Thursday, August 28, 2008 

All good hoaxes come to an end.

There was perhaps only two ways in which the "al-Qaida in Britain" story would end: either being completely forgotten after being dismissed as either irrelevant or low-level jihadist supporters messing around, or in those responsible being arrested.

Lancashire police have now brought charges against three men, one of whom has been charged with soliciting murder. It's being made quite apparent that the police or the security services have not foiled any genuine actual plot to kill either Gordon Brown or Tony Blair, just that those behind the message have been caught. The soliciting murder charge is by no means unprecedented - at least one of the Danish embassy protesters was successfully convicted of it - but it still seems potentially over-the-top when seen in the context of online banter which often is extreme and by no means going to be followed through. Since no weapons, let alone explosives have been found in the searches carried out by the police, this further encourages the view that this was nothing more than a serious, but not that serious hoax.

Of course, it might well be that as two of the men were arrested whilst trying to board a plane travelling to Finland, they could well have been going there as a precursor to acquiring materials which might have been used in an attempt to carry out the threat of the original message. Alternatively, and this looks like, on all we know so far, the most obvious explanation, they may just have been three young men sympathetic to the jihadist cause who thought it was a rather spiffing idea to pretend that were members of al-Qaida on a well-known message-board, where, it has to be said, their antics were treated with rather short shrift.

This professing to be members of al-Qaida, when it hardly seems feasible that they actually were, has nonetheless earned Ishaq Kanmi with the additional charge of belonging or professing to belong to al-Qaida. Now, while al-Qaida is a proscribed organisation, it does seem rather extreme for someone only pretending to be a member of the group to be charged with it as an additional offence. Justin seems to think this is not a new addition to our burgeoning terror laws but rather a hangover from the 70s, when it may have been all the rage to suggest you were a member of the IRA. It does though invite comparisons with all the other little Billy Liars and fantasists that inhabit pubs and small towns, claiming to have been members of the SAS or similar while everyone around them just humours them. It is slightly different to claim to be an al-Qaida operative, but it still seems like something incredibly likely to be joked about. Similarly, the charge of inviting support for al-Qaida is probably down to the original message's appeal for other Muslims to join "al-Qaida in Britain" in the holy war, against, well, err, the credibility of other jihadist groups, quite frankly.

The other charges are those similarly vague ones which are recent introductions, the "possession of an article in circumstances which give rise to a reasonable suspicion that possession is for a purpose connected with the commission, preparation or instigation of an act of terrorism" which is so widely drawn that it can apply to any number of everyday items which might still be useful were to terrorist to use them. One of the apparently damning pieces of evidence against Hammaad Munshi was that he and his group had "personal details of members of the royal family", or as they're otherwise known, their addresses. I might be wrong, but I'm pretty sure that the addresses of Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle are not state secrets.

I could of course be completely, additionally wrong about all of this. These men might well have been potentially dangerous - and indeed, we should take seriously all proponents of the jihadist cause, even the more dilettante ones among them - but it seems far more likely that these were rag-tag individuals at the lowest levels imaginable that probably downloaded videos from al-Ekhlass, perhaps contributed, and who thought it was a wizard wheeze to pretend to be the newest al-Qaida franchise, set-up right here in Britain. You can take this in two ways: either you can be glad that even the bottom-feeders amongst the online jihadist community are being watched, and if they step slightly out of line, they'll be picked up and dealt with; or you can be concerned that the ones we perhaps ought to be least worried about are the ones which the police and security services seem to be wasting their time with. After all, the monitoring of MSK and others was apparently curtailed because of more pressing concerns - and look where that led us. "al-Qaida in Britain" has been dissolved - but the real al-Qaida most certainly has not been.

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Friday, August 22, 2008 

al-Qaida in Britain return.

It's interesting to say the least that the BBC are reporting that the arrests made in Lancashire last week are connected to the investigation into the supposed setting up of "al-Qaida in Britain". You might recall that this got certain sections of the media very excited back in January, after a message was posted on the al-Ekhlass jihadist forum which threatened both Gordon Brown and Tony Blair with death if British troops weren't withdrawn from Afghanistan and Iraq by the end of March. As both are still very much with us and there hasn't been even the sniff of a major attack for over a year, the scepticism with which it was treated outside of the confines of Newsnight and the Times seems to have been very much warranted.

