Commentary regarding the Intelligence and Security Committee’s report of the July 2005 London attacks.
In May 2006, three official documents dealing with the issue of the July 7th attacks in London were published:
Report of the Official Account of the Bombings in London on July 7th, 2005.
Intelligence and Security Committee, (ISC) Report into the London Terrorist Attacks on 7 July 2005. Chairman: The Rt. Hon. Paul Murphy, MP.
Government Response to the Intelligence and Security Committee’s Report into the London Terrorist Attacks on 7 July 2005. Presented to Parliament by the Prime Minister
These documents include: information regarding the preparation and carrying out of the attacks, the ISC’s findings, the actions and methods of operation of the British intelligence and security agencies, conclusions, lessons, recommendations and directions for future development.
The following commentary will deal with several of the issues raised in the aforementioned reports.
The ISC’s report quotes a 2002 government resolution in regards to the British counter-terrorism strategy. The resolution determined that it is the responsibility of the intelligence and security agencies to work together towards the goal of reducing “the risk from international terrorism so that people can go about their business freely and with confidence”.
According to the resolution, it is necessary: “to reduce the threat of an attack and reduce the UK’s vulnerability to an attack. Reducing the threat includes work streams to PREVENT terrorism by reducing the number of individuals inspired to support Islamist terrorism or become terrorists, and work to PURSUE terrorists and those who assist them in order to disrupt potential attacks. Reducing vulnerability involves workstreams to PROTECT potential targets (buildings, for example) in the UK and abroad…”
The operative and operational implementation of this policy requires a dynamic strategy aimed at identifying the “instigator” of radicalization, the factions of the population that are exposed to the process of radicalization, and the fundamentalist terrorists themselves. Significantly, the British security and intelligence authorities have developed conceptual and operational tools to achieve these aims and have invested efforts based on the experience gained in Britain during the 1990’s surrounding the incidents relating to Abu Katada, Abu Hamza and Omar Al Bakri, concerning the indoctrination and recruitment of young men for Global Jihad organizations.
However, as is detailed in the report, prior to July 7th, the British intelligence agencies did not possess information arousing suspicion of the members of the cell (so as to warrant further inquiry) or regarding the possible planning of an attack in London. Furthermore, nearly a year following the attacks, the intelligence agencies still do not have a clear enough picture concerning the preparations for the attack, the process of recruitment and radicalization of the cell members and the nature of connections to Al Qaeda and other groups.
The committee’s report emphasizes the insights formulated by British intelligence regarding the types of terrorist cells operating in Britain, which are based on lessons learned from Al Qaeda attacks in other locations. These insights, although significant, are not comprehensive enough for the intelligence agencies or the investigations in order to focus their operations on specific locations and/or particular population groups.
The instigators of terror, from the radical preacher at a mosque to the leadership of Al Qaeda, are aware of the counter terrorism strategy and efforts used against them in the West and in Muslim countries alike. They learn the lessons and alter their strategy accordingly. Therefore, it is no surprise that the British intelligence failed to detect the July 7th cell in locations known as meeting places for radicals. The Modus Operandi of searching locations where radicals were uncovered in the past, as part of their list of duties performed on a regular basis, characterizes intelligence and security agencies around the world. The real challenge is to recognize the radicals’ adaptations of the modus operandi in time and to be properly prepared for the challenge. This type of breakthrough is made possible only in a situation where the following three conditions exist:
- Researchers/task groups that deeply understand the Islamic thought process, specifically radical Islamic thought process, and whose members have been educated either in this type of cultural surrounding or have had a great deal of interaction with the cultural surrounding. For this case, knowledge of the language is only one of the elements, but not the most critical for understanding the enemy.
- Organizational and administrative willingness to allocate resources for the collection of data, investigations and operations in fields that are not included in the “essential or desirable” category by decision makers or activities that are in contrast to the organizational concept.
- Basic and routine coverage of the “Islamic Da’awa system” that creates socio-religious mobilization towards radicalization. The outcome of this process, known as “From Da’awa to Jihad”, includes Islamic activists saturated with motivation to wave the flag of Jihad against the West. Constant and routine coverage of this process, not only surrounding Islamic centers known to maintain radical doctrine, but also all of the centers in the public sphere of the Muslim communities, such as mosques, schools, pre-schools, youth centers, sports facilities, Islamic courses, clinics, educational centers for adults, libraries, internet cafes, prisons, companies, and mid-size factories. Individuals who have converted to Islam should also be watched on a regular basis. Routine and continuous coverage of these groups will more easily present exceptional information such as: change in dress, external appearance, adoption of a strict approach to Islam, radical remarks, and involvement in Islamic activity. This information is only the “lead” and requires further investigation. The concept is not to wait for the indication that will lead to the exposure of a cell or an attack, but to carry out routine operations that will generate several leads or clues and gather information.
