Newsnight gets hoaxed over "al-Qaida in Britain".
Oh dear. Generally, Newsnight is on the ball when it comes to most things, but it fell far short last night in the bullshit meter stakes.
In typically breathless tones, reporter Richard Watson reported that on the 2nd of January a posting appeared on the jihadist forum alekhlaas.net announcing the creation of "al-Qaida in Britain". The message included threats against both Gordon Brown and Tony Blair, urged Muslims to join them, and generally prepare for battle. Sajjan Gohal made a lot of vapid assertions and cast no light on the subject whatsoever, then "ex-spook" Dame Pauline Neville-Jones was invited on to talk about battling an ideology while saying we had to take the message "very seriously".
You can understand why Newsnight got excited. Over the past year especially, and since Zarqawi's group in Iraq professed allegiance to Osama bin Laden (now the self-proclaimed "Islamic State of Iraq"), various terrorist groups the world over have taken on the "al-Qaida" brand. The Algerian Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat became al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, while the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group has also more recently joined up, even if the ties were already long established. There was also the announcement of the establishment of al-Qaida in the Levant (Lebanon, Syria, etc), although whether such a group actually exists in any operative state is certainly open to question. Closer to home, and also questionable, a group calling itself "al-Qaida in Europe" has claimed responsibility for the 7/7 attacks, but rather undermined its credibility when it also claimed that it was behind the blackouts in America that were most certainly not their doing.
It's undoubtedly true that if a group calling itself "al-Qaida in Britain" had openly announced its formation and said it was planning attacks that it would be a significant ratcheting up of the audacity, if not the competency or potency of takfirist jihadists within these shores. What it doesn't mean is that the group has necessarily any material links with al-Qaida as it currently exists, if indeed it really does exist any more except as an idea. Previously, all those who weren't publicity whores or hotheads have kept their heads well below the parapet for good reason - even though Omar Bakri Mohammad continues to preach and spread his reactionary crap via Paltalk or somewhere else since he was expelled to the Lebanon - if they don't or didn't have some sort of understanding with MI6, they were rapidly put under surveillance and are now prosecuted in a similar fashion.
The reasons for why it's highly unlikely this was anything other than either a prankster or a fantasist are manifold. For starters, alekhlass is just one of the innumerable number of jihadist forums now proliferating across the web, and until recently was by no means one of the most prominent. Recently, some of the most infamous have been taken down, prompting flight to far more secure, genuinely private sites that don't have any sort of open presence, and to replacements like alekhlass. It'd be unprecedented if that site was chosen out of all the others for such a major announcement. Secondly, if this was a genuine announcement that was taken seriously amongst cyber-jihadists themselves, it would have spread like wildfire across all of them; instead it was deleted almost as soon as it was put up. Indeed, if this had come from al-Qaida themselves it would have distributed to all of them as their As-Sahab releases are. One would have expected that such a major happening would have been accompanied like the Libyan allegiance statement was, with al-Zawahiri probably praising it in a audio or video message. It's possible they could want to get this out with a lower profile, as most are going to doubt that there is any real coherent group at work in this country under the al-Qaida moniker rather a rag-tag bunch in autonomous cells, but it still seems highly doubtful. Thirdly, the major jihadist monitoring organisations such as the SITE Intelligence Group and the NEFA Foundation have nothing on this whatsoever, when you'd expect they'd have been all over it, nor have any of the major blogs obsessed with jihadists.
Most of all though, there's no need for al-Qaida to announce that there's a latest franchise operating in this country. We already know there is; the media reminds of that fact as many times as it possibly can. Why do they need to be so blatant and unsubtle in their methods when they have such flagrant scaremongering garbage in the press courtesy of "security sources"? The Scotsman claimed at the weekend that there was an equivalent of a "white army" of terrorists made up of converts to Islam, with 1,500 mooted as the figure. Why bother announcing your establishment when they're doubtlessly only waiting for the command to slip into our bedrooms at night to slit our throats? To be more serious, it's also never been their style in the west: those such as Mohammad Atta and Siddique Khan are far too dedicated to their cause to wave their dicks around online and put a target right above their heads. Supposedly, prior to the patio gas canister jihad there were postings on forums about "London getting bombed tonight." Perhaps if they'd concentrated more on the bombs than self-aggrandising they might have achieved something other than setting themselves on fire.
This isn't to dispute that takfirists aren't operating in this country; just that those that are truly dangerous are the ones that don't draw attention to themselves. Announcing they've arrived would be doing just that. The threat exists, but it continues to be wildly overstated by those whose interest it is in to do so. Sorry Newsnight, you just got hoaxed.