Osama bin Laden‘s jihadist terrorists struck London again on July 21, exactly two weeks after their suicide bombers killed 56 people (according to the official count) and injured 700, with some 30 still unaccounted for. For their second wave, the terrorists used smaller explosive devices than the first, but they were the same regulation military type.
The second team of four bombers was a lot less professional than the first.
Although the incidents are still fresh and may be ongoing, DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s terrorism experts discern more differences of method between the two attacks.
Whereas suicide bombers carried out the first series, the organizers of the second appear to have intended the bombers to escape alive after planting their devices. These devices, moreover, did not work properly. This slipshod performance indicates the terrorists were insufficiently trained for their mission.
But the fact that round two took place at all is symptomatic of six problems still confronting British security and intelligence services.
1. It is now obvious that a number of al Qaeda teams are standing by in London, and possibly other UK cities, to launch a further series of attacks.
2. A command center exists in England or overseas which issues the bomb teams with their final orders to go into action, selects their targets, procures the explosives and lays on transport to and from the assault sites. This adds up to a small army of accomplices.
3. Yet, two weeks after the July 7 attacks – and hours into the second wave – British security and intelligence are still nowhere near a lead to the bombers’ commanders and operational planners. In fact, they do not know for sure whether these al Qaeda high-ups are present in the British Isles at all or pull the wires from other countries.
New modus operandi – smaller and more frequent attacks
4. The fact that the master plotters struck two weeks to the day after the first attack and selected the selfsame targets, three underground trains and a bus, despite the fact that London was at its highest terror alert level – all point to their confidence in being able to breach British security wherever and whenever they choose.
5. Al Qaeda has changed its modus operandi. For many years, the fundamentalists were wont to carry out major inclusive attacks, like 9/11 in the United States and the 2004 rail attacks in Madrid, and then leave their victims alone for a period of years. Now, for the first time, the terrorist organization, which is on the offensive as we reported in the last DEBKA-Net-Weekly issue, has repeated itself with smaller attacks executed at short intervals.
The only precedent for this procedure occurred in Turkey in late 2003 when the bombers first attacked Istanbul synagogues then followed up at once with blasts against the British consulate and a British bank.
The new method is more typical of the Palestinian terrorists who throw relatively small but frequent punches against Israel.
6. No European city is ready to tackle a wave of terrorism. Al Qaeda therefore finds it convenient to operate in the European arena.
Tuesday, July 19, two days before London was attacked, al Qaeda issued a final warning. The same Abu Hafs al-Masri Brigades which claimed London’s July 7 rail-bus attacks gave European states still in Iraq – Denmark, the Netherlands, Britain, Italy – one month to bring their soldiers out. After August 15, there would be no further warnings only action that would be burnt on the heart of Europe, “a bloody war in the service of God.”
“These are our last words,” said the message. “The Mujahiddin are standing ready for action in your capitals.”
US and UK intelligence at odds on assessing terrorists
The two terrorist attacks on London have put a strain on the intelligence relations between the United States and Britain. The differences between America’s tough treatment of terrorist suspects and British lenience are usually explained on the grounds of greater British tolerance for radical asylum-seekers, be they political or religious.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s intelligence sources maintain that the differences are methodological.
The two British secret services charged with combating al Qaeda hold to the view that opening the door to Muslim radicals from all over the world to take up residence in the UK’s big cities is the most efficient method for getting their agents inside terrorist groups like al Qaeda.
The American services, for their part, say –
A. Britain cannot show a single successful penetration of al Qaeda in lieu of its generous ingathering of extremists over many years – witness the two bombing attacks of London – any more than have the Americans.
B. The US intelligence community holds that the close interrelation between British undercover agencies and Muslim extremists has been harmful; it has given al Qaeda’s agents easy access to Britain and exposure to a considerable body of intelligence data – not only the workings of the British agencies, but also through them of American methods of operation.
At the G8 summit, in Scotland, which was interrupted by the July 7 London bombings, American officials privately rebuked the British for exposing twenty world leaders to unreasonable security risks.
US blacklists British-protected radicals
Washington took unilateral action in this regard when the British prime minister Tony Blair and the heads of his secret services continued to ignore the danger signals – even after the London Underground and a bus were blown up by terrorists.
On July 15, the US acted to freeze the assets of the opposition Saudi Arabian group “The Islamic Movement for Reforms” whose headquarters are based in London. Seven months earlier, the assets of its chief Saad al-Faqih were frozen.
This step cut through the protection Britain has long afforded Faqih in the belief that he is an important Saudi reformer fighting for democracy in his country. The Americans maintain he is a dangerous man with close ties to Osama bin Laden and Abu Musab al-Zaraqawi.
Washington moved again a few hours later against another well-established British Muslim leader, refusing entry to the United States of Sheikh Dr. Zaki Badawi, the head of the Muslim College. Badawi said he was to have delivered a lecture at the Chautauqua Institution in New York. Instead, he was detained for six hours and then turned back by the US immigration authorities on the grounds that he was “inadmissible.”
Badawi later claimed the Americans had apologized for their unreasonable behavior – an unlikely tale.