Condemned to repeat.
Despite making a number of attempts since, 7/7 was al-Qaida central's last "success". While other western cities have been attacked post-2005, none of those responsible have been definitively linked back to al-Qaida in Pakistan. Indeed, if we're to believe the documents captured in the raid on Osama bin Laden's hideout in Abbottabad, the hermit leader of the network was having doubts about the wisdom of indiscriminate, high casualty attacks, not surprising considering the damage caused to the image of al-Qaida's brand of jihad by the takfiri sectarianism of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in Iraq.
Not for a second though has the level of threat posed by Islamic terrorists diminished, oh no. Just because they aren't as focused as much now on simultaneous suicide attacks doesn't mean we should relax or suggest things aren't as bad. On the contrary, to do so would be truly irresponsible. It doesn't seem to matter how increasingly ridiculous the plots we're meant to be afraid of are, or how insane the security measures imposed on air passengers have become, we can't question the people who've seen the intelligence and know best. They have our best interests at heart.
Finally then the two other main threats to our security have melded together. Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula's master bomb maker Ibrahim Hassan al-Asiri is feared to have passed his knowledge on to the al-Nusra front in Syria, although it's not clear whether this is in the form of devices or training. Intelligence, we're told, suggests foreign fighters returning from the battlefield may have been persuaded to take the fight to the West rather than Assad, with fiendish undetectable bombs hidden in their luggage. This weekend the Americans started introducing checks on electronic devices, requiring airline passengers to demonstrate smartphones, tablets, etc could be powered on, with those found to have uncharged gadgets either not allowed to board or forced to leave their possessions behind. As we simply have to follow our former colonial cousins, the same restrictions have since been put in place here.
If all this sounds eerily familiar, it might be because we've been through this just a few times before. Al-Asiri is a master bomb maker in the sense that so far, not a single one of his devilish, ingenious devices has had the desired effect of killing infidels. On the contrary, the only person killed by his forays into experimental chemistry has been his own brother, who died attempting to assassinate Prince Mohammed bin Nayef of Saudi Arabia. The attempt was notable for how the bomb was supposedly hidden in Abdullah al-Asiri's rectum, although it's never been properly established whether it was implanted, shoved up there or was rather the first use of an "underwear" bomb, a tactic further refined and then used by Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, again without the desired effect. Also intercepted were his printer bombs, while another device was given to the Saudi intelligence services by a double agent.
Since then we've had a scare approximately every six months, and each time nothing has come of it. 3 years ago almost to the day the US warned of implanted bombs, although without being able to pinpoint exactly which part of the body would house the explosives. At the end of last year Frank Gardner, ever the willing conduit for the spooks' whispers, insisted Al-Asiri was once again refining his methods. Now apparently we're meant to worry about smartphones, especially iPhones and Samsung Galaxy devices, handily the two most popular models on the market. To get technical for just a second, I bothered to weigh my Galaxy S3. The battery weighs 80 grams, while the phone with battery weighs 140. Abdulmutallab's bomb we're told contained 80 grams of PETN, the explosive Al-Asiri's devices have used. 80 grams is almost certainly not enough to pierce a plane's fuselage, that is if the bomb successfully detonated, unlike Abdulmutallab's. Unless these bombs are sophisticated to the point of concealing more explosive in weight than the phone would ever normally be able to without raising suspicions, the chances of one blowing a plane out of the sky are fairly low.
It isn't clear why, having upped the amount of PETN in the printer bombs to the point where they certainly would endanger a plane, Al-Asiri or those he's trained would then turn back to lesser quantities and risk the possibility of yet more failures. Nor does this tale properly add up when it comes to what we know about al-Nusra. Regardless of the affiliation with al-Qaida, it has shown absolutely no sign of being interested in attacks outside of Syria. Why would it when it has a life or death struggle on its hands, against both ISIS and Assad? Charlie Cooper of Quilliam insists we should be worried precisely because of the rivalry between ISIS and al-Qaida, with one group or the other likely to try an attack on the West respectively either to establish itself once and for all as al-Qaida's successor, or to regain the initiative. This doesn't instantly translate into why al-Nusra would be the group chosen to carry out the legwork, when surely it ought to be al-Qaida central itself handling the fightback. It seems more than a little convenient it all works back into the other current scare, that of Western citizens who've gone to fight with either al-Nusra or ISIS returning home and continuing the battle here.
Today saw another 2 men convicted of terrorism offences for fighting in Syria, despite there being no evidence whatsoever to suggest they posed a threat to the UK. It also comes after, of all people, former head of MI6 Richard Dearlove gave a speech arguing the terrorist threat has been exaggerated by both politicians and the media. As head of MI6 post 9/11 he was up to his neck in both rendition and the dissemination of intelligence on Iraq, likely to be criticised by the Chilcot inquiry. His message is, despite what others have been insisting, the rise of ISIS (or the Islamic State, as it is now pretentiously insisting it be called in its umpteenth name change) is related to the Arab spring and the on-going proxy war between Sunni Saudi Arabia/Qatar and Shia Iran more than anything else. Those going to fight in Syria are doing so not as a first step towards targeting the West, but due to a sense of religious duty as much an adherence to takfirist ideology. This doesn't make them pleasant, liberal people by any stretch of the imagination, but it also hardly means they'll be coming back to bomb tube trains.
In more sensible times, Dearlove would be listened to. These are not sensible times, as is all too apparent. Instead it's a time when the security services' demands for more power are never-ending, and organisations such as Quilliam have to justify their existence by forever looking for fresh bogeymen. Despite dire predictions, the sky did not fall when the threat was considered its most serious. Nor will it now. You can but hope that by the 10th anniversary of 7/7, we might just have finally got some perspective.