The British investigation into the two terrorist attacks on London on July 7 and 21 has been brought up short. As in the 9/11 suicide bombings in the United States and the April 2004 rail attacks in Madrid, the questions by far outnumber the answers.
British intelligence and security know the identities of the suicide bombers, they have unsubstantiated theories how those terror cells function, but they are short of real leads to the masterminds who worked out how to strike at London’s transport services – not once but twice. They have drawn blanks to these key questions: Who was responsible for the advance reconnaissance for the attacks? Who picked the suicide bombers? How were they selected and from which manpower pool? Who was the operational commander? Who put up the funds?
These questions have gone unanswered up to the present day in the cases of al Qaeda hits in New York, Madrid, Istanbul (2003), Sharm el-Sheikh (July 23) and many other places. They are likely to remain in the realm of the unknown for years to come, while the threats and attacks continue.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s terror experts conclude that this means that since the September 2001 landmark atrocity, the international jihadist organization has managed to conserve its intelligence capabilities and impenetrability in the four years of its accelerated terror war against the West. The way its operations unfolded in London indicates that Osama bin Laden’s organization has gone one better than conservation; its intelligence is now sophisticated enough to come up with ruses for sowing confusion in intelligence and security agencies.
In London, two objectives were sought:
1. To plant in Londoners a fear of terror pervasive enough to make them alter their daily routines and way of life.
2. To wear down British intelligence and anti-terror agencies and tie them down with paralyzing uncertainty so that next time al Qaeda strikes they will be at a loss and easy to overcome. While Scotland Yard and its anti-terror branch is going through the motions of a fast-developing investigation into the terrorist crimes, DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s sources report the probe is in fact severely retarded by a number of factors:
The British investigation’s hands are tied
A. The British authorities persist in dismissing a tie-in between the first round of bombings on July 7 that left 52 dead and 700 injured and the second round on July 21 that hurt no one. They claim there is no proven link. Yet most experts on al Qaeda’s modus operandi are certain that the same hand engineered both. One of DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s senior sources familiar with the inquiry said: “Take a look at the targets; they are identical: three metro trains and a bus in each attack. Both required advance planning. Different perpetrators would have chosen different targets.”
B. British security resources are stretched to the limit laying down defensive measures after being persuaded that the primary modes of public transport, the London Underground and bus service, are wide open to terrorist attack. Even a false alarm, like the fire on a London bus near Westminster on Wednesday, August 3, caused severe disruptions. Frequent repetitions would damage the British economy, hit the tourism industry and undermine national morale.
Even partial breakdowns would wreak painful damage to an economy already overburdened by the cost of maintaining British troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The additional expense of defending London transport and strategic locations in the British Isles, such as airports and nuclear power stations, leaves the security services short of the resources for staying a jump ahead of al Qaeda. Therefore no one can tell when or where the jihadists will strike next.
Two strikes – one to deal death, one to instill terror
Some British investigators are beginning to wonder if for the planners of the July 21 attacks did not deliberately use semi-trained volunteers rather than the highly-value suicide assailants which carried out the fatal bombings two weeks earlier.
Whereas the British investigation believed at first that the explosives were imported from the Balkans, subsequent discoveries in Leeds persuaded them that they were home-made,. peroxide-based hexamethylene triperoxide diamene HMDT, manufactured from ordinary household substances – whose main drawback is the need to keep them cool. This is another strong pointer to the same hand behind the 7/7 and 21/7 attacks.
The main difference between them was that the second bomb team was less experienced and seems to have been assembled in haste. Investigators have found evidence that the first team used cell phones to detonate the bombs with alarms set to 8:50 a.m., while the second team used more primitive explosives whose hand-activated detonators required some expertise.
All four bombings were botched and all four perpetrators were caught.
This is no coincidence. None of the four failed bombers in custody – Muktar Mohammed Said, Yasin Hassan Omar, Ramzi Mohammed and Osman Hussein (whose real name is Isaac Abdus Hamdi and is the only member with some senior connections) – possessed the necessary skills.
But their controllers were not concerned by this fiasco. They were not after a multi-casualty operation, but a dramatic lesson for Londoners that their security measures were no proof against any al Qaeda effort to pierce their defenses and reach its targets. The failed attack by clumsy foot-soldiers sufficed for the tactical goal of keeping up the momentum of fear in London and drawing the investigation’s focus away from the more significant and fatal July 7 blasts.
Even if they were all caught, they did not know enough to give away any information on the organization’s high-ups or its secret plans.
