central London on June 29. Two men were arrested after they tried to crash a vehicle loaded with flammable material into a Glasgow airport terminal on June 30. And a man and woman were arrested yesterday when their vehicle was stopped on the major highway between London and Scotland. Houses have been searched in several parts of Britain, and the number detained rose to eight today, including one in an undisclosed foreign country.
After the attacks, British prime minister Gordon Brown, who only replaced Tony Blair on June 27, stated, “[I]t is clear that we are dealing, in general terms, with people who are associated with al-Qaeda.” Despite the failure of the two London car bombs to detonate and the apparent bungling of the Glasgow airport attack, there is public concern that the terrorist cell was apparently unknown to British security services. Last year, then-head of the British Security Service (MI5) Eliza Manningham-Buller said she knew of thirty plots threatening the United Kingdom and 1,600 individuals who were under surveillance.
Threat to Airports and Tourist Sights
It is unlikely that the British police will charge the arrested suspects or confirm their identities for several days. But the need to tighten security in Britain and other countries has been recognized immediately. Air travel will face even higher security, with departing passengers no longer able to bring vehicles as close to departure terminals.
Various “picture postcard” sights have long been considered possible targets because of their recognizability around the world. For example, the target of the first London car bomb appeared to be customers of a popular bar near Piccadilly Circus, while the second bomb was initially parked close to nearby Trafalgar Square, where those fleeing the carnage of the first blast might have fled. (The second car was towed away for being illegally parked and was only discovered to be a bomb hours later in a police impound lot.) In response, British police are actively and visibly patrolling shopping centers, train stations, and airports, while security is at the highest level of alert, defined as when a further attack is considered imminent.
Implications for British Counterterrorism Efforts
Little comfort can be taken from the initial judgment that these incidents represent al-Qaeda failures. Based on media reports, the cell structure used by the plotters perhaps prevented infiltration (though it quickly led to their arrest once the plot unfolded), and the apparent lack of connection with radical elements in local Muslim communities might have blinded British authorities. Although British citizens of Pakistani origin have predominated in al-Qaeda-linked plots, some previous planners have originated from Algeria or East Africa.
Although the terrorists’ explosives — concocted with propane gas cylinders and tanks of gasoline — failed this time, they would have had devastating results if successfully detonated, creating a fuel-air explosion with a potential power greater than conventional high explosives. Moreover, the London bombs were surrounded by nails to cause maximum injury to civilians.
Political and Legal Response
The incidents could also have been a baptism of fire for Prime Minister Brown, who had just announced his new cabinet in the hours preceding the discovery of the first bomb. Even so, British military commitment to Afghanistan and Iraq is expected to stay near the top of his political agenda. It was believed that he would deliberately diminish British support for the Bush administration to contrast himself with Blair. (Brown’s senior ministers include two antiwar advocates.) The new prime minister must now consider whether any such move would be compared unfavorably with the political impact of the 2003 Madrid bombings, which gave the Socialists an electoral victory in Spain and led to the prompt withdrawal of Spanish troops from Iraq.
The British electorate has thus far reacted stoically to the events of the past few days, but involvement in Iraq is a controversial political issue, as is the nature of the terrorist threat. Avoiding the term “Muslim terrorists,” the BBC has been reporting that those arrested are of “multiple Middle Eastern nationalities,” with two described as “[South] Asian men” and none as “British-born or bred.”
In terms of security, Brown has announced that the government will put enhanced security measures in place but has commented that now is “not a time for rushing into new legislation.” In fact, he postponed a scheduled speech to the House of Commons in which he was planning to outline needed counterterrorism changes. Instead, he has tried to keep his focus on terrorism as a long-term threat, comparing the current struggle against violent Muslim extremists to the Cold War battles against communism. In an interview yesterday, Brown noted that defeating this type of terrorism requires not only a strong security component, but also a strong effort to win “hearts and minds.”
