The BBC now reports that, in a development that’s long been feared but was always on the cards, al-Qaeda has, at least in Britain, learned from PIRA and started to adopt the Leninist cell structure. The Foreign Affairs Select Committee warned as much in their report, published on July 2 this year, on Foreign Policy Aspects of the War against Terrorism. Paragraph 15 of that report tells us
We conclude that despite a number of successes targeting the leadership and infrastructure of al Qaeda, the danger of international terrorism, whether from al Qaeda or other related groups, has not diminished and may well have increased. Al Qaeda continues to pose an extremely serious and brutal threat to the United Kingdom and its interests.
and paragraph 21 expands on it;
We conclude that the dispersal and fragmentation of al Qaeda into more autonomous local cells mainly linked together by a common ideology will make it more difficult to tackle the threat of international terrorism. We further conclude that the situation in Iraq has provided both a powerful source of propaganda for Islamist extremists and also a crucial training ground for international terrorists associated with al Qaeda.
These conclusions draw very much on the expert evidence they heard from Professor Paul Wilkinson, Professor of International Relations and Chair of the Centre for the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence, University of St Andrews, and Mr Peter Taylor, BBC (Panorama) and on Professor Wilkinson’s written evidence.
The oral evidence makes very interesting reading; Professor Wilkinson told the Committee that
What we have in this movement is an ideology which appears to be capable of travelling around the entire Muslim world, not just in the countries which are populated by the majority of Muslim people, but among the Muslim diasporas, and it is not really the case that the London attacks were the first instance of this, but what we are seeing is this trend towards recruiting local networks which are, of course, in contact with others in the global network but do not need to go to training camps. They are inducted from the Internet, from the propaganda that is available, from people they meet in the campuses, in prison in some cases, in mosques in some cases, though we must be careful of assuming that the traditional mosque is the place where all the recruitment is done. In fact, much of it is done outside the framework of the traditional mosque because the young people who are angry, alienated, likely candidates for recruitment are in many cases alienated from the mosque community and the traditional religious leaders; so these are people who are got at in different ways; but the very fact that these networks are being created, in some cases in the heart of our cities in western countries, makes an enormously complex problem, and it is a problem, of course, in terms of community relations of trying to establish better relations with the moderate elements in the community who themselves feel threatened by this extremism within their own ranks, and I think the numbers are often quite small, but what we need to remember is you only need small numbers: the 19 hijackers in the 9/11 attacks did terrible damage and took nearly 3,000 lives. Very small numbers can be involved in deadly attacks, and therefore we have every reason, I think, to regard al Qaeda as a serious problem. It is the most serious terrorist threat that we have at the present time and a more dangerous network internationally than we have seen in the previous history of terrorism.
Mr Taylor heartily concurred with this analysis, adding
Can I add one point on recruiting, because the process of recruiting young Muslims as jihadis is absolutely critical and there is a distinct pattern that I have studied in America in Buffalo Lackawanna, in Morocco, in Madrid, in Pakistan and here, and the process that Paul has outlined is absolutely right that potential recruits are identified at radical mosques but the actual indoctrination—the showing of videos, of Palestine, of Chechnya, of Kashmir and increasingly of Iraq—is done privately in apartments, flats, etc, afterwards. The other really interesting factor, and this applies to the Leeds bombers and certainly applied to the Casablanca suicide bombers, because I talked to the mother of one of those, is that by and large the families know absolutely nothing about it. It comes as a deep shock. You will recall that some of the families of the London bombers got in touch with the police, saying, "Have you seen my son?" Answer: "He is dead," and it transpires that he blew himself up and killed lots of other people. So we must not assume that families are involved in this. There is a terrible danger, you are well aware, of stereotyping families and stereotyping the community. That is really dangerous because that is counter-productive.
Another point worth noting from Professor Wilkinson written evidence is (para 10) his contention that
One of the most significant developments in the evolution of Al Qaeda since 2003 has been the way the movement has exploited the allied invasion and occupation of Iraq. Whatever view one may take on the decision to invade Iraq it is simply ignoring reality to deny that the invasion and occupation have been a big boost for Al Qaeda and a setback for the coalition against terrorism. The invasion was a propaganda gift to Al Qaeda because they could portray it as an unprovoked imperialistic attack on a Muslim land.
He continues (para 11),
It is absurd to suggest that recognising the way Al Qaeda has exploited the war in Iraq to its own considerable advantage in some way "excuses" Al Qaeda’s terrorism. In my view there can never be an excuse for the use of terrorism, whoever the perpetrators. Terrorism involves the deliberate mass murder and injury of civilians and is a crime against international law and humanity. However, understanding more about the motivation of terrorists and how they are attracted into extremist groups and groomed to be suicide bombers, is a vital subject for research. "Know thine enemy" has always been a key maxim of successful strategists. How are we to unravel the Al Qaeda if we do not understand what makes them tick? Nor should we overlook unforeseen consequences of foreign policy decision-making, especially when the key decision are taken by a more powerful ally which may also have failed to anticipate and plan for the implications of their policy for the struggle against international terrorism.
Depressingly, though not surprisingly, the Government’s response to ‘We further conclude that the situation in Iraq has provided both a powerful source of propaganda for Islamist extremists and also a crucial training ground for international terrorists associated with al Qaeda.’ was
On Iraq, the Government wishes to remind the Committee that international terrorism was on the rise before the necessary Coalition action in Iraq. Evidence of this includes the 1998 Al-Qa’ida attacks in East Africa; the attacks on the USS Cole in Aden in 2000 and on the French naval vessel, the Limburg, off the coast of southern Yemen in 2002. One must also include, of course, the completely unprovoked attacks on the United States in September 2001.
No one said is wasn’t on the rise, you twerps; the point was that, in Professor Wilkinson’s words,
it is simply ignoring reality to deny that the invasion and occupation have been a big boost for Al Qaeda and a setback for the coalition against terrorism.
It should be added, though, that neither Professor Wilkinson nor Mr Taylor advocated a quick withdrawal from Iraq; having got ourselves into this mess, they argue, we’re only going to make things worse by allowing al Qaeda to argue they’ve chased us out. Though the effect of our remaining there is to provide further propaganda (particularly as outlined by Peter Taylor) for their recruiting efforts.
Back home, though, it seems pretty clear that much of the Government’s efforts to talk to ‘the Muslim community’ (whatever that is), and certainly what appears to be pretty much open season on Muslims at the moment in the press, is at best ineffective and at worst downright counterproductive. It’s all very well to spend lots of money and time on ‘moderate Muslim leaders’ but the point seems to be that they’re not the people to whom the radicals, or the candidates for radicalisation, are going to listen — in Professor Wilkinson’s words, young people who are angry, alienated, likely candidates for recruitment [and] are in many cases alienated from the mosque community and the traditional religious leaders.
And I have to say that, quite apart from images coming from Iraq, Chechnya or wherever, I dare say if I were a young Muslim having to put up with regularly having my faith traduced by the likes of Melanie Phillips and hearing that my auntie, who was sweet though very religiously inclined, was scary and made people feel uncomfortable just by walking down the street (if Irish Catholics wore naqibs, I’m sure my late auntie Mary would have had a wardrobe full), I’d be feeling a bit put out at the moment.
Technorati tags: UK, War on Terror, PIRA, Al Qaeda