Al Qaeda experimented with new methods in London
But the two operations, taken together, did lift a corner of the veil covering al Qaeda’s latest methods. The international terror group has now graduated to tailoring its tactics to the political climate and its own particular goals in each of the targeted countries of Europe and other parts of the world. Its strategists appear to have abandoned one-shot strikes in favor of consistent campaigns of death and terror.
The Madrid rail bombings were successful far beyond their planners’ expectations, forcing a change of regime within days and the withdrawal of Spanish troops from Iraq. They have no illusions about achieving any gains as sweeping against Tony Blair’s government, or causing British troops to be pulled out of Iraq. Therefore, they are experimenting with a sustained, long-term campaign consisting of as many terrorist attacks as can be pulled off in Britain over an extended period.
To execute its adjusted terror war plans, al Qaeda has established in various target-countries elaborate local networks made up of a mix of professional and semi-trained terrorists used as needed – and not only in London. They will be dispatched to strike other towns and overseas locations.
Such networks may be bound by common ethnic-religious ties rather than local affinity. The July 21 bomb team, for instance consisted of men whose origins are rooted in the Horn of Africa. Too little is known of the July 7 team to draw conclusions. But British intelligence is certain that more terror cells, which are buried in the country, are of common origin: Pakistani, Arabs of different nationalities, Africans, Chechens and Albanians, as well as Southeast Asian Muslims living in various British towns.
London – Morocco – Anbar
Some of these cell members are ignorant of their connection to al Qaeda, aware only of their immediate environment in mosques, local clubs, societies fighting for the Anglo-Muslim community’s just rights – or even crime rings.
But unbeknownst to them, al Qaeda agents are buried among their preachers, friends and congregations and they answer to the same regional command as did the London bombers.
The British inquiry has traced this command, control and logistical center to Morocco.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly recalls that this center was behind the 2004 Madrid bombing. It is run by the operatives who masterminded that attack.
The Moroccan center gets its operational guidelines from the Anbar headquarters set up in western Iraq by Abu Musab al Zarqawi.
According to our terrorism experts, this regional center is the hub of a sprawling logistical structure whose arms reach deep into Europe, Africa and, the Middle East.
Our experts have made some disturbing discoveries:
Since the Madrid attacks, al Qaeda has deepened its hold on the seven million Moroccans living and working in West Europe. The network operating within this community is large and tightly compartmented by operational and logistical functions. Each level has a clearly defined function. They are divided into suicide bombers, manufacturers of bomb vests or bags, couriers to deliver them, fundraising, supplying passports and documents, locating safe houses, and finally, wayside supporters whose job it is to keep terror operatives who are on the move, flitting smoothly, safely and swiftly from country to country in Europe and the Middle East.
British investigators are convinced that Osman Hussain aka Isaac Abdus Hamid could not have passed through London’s Waterloo station, under large wanted posters showing his image, on to Paris, Milan, Bologna and Rome, where the Italian police caught up with him, without those wayside helpers proffering passports, money and a change of clothes. Therefore, Osman, unlike his three fellow-terrorists, must have had knowledge of al Qaeda’s logistical networks along his escape path – or else, those networks were alerted to watch out for him and provide him with the means and guidance for reaching his destination.
King Muhammad is not cooperating
Early 2004, before the Madrid bombings, DEBKA-Net-Weekly revealed the close collaborative connections between Moroccan and Saudi al Qaeda cells and the penetration of Saudi governing institutions – and even royal palaces – by Moroccan terror agents.
These penetration agents are still in place, unsuspected by the Saudi authorities.
It should therefore come as no surprise that Osman Hussain placed one of his telephone calls from Italy to a Moroccan contact in Saudi Arabia.
According to the information reaching DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s intelligence sources, the British appealed several times last month to King Mohammed and the Moroccan government for cooperation between their security services to expose al Qaeda’s Moroccan networks in the kingdom and Europe. The British enlisted Washington’s help to persuade the king to help. Thus far, he has politely spurned every appeal from London.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s North African sources explain that the Moroccan authorities are fully aware of al Qaeda’s broad infrastructure in their country and among their expatriates in Europe. They have chosen not to get into a fight with the jihadists over the London bombings.
The Moroccan regime has established a kind of armistice with al Qaeda at the local level which depends on its security services not touching the terrorists or interfering with their movements to Europe and the Middle East. In return, they have received an understanding (less than a pledge) from al Qaeda to refrain from terrorist attacks inside Morocco.
Quite bluntly, they are not prepared to violate this armistice for the sake of the British.
This standoff is one main cause of the stalemate in the British inquiry into the suicide bombings of July 7 and an obstacle to their efforts to locate the still undiscovered terror cells believed poised for more attacks in the UK.