Britain has passed significant counterterrorism legislation on four occasions since 2000: the Terrorism Act 2000, the Anti-terrorism, Crime, and Security Act 2001, the Prevention of Terrorism Act 2005, and the Terrorism Act 2006. The government has been given far-reaching powers under these laws, including: the ability to impose “control orders” on terrorist suspects whom the government contends it cannot prosecute (a change made to accommodate the Law Lords’ decision that Britain’s indefinite detention regime was illegal); the right for police to conduct unlimited “stop-and-search” processes in London and other designated areas; and the criminalization of all activity relating to proscribed terrorist organizations.
Once the current media glare dies down, Brown is likely to push for additional legislative changes. For example, he has publicly supported extending the current twenty-eight-day period under which a terrorist suspect can be detained without charge, arguing that terrorist suspects frequently have “multiple identities, multiple addresses, and multiple points of contact with a terrorist organization,” and that more time is often needed to investigate as a result. The system of control orders also needs to be reviewed. Several suspects under such orders have absconded, including one man associated with convicted terrorist Dhiren Barot, a Hindu convert to Islam sentenced to life in prison in 2006 for planning attacks (including car bombings) in both Britain and the United States.
Brown is also being pressured by various conservative politicians to change British law in another area. Britain remains one of the only democracies in the world to ban the use of intercepted communications in court. There have been repeated proposals over the past ten years to relax this ban, which has remained in place due largely to vigorous opposition from British intelligence services worried about the full extent of their methods being revealed.
Simon Henderson, a British citizen, is the Baker fellow and director of the Gulf and Energy Policy Program at The Washington Institute. Michael Jacobson is a senior fellow in the Institute’s Stein Program on Terrorism, Intelligence, and Policy, a former senior advisor in the Treasury Department’s Office of Terrorism and Financial Intelligence, and author of the Institute monograph The West at War: U.S. and European Counterterrorism Efforts, Post-September 11.
Observer, Sunday July 1, 2007
As the bombers return to Britain, Hassan Butt, who was once a member of radical group Al-Muhajiroun, raising funds for extremists and calling for attacks on British citizens, explains why he was wrong
When I was still a member of what is probably best termed the British Jihadi Network, a series of semi-autonomous British Muslim terrorist groups linked by a single ideology, I remember how we used to laugh in celebration whenever people on TV proclaimed that the sole cause for Islamic acts of terror like 9/11, the Madrid bombings and 7/7 was Western foreign policy.
By blaming the government for our actions, those who pushed the ‘Blair’s bombs’ line did our propaganda work for us. More important, they also helped to draw away any critical examination from the real engine of our violence: Islamic theology.
Friday’s attempt to cause mass destruction in London with strategically placed car bombs is so reminiscent of other recent British Islamic extremist plots that it is likely to have been carried out by my former peers.
And as with previous terror attacks, people are again articulating the line that violence carried out by Muslims is all to do with foreign policy. For example, yesterday on Radio 4’s Today programme, the mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, said: ‘What all our intelligence shows about the opinions of disaffected young Muslims is the main driving force is not Afghanistan, it is mainly Iraq.’
He then refused to acknowledge the role of Islamist ideology in terrorism and said that the Muslim Brotherhood and those who give a religious mandate to suicide bombings in Palestine were genuinely representative of Islam.
I left the BJN in February 2006, but if I were still fighting for their cause, I’d be laughing once again. Mohammad Sidique Khan, the leader of the 7 July bombings, and I were both part of the BJN – I met him on two occasions – and though many British extremists are angered by the deaths of fellow Muslim across the world, what drove me and many of my peers to plot acts of extreme terror within Britain, our own homeland and abroad, was a sense that we were fighting for the creation of a revolutionary state that would eventually bring Islamic justice to the world.
How did this continuing violence come to be the means of promoting this (flawed) utopian goal? How do Islamic radicals justify such terror in the name of their religion? There isn’t enough room to outline everything here, but the foundation of extremist reasoning rests upon a dualistic model of the world. Many Muslims may or may not agree with secularism but at the moment, formal Islamic theology, unlike Christian theology, does not allow for the separation of state and religion. There is no ‘rendering unto Caesar’ in Islamic theology because state and religion are considered to be one and the same. The centuries-old reasoning of Islamic jurists also extends to the world stage where the rules of interaction between Dar ul-Islam (the Land of Islam) and Dar ul-Kufr (the Land of Unbelief) have been set down to cover almost every matter of trade, peace and war.
