The 7 July multiple bombings in Londond emonstrate the emergence of new trends which have…
Note: This essay will be published in the forthcoming book ‘Terrorism and Human Rights’ to be published by Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, the Hague.
The 7 July multiple bombings in London demonstrate the emergence of new trends which have begun to manifest themselves elsewhere, most notably it appears in Australia and the USA.
The first is that of the self recruited group, composed of nationals of the target country, who draw inspiration from, but may not necessarily be under the direct operational control of, Al Qaeda. The group calling itself Jam’iyyat Ul-Islam Is-Saheeh currently on trial in Los Angeles, is such an example. This body of self recruited Islamists allegedly led by an inmate at California State Prison, Sacramento, were apprehended before committing multiple bomb attacks on military recruitment centres and bases, the Israel Consulate and local synagogues. 1
The Abu Bakr Group, named after their leader Abul Nacir Benbrika, apprehended on 8 November in Sydney and Melbourne, appear to have been another. 2 The Samir Azzouz group, apprehended in Brussels and the group arrested in Holland in early October appear to be connected to the Maghreb and to Abu Musab al Zarkawi. 3
From what we know so far about the first group of London bombers, they all seem to have been recruited in the UK, but two of them possibly trained in Pakistan. Mohammad Sidique Khan, the eldest of the bombers, was almost certainly the organiser and the controller of the others. He is known to have been a figurehead for local young Muslims from his regular visits to Islamic bookshops, local madrassahs, and most crucially the classes he organised in the basement gymnasium of a mosque in the Beeston area of Leeds. He is said to have met two of the others, Shehzad Tanweer and Hasib Hussain, up to five years ago and may have enlisted them at some point since then. The parents of Tanweer and Hussain told the press that their sons had come under the influence of a mysterious “Mr K”; almost certainly Khan. 4
In November 2004, Khan and Tanweer travelled to Pakistan and stayed there for 3 months, returning to Britain in February 2005. 5
According to testimony given to the US authorities by Mohammed Junaid Babar, a Pakistani American computer expert who was arrested following a visit to Pakistan and who has since allegedly admitted his involvement as a planner for Al Qaeda, Khan attended a terror planning meeting in Waziristan on the Pakistan Afghan border sometime in late 2004. It has also been claimed that Khan met Hambali, and other leaders of the Jemaah Islamiah in Malaysia and the Philippines in 2001. 6
Yet another report notes that an earlier planning meeting took place in March, in the same region, at which the chief matter of business were plans to launch major attacks against Britain, and which was attended by Abu Faraj al Libbi, said now to be the senior Al Qaeda planner. 7
According to speculative reports in the British media, it is likely that they planned the attacks then. Speculation also surrounds the video recording that Khan made and which was released by Al Jazeera after the bombings. In the video, Khan claimed responsibility for the attacks in the name of Al Qaeda but did not state that he had received orders from them. Although the video was released on 1 September, it is also possible that it was not made while Kahn was visiting Pakistan, seven or eight months earlier, but rather it was recorded in Britain closer to 7 July and was taken by courier or posted to Al Qaeda contacts. In the video, Khan is shown holding a pen, whereas other suicide bombers have almost always been filmed with a weapon. The backdrop is also unlike others shown on Al Qaeda videos, lending further support to this theory. If so, some infrastructure in the UK remains in place, despite the many arrests in recent years. 8
A connection between the three and the Pakistani Lashkar e Taiba (LET- Army of the Pure), which is part of the wider Al Qaeda network has also been suggested. Some LET contacts in Britain were detained in March 2005 when Palvinder Singh, Mohammed Khan and Frzana Khan were arrested and charged with terrorism-related offences. Their arrests were said to be part of a wider major operation to roll up LET’s British infrastructure. 9
In a move to stem the flow of foreign-born Muslim students, studying at radical madrassas in Pakistan, General Musharraf announced on 29 July that an estimated 1,400 foreign students would have to leave and that study visas would no longer be issued. However, this is unlikely to put a stop to their enrolment, given that many young people return to Pakistan on family visits, especially in the summer months, and many madrassas are sited in areas of the country where the government does not exercise complete control, particularly in the tribal homelands in the North West frontier region abutting Afghanistan. 10
The second trend, again seen elsewhere, concerns the composition of the group carrying out the attack. This was a mixture of “born again” Muslims and criminals radicalised in prison and possibly recruited there, who came together voluntarily or through the efforts of one individual, or some outside agency, to plan and carry out the attack.
