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Al Qaeda’s Threat to the UK

Talking to a small group of academics at London on November 9,2006, Dame Eliza Manningham-Buller, the Director-General of the British Security Service, generally known as MI-5, stated, inter alia, as follows: The MI 5 is aware of 30 plots to kill people and damage the British economy. “These plots often have links back to Al Qaeda in Pakistan and through those links, Al Qaeda gives guidance and training to its largely British foot soldiers here on an extensive and growing scale.” The text of her remarks was released by the MI 5 to the media the next day. 

Subsequently, Mr.John Reid, the British Home Secretary, said in an interview on GMTV on December 10,2006, that the chances of an attempted terror attack over the Christmas period were “highly likely”. He added that the terrorist threat facing the UK was “very high indeed” although he did not think an attack was inevitable.

In an interview over the BBC Radio 4’s “Today” programme on December 22,2006,Sir Ian Blair, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, said that Britain faced a threat of “unparalleled nature” from jihadi terrorism. However, he added that there was no specific evidence of any immediate threat.

On December 24,2006, the “Observer” of the UK carried the following report originating from its correspondent Jason Burke in Paris:
“The Channel tunnel has been targeted by a group of Islamic militant terrorists aiming to cause maximum carnage during the holiday season, according to French and American secret services. The plan, which the French DGSE foreign intelligence service became aware of earlier this year, is revealed in a secret report to the French government on threat levels. The report, dated December 19, indicates that the tip-off came from the American CIA. British and French intelligence agencies have run a series of checks of the security system protecting the 31-mile tunnel but the threat level, the DGSE warns, remains high. British security services remain on high alert throughout the holiday period. According to the French sources, the plan was put together in Pakistan and is being directed from there. The plotters are believed to be Western Europeans, possibly Britons of Pakistani descent. The DGSE say that levels of ‘chatter’, the constant communication that takes place between militants, has not been so high since 2001. American security sources told The Observer that the threat was ‘sky high’.”

The “Daily Times” of Lahore, a well-informed and reliable daily, reported on December 24,2006, as follows: “Police are trying to trace a gang of British Muslims who are thought to have returned (to the UK)to plot terror attacks in Britain after being trained abroad for more than a year by Al Qaeda.Nine Britons, all said to be in their twenties, were among a group of 12 Western recruits groomed by Al Qaeda at a secret camp near the Afghan border to set up new terror cells in London and other Western Capitals.Police do not know the real identities of this gang. As well as nine Britons, they include two Norwegians and an Australian who were smuggled into the Waziristan tribal region in Pakistan in October 2005.They are believed to have been under the command of an Al Qaeda veteran suspected of training some of the Britons accused of the alleged plot to blow up passenger planes flying to the US from Heathrow airport in the summer.”

These warnings and reports have come at a time when pro-Al Qaeda elements in Pakistan have stepped up their propaganda campaign against the UK. Previously, anti-UK speeches in the Pakistani mosques and madrasas focussed on its role in Iraq and Afghanistan. For the last one month, they are also drawing attention to its role in Palestine and in backing Israel. The UK is being projected as the original sinner in the creation of Israel and, consequently, as great an adversary of Islam as the US and Israel. The UK’s role in the creation of Israel has also been touched upon in the latest video-recorded message of Ayman al-Zawahiri, the No.2 to Osama bin Laden in Al Qaeda, edited extracts of which were disseminated by the Al Jazeera TV channel on December 20,2006.

The 30 plots against the UK being hatched by Pakistan-based elements, which were referred to by the MI 5 chief, related to the period before the recent intensification of the anti-UK propaganda in Pakistan. While the British authorities seem to be linking the plotters with Al Qaeda, reliable sources in the Pakistani police say that individuals from the Pakistani diaspora in the UK, who have been coming to Pakistan for interactions with the Islamic fundamentalist and jihadi terrorist elements and for undergoing training, are self-motivated. They are inspired by Al Qaeda propaganda, but do not have any organisational affiliation with Al Qaeda. While there is a convergence of ideology, views and anger between the Pakistan/Afghanistan based Al Qaeda elements and the angry elements from the Pakistani diaspora in the UK, it may not be correct to describe them as belonging to a British Al Qaeda.

It is important to keep this difference in view as otherwise the British authorities may end up by giving Al Qaeda a larger than life size image in the UK and this could add to the flow of volunteers to it. Source reports from North Waziristan and Afghanistan say that individual elements from the Pakistani diaspora in the UK and the Scandinavian countries are being given training only in the camps of the Pakistani jihadi organisations such as the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LET), the Jaish-e-Mohammad (JEM), the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen (HUM), the Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami (HUJI), the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LEJ) and the Jundullah and not in the camps of Al Qaeda or the Taliban.Al Qaeda is still afraid that if it opens up its training camps to non-Arabs, its internal security might be diluted, enabling the British intelligence to penetrate it.

Reliable sources say that, firstly, Al Qaeda is keen for another spectacular terrorist strike in Western Europe or North America in order to demonstrate once again its reach; and secondly, since Arabs will have difficulty in carrying this out due to tightened police and security checks on Arabs, it has been encouraging the Pakistani jihadi organisations to take over this responsibility under its guidance. In this connection, two new developments have come to notice. First, the LEJ, which is the most motivated and ferocious of the Pakistani jihadi organisations, has reportedly set up a clandestine presence in the UK and second, self-motivated individual Muslim women from the UK, the US and Canada have been coming to Pakistan to study in the madrasas exclusively for women set up by these pro-Al Qaeda jihadi organisations.An act of suicide terrorism by a woman jihadi in the UK or the US or Canada is a growing possibility.

There are presently two Muslims from the Pakistani diaspora in the UK who are in the preventive custody of the Pakistani authorities. The first is Rashid Rauf, a 25-year-old Mirpuri from Birmingham, who was arrested in the beginning of August,2006, at Bahawalpur and projected by the Pakistani authorities as the master-mind behind the plot discovered by the British Police to blow up a number of US-bound planes. He has since been cleared by an Anti-Terrorism Court in Rawalpindi of charges of involvement in terrorism, but he continues to be detained for trial on other charges not connected to terrorism such as impersonation, over-stayal of stay in Pakistan etc.The second person is somewhat mysterious. His name has been given as Aurangazeb, without any further details. This is apparently not his real name. The Pakistani authorities say he was arrested at a place called Karak in the North West Frontier Province on charges of having links with militant outfits, but do not give any further details. No source information on him is available so far.

On December 23,2006, the Federal Review Board, which authorises the preventive detention of persons on security grounds even if there is no specific case against them, approved a government request to detain Rashid Rauf and Aurangazeb for 90 days. The fact that both the files were put up together to the Board indicates that they are probably connected.

While the pro-Al Qaeda jihadi terrorist elements have the capability to strike in many West European countries, a study of their propaganda and PSYWAR would underline the UK, Denmark and the Vatican as areas of particular concern during the current Christmas/New Year holiday season.