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Monday, April 10, 2006 

Terrorism and intelligence, or lack there of.

Yesterday's leaked first account of what lead to the London bombings should be the final nail in the coffin of the theory that there is a big organisation called al-Qaida which has cells waiting to attack. According to a quoted Whitehall source:

The London attacks were a modest, simple affair by four seemingly normal men using the internet.'

These men weren't al-Qaida members. They weren't linked to al-Qaida. Only one of them was definitely known to the security services. There's nothing to suggest that they were influenced by radical clerics in mosques, only the suggestion that they may well have taken the idea from a visit to a madrasa in Pakistan. What it suggests is that there are men out there who are so disillusioned with life in their relative countries, disgusted by the policies of government and reviled by what they see as decadent lifestyles that are prepared to turn themselves into human bombs of their volition, with little input from the villains of the piece, the likes of Bin Laden, al-Zahawiri and Abu Hamza. Yet at the same these men seem to live normal "Western" lives. They weren't religious extremists in the way that we normal think of extremists as. This is what makes the spectre of them even more frightening.

Doubtless, they are inspired by such men and their ideologies and theories. But no longer are they those who supposedly order the attacks. Those who share these beliefs are finding each other, using the internet as a meeting place. This is of course the threat which is now being talked up, the one which means we have to hold suspects without charge for 90 days, and outlaw the "glorification" of terrorism.

Yet we have no idea of the amount of people there are who actually think this way. The rise of what is becoming known as autonomous cells with a shared but not connected ideology is the result, more than anything, of the reaction to the September the 11th attacks. We have the words of Mohammad Siddique Kham which prove that:

Your democratically elected governments continuously perpetuate atrocities against my people all over the world.

Until we feel security, you will be our targets. And until you stop the bombing, gassing, imprisonment and torture of my people we will not stop this fight.

We are at war and I am a soldier. Now you too will taste the reality of this situation.

Siddique Khan seems to have been the "brains" behind the bombing. Discounting other theories, such as that the other men were duped by Khan into believing they were running drugs, the others involved were seemingly silent. We still have little idea of why they did what they did. None were living in abject poverty, nor did they have abused childhoods or major grievances.

The report suggests that the main motivation was British foreign policy, most likely the war on Iraq. The other suggestion seems to be a desire for immortality, martyrdom and perhaps even the mythical 72 virgins which they will receive on entering paradise.

What could have been done to stop them, or what can we do to stop it happening again? Well, to state the obvious, there are no easy answers. While the government still refuses to countenance the suggestion that the Iraq war has created terrorism and not helped to prevent it, it's doubtful whether even Blair had pleaded contrition once no WMD were discovered and resigned that the attack would never have happened. Instead, we should look at how despite the amount of opposition there was to the war, that still this country entered it when it had no reason to. There was the dossiers, one after another. There was the constant changing of reasons, from WMD, to getting rid of Saddam on humanitarian grounds, to enforcing UN resolutions, right up to the whispered claim that Saddam and al-Qaida were in cahoots, which seemingly many Americans believed.

Then all of a sudden it hits you in the face. Intelligence. The claims, from the 45 minute one, to all that Powell said in his UN presentation. All of it was wrong. There are allegations that Siddique Khan was on the radar of the security services, then abandoned when a "bigger" threat came in. While the government preaches fear, the intelligence that is meant to be behind the threat is uncertain. The government is still refusing to allow phone-tap evidence to be used in the courts. Surely that has to change, as does the current climate which is accusatory of the Muslim community as a whole. We need to expand the security services and throw more money at it, yet at the same time we need to argue against those who both blame Muslims as a whole and those who say we are victimising them and in a crusade against the Islamic world. Good intelligence begins at home, and this government would do well to realise that the use of fear goes both ways. Unless they are prepared to help the Muslim community in Europe deal with the agent provocateurs within, while keeping a cool head, then the threat of more Mohammad Siddique Khans will loom even larger, and we really will have something to fear.

Related post: Blurred Borders.

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