I agree with the assessment that there was a change in the pattern of the radicalization process and that those responsible for the change are taking extra precautions, including appearance in limited circles in marginalized Islamic activity or Islamic centers such as: home gatherings, country clubs, libraries, and schools. This pattern of activity is quite difficult to detect when dealing with a limited cell, although it is evident that the leader of a terror cell will search for his potential recruits in this type of environment. The majority of activists in the Jihad organizations were recruited and operated in the vicinity of Islamic centers, therefore all of the locations mentioned in the previous paragraph constitute central recruitment and mobilization grounds.
The committee’s report criticizes the statements that “suicide bombs would not become the norm within Europe” and that “extremists in the UK had been thought less likely to carry out suicide attacks because long-term indoctrination in the UK is more difficult than in countries with larger extremist communities and a more pervasive Islamic culture”
The authors of the report expressed their concern that this perspective “could have had an impact on the alertness of the authorities to the kind of threat they were facing and their ability to respond”.
In my humble opinion, The British intelligence’s outlook on this matter is too general and does not address trends and operational strategies. The modus operandi of suicide bombers acting simultaneously is one of the identifying marks of Al Qaeda and has proven to be effective and successful. The organization carries out operations around the world using this method and there is no reason to assume that either Europe or Britain would be an exception. The argument presented by British intelligence that differentiates between the British Muslim population and other Muslim populations and asserts that suicide attacks require a prolonged indoctrination process is very problematic.
This argument cannot coincide with the fact that, according to one of the reports listed above, in 2004 only, 400,000 British citizens visited Pakistan, staying on average 41 days. Indeed, a wide scope of Islamic activity takes place in Pakistan, the same country that has provided shelter and hideout for the leadership of Al Qaeda. Moreover, it can be assumed that it is objectively difficult to track the activities of these British citizens while they are in Pakistan.
When it comes to the process of recruitment and indoctrination, there are no clear patterns. It can be relatively brief and quick when there is a wide enough common denominator for recruitment and it may be a lengthy process as well. In both cases, the community and close social circle of the potential recruit influences their willingness to be recruited for violent activity or to carry out a suicide mission.
The aforementioned process of indoctrination is based on the Da’awa system which is characteristic of Islamic communities. This system subsists on the basis of donations from within the communities and funds donated by external sources such as charity organizations, Islamic funds and wealthy individual donors. The lion’s share of this financing is invested into Da’awa activities such as education, healthcare, welfare and religion. The Da’awa’s real purpose is to create a manpower pool of potential Islamic recruits to advance Islam’s interests and goals. It should be emphasized that the fight against the financing of terrorism does not include the freezing or outlawing of funds and charities that finance the Da’awa system. They are included in the fight against the financing of terrorism only when there is proof that they directly funded terrorism. The absence of an internationally agreed upon definition of “terrorism” makes it more difficult to act against terror, and even more so against the Da’awa system. This lack of definition facilitates the continuation of Da’awa activity and indoctrination, while taking advantage of the West’s freedom of speech and individual rights for the advancement of Islamic education.
Thorough examination of the Da’awa system and the process of indoctrination, in addition to information and idea sharing amongst security and intelligence authorities and researchers from around the world, may shed light on the real nature of this systems’ actions, components and field of operation and will advance prevention and legislation initiatives.
The investigation of the July 7th 2005 attacks revealed the need for the British intelligence and security agencies to expand their knowledge regarding the radicalization process and to formulate a method for combating this phenomenon. The preventative operations are a derivative of the situational assessment, the means and the operational capabilities. There is a need to invest in all three of these factors in order to deal with dynamic changes and challenges posed by fundamentalist terror to the free world.
Two keys factors might assist the fight against global terrorism:
1. The understanding that terrorism has become a global issue, and as such, necessitates deeper international cooperation based on an internationally agreed upon definition of terror and its derivatives.
2. The expansion of knowledge and understanding of all the factors relating to the indoctrination process and the significance of the Da’awa system in the creation of new generations of radical Islamists.