Al Qaeda’s Threats Against UK Show Britain Still a Top Target of Jihadists

Posted: May 19, 2012 in HSToday
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A new piece for the HS Today website this time exploring the implications of Abu Qatada being featured in a number of videos or messages by extremists ahead of his possible expulsion from the UK. It looks more generally at the terrorist threat to the UK, something I explore in specific detail for the Olympics in the latest magazine (which is currently available here in the online version of the magazine, but has not been fully posted online yet. Will re-post once it is). In the meantime, all of this work on the UK jihad presages my long awaited book which should land soon.

Al Qaeda’s Threats Against UK Show Britain Still A Top Target Of Jihadists

By: Raffaello Pantucci

05/08/2012 ( 6:35pm)

With menacing pomp and circumstance, Al Qaeda and five of its key affiliates have directly threatened the United Kingdom, this time specifically berating Britain for its treatment of Islamist prisoners.

The new Al Qaeda threats — published on Islamist forums — once again underscore that the UK continues to be at the top of the terrorist group’s list of high-priority targets. And with the impending Olympics painted with a crosshair, the spike in Al Qaeda’s attention undoubtedly isn’t a welcome development to the occupants at Thames House or New Scotland Yard.

Parsing threat from fiction is difficult, but this latest sustained series of threats highlights the fact that the terrorist menace facing the UK will not end at the same time as the Olympics’ closing ceremony on August 12.

Numerous statements from Al Qaeda and its affiliates — the Islamist State of Iraq, Al Shabaab, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb — all have warned the UK that it will suffer dire consequences if Palestinian cleric Abu Qatada is deported to Jordan for his involvement in a series of plots there.

Known formally as Omar Mahmoud Othman, Abu Qatada was born in Bethlehem in 1960 and in the late 1980s ended up in Peshawar, where he is believed to have first encountered Al Qaeda. Although he claims that he was schooling Afghan children in Peshawar, according to Abu Musab Al Suri, a Syrian jihadist ideologue also in Peshawar, Qatada was an active proselyte with many followers who in 1992 elected to cross the border into Kabul.

Within a year, though, he was among a number of extremists who were evicted from Pakistan as part of a wider push by the Pakistani government to try to rid itself of the troublesome jihadi contingent that had lingered in Pakistan and Afghanistan in the wake of the fight against the Soviet Union.

“Al Qaeda sold everything in Peshawar,” according to an Egyptian Islamist who was around at the time, adding that Osama Bin Laden had led a contingent of fighters to Sudan where he established his base of operations for the next few years.

For Qatada, the UK was more appealing, and on Sept. 16, 1993, he showed up in London claiming asylum after having entered the country on a false Emirati passport. Once in Britain he established himself as a cornerstone of the global jihadist scene, becoming editor of Al Ansar, the fiery Islamist newsletter supportive of jihad in Algeria at the time.

This was the beginning of an illustrious career as a jihadist ideologue, a role he fulfilled while living on Britain’s welfare state. In March, 1995, he achieved particular notoriety when he issued a fatwa that seemed to justify the murder of the families of Algerian security officials. Then, in June 1996 he boasted to MI5 that he wielded “powerful, spiritual influence over the Algerian community in London.” But in February 1997 he told MI5 that “he had nothing but contempt for Bin Laden’s distant financing of the jihad.” When he was arrested in October 2002, however, he was found with £170,000 in cash and £805 in an envelope marked “for the mujahidin in Chechnya.”

Not bad for a man on welfare supporting jihad through long-distant financing.
Qatada served as a beacon for global jihadists. One young Muslim Londoner told Homeland Security Todayabout attending a meeting hosted by the preacher in the late 1990s at which one-legged and one-eyed men would attend in combat outfits, clearly fresh from fighting abroad.

Djamel Beghal, a charismatic Algerian who helped recruit shoe bomber Richard Reid into the Al Qaeda fold while he worshipped at the Finsbury Park mosque, first came to the UK to specifically study under Qatada. Many of Qatada’s books, recordings and publications are venerated among the extremist community as justifications for violence, and he’s reported to have been teacher to both hook-handed Abu Hamza (his favorite student), and Abdulla El Faisal (the anti-Semitic preacher whose cassettes Mohammed Siddique Khan liked to collect and who currently continues to preach from his residence in Jamaica).

Recordings of Qatada’s sermons were found at the house of September 11 jihadists, and in 2004, the Spanish Al Qaeda cell responsible for the Madrid bombings a few days earlier attempted to call Qatada prior to blowing themselves up to avoid capture by Spanish authorities. They sought, and apparently got, sanction from Qatada to carry out their suicidal final act.

It comes as little surprise that such a popular preacher would inspire statements from the extremist community when it seems he might finally be deported to Jordan where the government is likely to punish him for his actions.

While denying the cleric has any connection organizationally with Al Qaeda or its franchises, Al Qaeda nevertheless claims that as a fellow Muslim, Qatada deserves its support, which is a sentiment echoed by other jihadist groups. Al Qaeda in particular has warned that the deportation of Qatada to Jordan “will open the door of evil on it [the UK] and its citizens wherever they are.”

Meanwhile, Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb offered to release Stephen Malcolm, a dual South African-British national they currently hold if the British government “deports Abu Qatada to one of the Arab Spring countries.”

Clearly, elevated attention is warranted by these specific threats, yet, these groups also are known to generate a lot of these sorts of warnings, cluttering extremist forums. What should be more worrisome to the United Kingdom is the earlier warning published in video form by the Tehrik E Taliban Pakistan (TTP), a group that has provided training for a number of recent Al Qaeda linked plots in the West. Through the group’s spokesman, Waliur Rehman Mehsud, they warned that the “British government is mistreating our Muslim brothers and sisters who are living in Britain.”

TTP told Britain to treat its prisoners better, referring to the cases of Bilal Abdulla, the Iraqi responsible for the 2007 attempted attacks in central London and at the Glasgow airport; Roshonara Choudhry, the young woman who tried to stab MP Stephen Timms; and Dhiren Barot, a senior Al Qaeda figure who planned unknown attacks in the UK.

Equally worrisome for the UK is that if jihadist groups are going to start venerating all jailed British jihadists in this way, then the United Kingdom is going to have to worry about terrorists seeking revenge for decades to come. Barot, for example, was given 40 years in jail, and since then nearly 200 others have been sentenced on terrorism charges.

While there are a few notable examples of individuals de-radicalizing while inside prison, there is just as much evidence that others are either emerging more radicalized or continue to believe the ideology they harbored when they went in. In the recent case of a group who pleaded guilty to trying to detonate a bomb in the London Stock Exchange, one of the key figures was a convicted petty criminal who was reported by neighbors to have been released from prison radicalized.

Compounding the problem is the international community of Al Qaeda-affiliated groups that has decided to take up the cause of the jailed British terrorists by providing them with sustenance and support while they’re doing their time behind bars. This very likely will extend a problem that Britain’s security services are expecting to stop focusing on in the wake of the Olympic Games. Terrorism in the UK may have burst into Britain’s consciousness on July 7, 2005, the day before the awarding of the Olympics to London, but it isn’t going to end on Aug. 13, 2012.

A frequent contributor to Homeland Security Today, Raffaello Pantucci is an Associate Fellow at the International Center for the Study of Radicalization at King’s College, London, and author of the forthcoming book, “We Love Death as You Love Life:” Britain’s Suburban Mujahedeen.

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Comments
  1. […] have mentioned this briefly in a previous post as it was already up in the e-magazine format, but my latest longer piece for HSToday is now live […]

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