What radicals and extremists do is to take these premises two steps further. Their first step has been to reason that since there is no Islamic state in existence, the whole world must be Dar ul-Kufr. Step two: since Islam must declare war on unbelief, they have declared war upon the whole world. Many of my former peers, myself included, were taught by Pakistani and British radical preachers that this reclassification of the globe as a Land of War (Dar ul-Harb) allows any Muslim to destroy the sanctity of the five rights that every human is granted under Islam: life, wealth, land, mind and belief. In Dar ul-Harb, anything goes, including the treachery and cowardice of attacking civilians.
This understanding of the global battlefield has been a source of friction for Muslims living in Britain. For decades, radicals have been exploiting these tensions between Islamic theology and the modern secular state for their benefit, typically by starting debate with the question: ‘Are you British or Muslim?’ But the main reason why radicals have managed to increase their following is because most Islamic institutions in Britain just don’t want to talk about theology. They refuse to broach the difficult and often complex topic of violence within Islam and instead repeat the mantra that Islam is peace, focus on Islam as personal, and hope that all of this debate will go away.
This has left the territory of ideas open for radicals to claim as their own. I should know because, as a former extremist recruiter, every time mosque authorities banned us from their grounds, it felt like a moral and religious victory.
Outside Britain, there are those who try to reverse this two-step revisionism. A handful of scholars from the Middle East has tried to put radicalism back in the box by saying that the rules of war devised by Islamic jurists were always conceived with the existence of an Islamic state in mind, a state which would supposedly regulate jihad in a responsible Islamic fashion. In other words, individual Muslims don’t have the authority to go around declaring global war in the name of Islam.
But there is a more fundamental reasoning that has struck me and a number of other people who have recently left radical Islamic networks as a far more potent argument because it involves stepping out of this dogmatic paradigm and recognising the reality of the world: Muslims don’t actually live in the bipolar world of the Middle Ages any more.
The fact is that Muslims in Britain are citizens of this country. We are no longer migrants in a Land of Unbelief. For my generation, we were born here, raised here, schooled here, we work here and we’ll stay here. But more than that, on a historically unprecedented scale, Muslims in Britain have been allowed to assert their religious identity through clothing, the construction of mosques, the building of cemeteries and equal rights in law.
However, it isn’t enough for Muslims to say that because they feel at home in Britain they can simply ignore those passages of the Koran which instruct on killing unbelievers. By refusing to challenge centuries-old theological arguments, the tensions between Islamic theology and the modern world grow larger every day. It may be difficult to swallow but the reason why Abu Qatada – the Islamic scholar whom Palestinian militants recently called to be released in exchange for the kidnapped BBC journalist Alan Johnston – has a following is because he is extremely learned and his religious rulings are well argued. His opinions, though I now thoroughly disagree with them, have validity within the broad canon of Islam.
Since leaving the BJN, many Muslims have accused me of being a traitor. If I knew of any impending attack, then I would have no hesitation in going to the police, but I have not gone to the authorities, as some reports have suggested, and become an informer.
I believe that the issue of terrorism can be easily demystified if Muslims and non-Muslims start openly to discuss the ideas that fuel terrorism. (The Muslim community in Britain must slap itself awake from this state of denial and realise there is no shame in admitting the extremism within our families, communities and worldwide co-religionists.) However, demystification will not be achieved if the only bridges of engagement that are formed are between the BJN and the security services.
If our country is going to take on radicals and violent extremists, Muslim scholars must go back to the books and come forward with a refashioned set of rules and a revised understanding of the rights and responsibilities of Muslims whose homes and souls are firmly planted in what I’d like to term the Land of Co-existence. And when this new theological territory is opened up, Western Muslims will be able to liberate themselves from defunct models of the world, rewrite the rules of interaction and perhaps we will discover that the concept of killing in the name of Islam is no more than an anachronism.
By THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN
The New York Times, July 4, 2007
I knew something was up when I couldn’t get a cab. Then there were sirens and helicopters whirring overhead. I stopped a passerby to ask what was going on. He said something about a car bomb outside a disco six blocks from my hotel. A few hours later, I finally found a taxi. The driver warned me that it was nearly impossible to get across town. Another bomb had been uncovered in a car park. Next day, more news: a suicide bomber had driven his Jeep into an airport and jumped out, his body on fire, screaming “Allah! Allah!”
Where was I? Baghdad? Kabul? Tel Aviv? No, I was in England. But it could have been anywhere. The Middle East: Now playing at a theater near you.
But this movie gets more confusing every time you watch it. When you watched it on 9/11 it was about America’s presence in the heart of Arabia. And when you watched it on 7/7 it was about unemployed and alienated Muslim youth in Britain. In Jordan not long ago it was about a wedding at a Western hotel. In Morocco recently it was about an Internet cafe. And two days ago in Yemen it was about seven Spanish tourists who were killed when a suicide bomber drove into them at a local tourist site. Wasn’t Spain the country that quit Iraq to get its people out of the line of fire?
Because these incidents are scattered, we’re growing numb to just how crazy they are. In the past few years, hundreds of Muslims have committed suicide amid innocent civilians — without making any concrete political demands and without generating any vigorous, sustained condemnation in the Muslim world.
Two trends are at work here: humiliation and atomization. Islam’s self-identity is that it is the most perfect and complete expression of God’s monotheistic message, and the Koran is God’s last and most perfect word. To put it another way, young Muslims are raised on the view that Islam is God 3.0. Christianity is God 2.0. Judaism is God 1.0. And Hinduism and all others are God 0.0.
One of the factors driving Muslim males, particularly educated ones, into these acts of extreme, expressive violence is that while they were taught that they have the most perfect and complete operating system, every day they’re confronted with the reality that people living by God 2.0., God 1.0 and God 0.0 are generally living much more prosperously, powerfully and democratically than those living under Islam. This creates a real dissonance and humiliation. How could this be? Who did this to us? The Crusaders! The Jews! The West! It can never be something that they failed to learn, adapt to or build. This humiliation produces a lashing out.
In the old days, you needed a terror infrastructure with bases in Beirut or Afghanistan to lash out in a big way. Not anymore. Now all you need is the virtual Afghanistan — the Internet and a few cellphones — to recruit, indoctrinate, plan and execute. Hence, the atomization — little terror groups sprouting everywhere. Everyone now has a starter kit.
Gen. Michael Hayden, the C.I.A. director, recently noted in a speech that during the cold war “the enemy was easy to find, but hard to finish,” because the Soviet Union was so big and powerful. “Intelligence was important” back then, he added, “but it was overshadowed by the need for sheer firepower.”
In today’s war against terrorist groups, said General Hayden, “it’s just the opposite. Our enemy is easy to finish, but hard to find. Today, we are looking for individuals or small groups planning suicide bombings, running violent Jihadist Web sites, sending foreign fighters into Iraq.”
I’d go one step further. The Soviet Union was easy to find and hard to kill, but once it died, it was dead forever. It had no regenerative power because it had no popular base. The terrorists of Iraq or London are hard to find, easy to kill, but very difficult to eliminate. New recruits just keep sprouting.
Of course, not all Muslims are terrorists. But it’s been widely noted that virtually all suicide terrorists today are Muslims. Angry Norwegians aren’t doing this — nor are starving Africans or unemployed Mexicans. Muslims have got to understand that a death cult has taken root in the bosom of their religion, feeding off it like a cancerous tumor.
This cancer is erasing basic norms of civilization. In Iraq, we’ve seen suicide bombers blow up funerals and schools. In England, seven out of the eight people detained in the latest plot are Muslim doctors or medical students. Doctors plotting mass murder? Could that be? If Muslim leaders don’t remove this cancer — and only they can — it will spread, tainting innocent Muslims and poisoning their relations with each other and the world.