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UK: From Home-Grown To Infiltrated Jihadis

UK: From Home-Grown To Infiltrated Jihadis

Author: B.Raman
Publication: Ramanstrategicanalysis.blogspot.com
Date: April 11, 2009
URL: http://ramanstrategicanalysis.blogspot.com/2009/04/uk-from-home-grown-to-infiltrated.html

The arrests earlier this week by the British Police of 11 Pakistanis, who had reportedly come to the UK on student visas, during an investigation into a suspected plot for multiple terrorist attacks on soft targets draw attention once again to possible threats from legitimate visitors to the UK . Residents of Pakistani origin in the UK ---characterised as home-made jihadis--- had played the lead role in the terrorist strikes of July, 2005, in London and in the thwarted conspiracy discovered by the British Police in August, 2006, to blow up a number of US-bound flights. The perpetrators or the intended perpetrators had independently, on their own, decided to organise the attacks and those involved in the July,2005, attacks had then gone to Pakistan for being trained in the fabrication of explosives from commonly available materials and using them in improvised explosive devices (IEDs).

2. Threats from legitimate visitors to the UK---as distinguished from permanent residents--- are not new. The attempted terrorist strikes in London and Glasgow in June 2007 saw the involvement of legitimate visitors---one of them an Indian Muslim student who died of burns after a thwarted attempt to blow up the Glasgow airport. There was no definitive evidence to connect those involved in the London-Glasgow incidents with Pakistan.

3. The latest arrests are significant for the larger number of suspects involved and their arrival in the UK ostensibly for higher studies with legitimate visas issued by the British diplomatic/consular missions in Pakistan after due verification of their antecedents. The issue of the student visas to them would show that they had not come to the adverse notice of the British earlier.

4. The investigation is in a very preliminary stage due to hasty, premature arrests of the suspects caused by a breach of security by Assistant Commissioner of Police Bob Quick, who carried openly in his arm in a manner readable by journalists with powerful cameras a document, which had reportedly summarised the reasons for the suspicion against them. The Police officer admitted the breach of security committed which could have compromised the pre-arrest investigation and alerted the Pakistanis that they are under investigation. To pre-empt the persons figuring in the list fleeing the country or going underground, the police organised hasty raids at a nember of places such as the Cheetham Hill area of Manchester, Liverpool and Clitheroe in Lancashire. The indications till now are that the police were able to arrest all those suspected and that no one figuring in the compromised document has managed to evade arrest.

5. The resignation of the distinguished police officer and the subsequent arrests have given rise to considerable media speculation regarding the nature of any plot in which the arrested suspects might have been involved. It has even been speculated that the arrested persons were planning to carry out simultaneous explosions at crowded places during the Easter holidays.

6. From the acceptable indicators available so far, all one can say with confidence is that the British technical intelligence had probably overheard these persons discussing among themselves what appeared to be a terrorist plot. They had identified them, put them under surveillance and were making enquiries about them. Before these actions could be completed the breach of security by the police officer occurred forcing the police to pick up the 11 suspects even before their investigation had made significant progress. As a result, while the police had been able to collect evidence of a possible terror talk by the detained Pakistanis, they had not been able to collect evidence which would show that the plot had progressed from the talk mode to the preparations mode. The interrogation of the detained suspects should show whether the suspects had made any preparations on the ground for making their talk a reality.

7. During the investigation, the British Police would, inter alia, befocussing on the following questions: To which part of Pakistan the suspects belonged----tribal or non-tribal areas? Where did they study in Pakistan? Had they known each other before coming to the UK or whether they came to know each other after arriving in the UK? Did they have any association with any fundamentalist or terrorist organisation in Pakistan? Which organisation contacted them to persuade them to volunteer themselves for the terrorist strikes? Had they been recruited for the terrorist plot before they left Pakistan or after their arrival in the UK? How were they planning to carry out the strike---with explosives or hand-held weapons?

8. The past terrorist strikes or attempts in the UK were in anger for the British role in Iraq. The anger has now dissipated. The British troops have also started withdrawing from Iraq. Anger over the British role in Iraq is, therefore, unlikely to have been the trigger. However, there is considerable anger in the Pashtun tribal belt in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region over the British role in southern and eastern Afghanistan. Next to the US, the UK is playing the most active role in the fight against the Taliban and Al Qaeda in the Af-Pak region---particularly in the Helmand provice of Afghanistan.

9. There is, therefore, a strong possibility that the plot thwarted at the very beginning in the UK had its motivational origin in the Af-Pak tribal belt. Sections of the British media have projected the plot as of Al Qaeda inspiration. For security reasons, Al Qaeda avoids direct contacts with Pakistanis either in the Af-Pak region or abroad. It prefers to have them recruited through intermediaries such as the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LET), the Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami (HUJI), the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen (HUM), the Jaish-e-Mohammad (JEM) or the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). A direct Al Qaeda role in the thwarted London plot is of low possibility.

10. The LET, the HUM, the JEM and the HUJI have trans-national sleeper cell networks---- all of them across the sub-continent and in South-East and West Asia, the HUJI in Central Asia too and the LET and the HUM in the UK and the US too. The TTP did not have atrans-national network outside the Af-Pak region till the beginning of last year---not even in India. Pashtun terrorists had never operated outside the Af-Pak region. The reported discovery by the Spanish Police of a suspected sleeper cell owing loyalty to Baitullah Mehsud, the Amir of the TTP, in Barcelona in January, 2008, was the first reported instance of a TTP presence in the West. The London cell just unearthed by the British police may turn out to be the second instance.

11. As a result of the considerable tightening up of anti-explosive controls in the West and Australia by the Police with the co-operation of the public, terrorist attacks of the 2005 type are becoming very difficult to organise. That is why the London-Glasgow plotters tried using gas/fuel cylinders. This option is still available to the terrorists even in the West and Australia.

12. One has been seeing since the Mumbai terrorist attack of November26 to 29, 2008, that mass casualties and mass publicity through the media are becoming the driving force of terrorist attacks. It was so even in respect of 9/11, but repeats of 9/11 have become very difficult due to tightened physical security. Terrorists are reverting to commando-style attacks with hand-held weapons to achieve these objectives. After Mumbai, one had seen them doing this in Kabul, Lahore twice and in Kandahar.

13. Commando-style attacks with hand-held weapons are much easier to organise in the West and Australia than attacks with IEDs. There is hardly any gun control in the US. Gun controls are stricter in other countries, but the controls are not yet foolproof as one saw in a recent incident in Germany. If it is still easy for irrational individuals to play havoc with guns, how much easier it should be for well-organised and well-motivated terrorists? That is a question which should worry counter-terrorism experts and which should call for their focussed attention. (12-4-2009)

(The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. E-mail: seventyone2@gmail.com )

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