Again there are strong similarities with the Los Angeles and Australian groups. None of the 7 July bombers had been identified as having close links to known Jihadi networks and although they were clearly known to the relevant agencies, they were not considered threats. The apparent loose arrangement of the groups includes the third and fourth members. Jermaine Lindsey, the Jamaican born convert to Islam who came from Huddersfield, 20 miles from Leeds, but was living in Aylesbury, appears at first sight to be the odd one out. We now learn, however, from press reports that his telephone number was stored on Hussain’s mobile phone, and a bystander reported that the two had met in October 2004 in the Leeds Grand Mosque. 11
The fourth member of the group, Habbib Hussain, may have been a late addition to the plot. He did not participate in the reconaissance mission of 28 June; he appears not to have been a member of the tight-knit group of Beeston-based Islamists who trained together and who went white water rafting in June; he failed to detonate his bomb on the Underground, but on a bus near Euston station after failing to make contact with the others from his mobile phone, and only after he had eaten a final meal at MacDonalds at Kings Cross station. As a strict Muslim, which the others had become, he would not have eaten non-Halal meat and indeed he was known more for his night clubbing and drugs usage than for his Islamist convictions. Again, the similarities with the Australian and American would-be bombers are there.12
Connections to Al Qaeda or other terrorist groups did not become apparent until well after 7 July and are only emerging into the public domain now. The group may thus, in some senses, have been a self directing one, probably able to choose the time and location of it’s attacks and with little element of outside control. No internet or phone connections have so far been reported between them and any central command and control. As with the March 2004 Madrid railway bombers, this appears to have been a network based on personal contact, where a single person was a kind of catalyst.
Both Balthazar Garzon, the Spanish counter terrorism magistrate, and Marc Sageman, the American researcher, have described the spontaneously generated loose constellations of young Muslim men defined by a system of personal relationships which characterise this emerging trend of terrorism, rather than the hierarchically controlled discrete cells which characterise the 9/11 terrorists and their immediate predecessors and successors. For these activists, Al Qaeda is an ideological reference point and an inspiration rather than a superior level in the chain of command.13
The French domestic security service head recently noted that
“We are seeing a terrorist threat that keeps changing… Often the groups are not homogenous, but a variety of blends. Hard-core Islamists are mixing with petty criminals… people of different backgrounds and nationalities are working together. Some are European-born or have duel nationalities that make it easier for them to travel. The networks are much less structured than we used to believe. Maybe it’s the mosque that brings them together, maybe it’s the prison, maybe it’s the neighbourhood. And that makes it much more difficult to identify and uproot them.” 14
The US State Department’s 2004 report also refers to this new phase in the development of terrorism, one in which local groups inspired by Al Qaeda organise and carry out attacks with little or no support or direction from Al Qaeda itself.15 The Australian Abu Bakr group had been under surveillance for over a year and included a mixture of known political activists and others who had no other profile, save for those surveilling them. The stockpiling of dangerous chemicals, purchased at local shops, prompted their arrests before they could carry out their attacks. All were Australian nationals, although some are said to have been born in the Lebanon. Benbrika himself was born in Algeria.16
The third emerging trend is that of minimal cost terrorism. In all, it is estimated that the 7 July bomb components cost no more than a few hundred pounds. Even if the cost of travel to Pakistan, which two of the bombers undertook, is factored in, the overall costs still total no more than a few thousand pounds. Such sums were easily affordable by the terrorists themselves without resorting to outside funding, either from Al Qaeda or its offshoots, or the use of criminal enterprise which has been a characteristic of other recent terrorist plots.