The three men arrested, all in their early twenties, were apparently about to travel to that well-known hot-bed of Islamic militancy, Finland. The ages of the men perhaps further gives the game away: if this truly was another franchise of al-Qaida setting itself up, it hardly seems likely that they would have chosen three individuals hardly out of nappies to head it. From the sketches of what we know about the offshoots which have spread across the Muslim world, the leaders of the groups have tended to be veterans of past conflicts, or at least long-time adherents to the takfirist/Salafist ideology which underpins al-Qaida's thought processes. While al-Zarqawi, former leader of al-Qaida in Iraq, now the self-proclaimed Islamic State of Iraq, only turned up in Afghanistan after the fighting had finished against the Soviets in the 80s, he was still considered a veteran. His successor (or at least considered real successor, with Abu Omar al-Baghdadi as a figurehead, Masri serving as ISI's "minister for war"), presumed to Abu Ayyub al-Masri, was a member of Egyptian Islamic Jihad, an organisation formerly helmed by Ayman al-Zahawiri himself. Elsewhere, formerly independent radical groups have pledged allegiance to al-Qaida, such as the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat in Algeria, now known as al-Qaida in the Islamic Mahgreb, keeping their leadership intact.

As a security source said at the time, this was always likely to be the work of fantasists dreaming about truly belonging to al-Qaida. The short shrift their proclamations were given on al-Ekhlass further underlined how even amongst their apparent peers they were viewed as being bullshit artists. If it does indeed turn out these three were responsible, then it will only likely further show the amateurish nature of the current "radicals" in this country.

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Wednesday, January 30, 2008 

More on the al-Qaida in Britain hoax.

Despite all the evidence so far suggesting that the establishment of "Al-Qaida in Britain" is either the work of a prankster, a fantasist or both, the Times today continues the purveying of this nonsense in an article which doesn't really bother questioning the source of the posts on

Al-Qaeda has threatened a wave of suicide bombings in Britain unless all troops are withdrawn from Iraq and Afghanistan and Islamist prisoners are freed from Belmarsh jail by the end of March.

The statement, which also includes specific assassination threats against Gordon Brown and Tony Blair, appeared earlier this week on, a recognised jihadi website.

The al-Qaeda statement added: "If the British government fails to respond to our demands within the last day of March 2008. . . then the martyrdom seekers of the Organisation of Al-Qaeda in Britain will target all the political leaders, especially Tony Blair and Gordan (sic) Brown."

Which really ought to give the game away. If there's one thing that al-Qaida's video releases and statements are, it's professional. They don't make such stupidly obvious mistakes. The article does at least make this clear:

The SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors jihadi internet activity, said it was not possible to verify the authenticity of the statement. But it noted that it had been posted on an open section of the website and not one of the more secure closed forums normally used by al-Qaeda affiliates.

SITE considers the statement of such importance that it isn't currently featured on the front page of their site, nor is any release on the statement among their recent publications.

As for itself, its own view of the importance of the statements, in case their apparent swift deletion wasn't enough to tip anyone off about their authenticity, is more than clear from what it's currently highlighting on its open main page. Linked is the latest video from As-Sahab, "Winds of Paradise 2", featuring fighters "martyred" in Afghanistan, and also the latest video released by al-Furqan, the self-proclaimed Islamic State of Iraq's media organisation, featuring a fighter planting an IED underneath an American Stryker vehicle, which promptly explodes, but the video tellingly doesn't feature the aftermath showing what actual damage was done to it.

Whoever "Umar Rabie al-Khalaila" really is (this might be irrelevant, but a poster on a forum dedicated to jihadist propaganda I frequent is known as umar rabies bro, and claims to be British and in Iraq fighting for the ISI) he doesn't seem to be giving up: his latest effort at convincing everyone that he actually has any links to al-Qaida is to post a speech, currently being advertised with this far from professional gif. Doubtless the security services are keeping a close eye, lest there be the slightest chance that any of his guff is in fact more than grandstanding.

Slight update: Here's the response to the posting of the above banner on the aforementioned forum:

Case closed?

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Wednesday, January 16, 2008 

Newsnight gets hoaxed over "al-Qaida in Britain".

The Mujahideen Shura Council's (now the Islamic State of Iraq) logo.

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 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.

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