A UN report published in August 2004, quantifies the cost of recent major terrorist attacks. It suggested that the Madrid train bombings in March 2004 cost only $10,000; the Istanbul truck bomb attacks in November 2003 cost $40,000; the Marriot Hotel bombing in Jakarta in August 2003 cost $30,000; the USS Cole attack in October 2000 cost $10,000.17
Of course these estimates do not take into account any training costs, the establishment of front companies or money laundering enterprises, but it does reinforce the point that terrorism has become a cheap form of warfare and one we are likely to see more of now that Al Qaeda’s funding role has been diminished, and as local groups enact the ideology. A recently published report by Joshua Prober for the Washington Institute attempts to estimate infrastructure costs and lists the various associated on-costs of training, renting, accomodation, maintaining communication networks, purchasing electronic equipment etc. He makes the vital and obvious point that money will always be necessary to fund attacks, however cheap the component costs for the bombs may be.18
Prober quotes US Treasury Department Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Crime, Stuart Levy, who had noted in August 2004 that:
“The cost of financing terrorist activity cannot be measured by the cost of a primitive destructive act. The maintenance of those terrorist networks, like Al Qaeda which threaten our national security, is expensive… Groups like Al Qaeda must spend money for many purposes – to recruit, train, travel, plan operations, and bribe corrupt officials for example.” 19
Levy had observed that all terrorist acts leave a money trail which leads back to the originators. He argued that stemming the flow of funds can delay or prevent attacks even when the cost of the explosives remains relatively low. This is an important point, and one now aggressively pursued by the UN and many governments, but as the two London attacks and the US and Australian plots have suggested, the self recruiting nature of these newer, younger terrorists emphasises this emerging trend where there are few if any on-costs, as their connection to Al Qaeda is limited solely to ideology.
These terrorists, for the most part, may not have trained in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq or Chechnya. Their connection to Al Qaeda is limited to inspiration. They can download bomb manuals from the internet and they can purchase the components at hardware stores and chemists. For this reason, and recognising and promoting the development, Al Qaeda and it’s offshoots have now launched a ‘virtual university’ for would-be terrorists on line, which provides them with all they need to carry out attacks.
In October a posting on the Al-Farouk jihadi forum
(www.al-farouk.com) by Ahmad al-Wathiq bi-Llah, the “Deputy General Amir” of the Global Islamic Media Front (GIMF), announced what it referred to as the “Al Qaeda University of Jihad Studies”. The accompanying statement explained that “Al Qaeda is an organisation, a state and a university, this is a fact which cannot be denied.” 20
It goes on to note that “Since the events of the USS Cole and Manhattan, hundreds of Muslims from all corners of the world have joined this global jihadist university, studying all the sciences, rules and methods of jihad.”
According to press reports, Wassem Mughal, arrested at the beginning of November and who was charged with two others with terrorism offences at the Old Bailey during the first week of November 2005, had a DVD in his bedroom called “Martyrdom Operations Vest” which had information “likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism”. Another charge refers to a piece of paper allegedly found in his bedroom, with information about a recipe for rocket propellant, and guidance on causing an explosion. 21
The police raid on the Manchester home of Anas al Liby in 2000, led to the discovery of the first known jihadi terrorist manual, although American anarchists and far right activists had posted bomb making manuals years before.
Clearly therefore, the internet plays a vital role in educating would-be terrorists. As the post 9/11 investigations showed, it also plays a vital role in the command and control processes. But it should be remembered that the internet in itself does not lead to terrorism. This needs face to face interaction and the formation of social networks or cliques, which as Sageman points out, are important in reinforcing individual commitment to jihad. No one goes straight from reading terror manuals on the internet to becoming a terrorist. Here, the role of the Salafi Islamist organisations has been sadly underestimated. Hizb ut Tahrir and Al Muhajiroun, or its successor the Saviour Sect, and the Supporters of Shariah are vital in this process.
They provide the conveyer belt which starts by radicalising young Muslims and ends with some of them becoming terrorists.
Sageman describes the highly connected hubs which have dominated the architecture of the Global Salafi Jihad: the Central Staff; the Core Arabs, the Maghreb Arabs; the South East Asian groups. These are all large clusters of activists built around hubs, which may in fact be dominant figures. As their importance diminishes, as a result of degrading or interdiction, the role of other groups will emerge and increase. Here the hub becomes ever more important: it is the centre which recruits, motivates and directs. In Britain this was, to a large extent, Omar Mahmoud Othman (Abu Qatada), Mustafa Kamel (abu Hamza al Masri) and to a lesser extent Omar Bakri Mohammed and others. This role may now revert to two other hubs. The first could be the returning Iraq veterans (although the police and services are alive to this possibility); the other will be what Sageman calls ” the larger disconnected and unorganised loose networks of small cliques and singletons ” who are politicised and radicalised by world events and society racism and whose frustrations are nurtured and channelled by the Salafi groups. 22
The need for open-minded vigilance is therefore vital in the future. The security and law enforcement agencies are reported to have lost interest in Khan and other 7 July bombers because they did not fit their preconceived notions of what and who is a terrorist.
Sageman’s study, and other studies, prove that there is no typical terrorist profile. Salafi terrorists come from all socio-economic levels, nationalities, family backgrounds, and levels of educational attainment. We adopt a narrow view at our peril.
1. For useful analyses of the self recruitment process, see for example:
Between al – Andalus and a failing integration – Europe’s pursuit of a long-term counterterrorism strategy in the post – al – Qaeda era, Egmont Paper 5, Royal Institute for International Relations (IRRI-KIIB) Brussels, May 2005,
Radicalisation tendencies, Annual Report 2004 AIVD Dutch General Intelligence and Security Service,
Al Qa’ida – An Expanded Global Network of Terror, Magnus Ranstorp, RUSI Journal, London June 2005.
Jihad in Europe: The Wider Context, Fidel Sendagorta, Survival, International Institute for Strategic Studies, London Vol 47, No 3, Autumn 2005.
The Jihad – change and continuation. IISS Strategic Comments, London, Vol 11 Issue 7, September 2005.
2. Pre-dawn raids net terrorism suspects, Tracey Bowdon, The 7.30 Report, Australian Broadcasting Corporation, broadcast 8 November 2005
Terrorism suspects to remain in high security prisons, ABC Online, 12 November 2005
Australian police foil ‘catastrophic’ attack and seize 17, Roger Maynard; Times Online, 19 November 2005.
3. Counterterrorism Chief: suspected French terror cell had links to al-Zarkawi, Associated Press, 14 October 2005, quoted in SITE Institute Bulletin, 14 October 2005.
4. Circles of hate: Why the search for the London bombers is still far from over, Raymond Whitaker, Francis Elliot, Sophie Goodchild and Paul Lashmar, The Independent on Sunday, London, 31 July 2005.
5. Revealed: British bomber had links with al-Qa’ida; Francis Elliot, Raymond Whitaker, Paul Lashmar and Severin Casell, The Independent, London, 17 July 2005, news.independent.co.uk/uk/crime/article299680.ece
6. 7 July bomber filmed last year, BBC
7. Pakistan Remains Terrorist Haven, Musharraf’s Moves Fail to Rein in Militant Groups: Probing links to London, Jay Solomon, Zahid Hussain, Keith Johnson and David Crawford, The Asian Wall Street Journal, 22 July 2005.
8. Al-Jazeera website carries more on Al-Zawahiri statement. Aljazeera.net website, Doha, in Arabic, 2 September 2005, BBC Monitoring (which publicised the full text of both Khan’s and Al-Zawahiri’s online statements, noting the difference between the latter’s video tape broadcast and the later text published online)
Defiant message from bomber was filmed on British soil, claim security services, Kim Sengupta, The Independent, London, 3 September 2005.
9. Jay Solomon, Zahid Hussain, Keith Johnson and David Crawford
10. Pakistan to expel madrassa foreigners, Peter Foster, The Daily Telegraph, London, 30 July 2005
11. London bombings: the truth emerges, Jason Bennetto and Ian Herbert, The Independent, London, 13 August 2005.
London bombers ‘filmed 18 months before attack’, Ben Taylor Daily Mail, London 26 October 2005
12. Tube suicide bomber argued with cashier hours before blast, Jason Bennetto, The Independent, London, 31 October 2005.
13. Eurojihadis: A new generation of terror, Shann Waterman, UPI,
London, 2 June 2005.
Mark Sageman, Understanding Terror Networks, University of
Pennsylvania Press, Philadelphia, 2004, pp 137-173.
14. Europe Meets the New Face of Terrorism, Elaine Sciolino, The New York Times, New York, 1 August 2005.
15. Country reports on Terrorism 2004. US Dept of State. Office of the Coordinator for Counterterrorism, April 2005, Washington DC
16. Tracey Bowden, Roger Maynard
17. Accounting for Terror, Debunking the Paradigm of Inexpensive Terrorism, Joshua Prober, Washington Institute, Policy Watch No 1041, 1 November 2005.
18. Joshua Prober
19. Joshua Prober
20. An Online ‘University’ for Jihad, Terrorism Focus, The Jamestown Foundation, Washington DC, Vol II, Issue 19, 17 October 2005.
21. Two in court accused of plot to build a car bomb, John Steele, The Daily Telegraph, London, 5 November 2005.
Two sent for Old Bailey trial accused of plotting explosions, Stewart Tendler, The Times, London, 5 November 2005.
22. Marc Sageman, p.172