Archive for the ‘HSToday’ Category

I 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 online in a more standard format and so can be easily reposted here. The piece was the cover story and explores the security questions around the London Olympics, in particular the terrorist threat. This subject is going to be getting a lot more attention as time goes on and I already have a couple of things coming together, but journalists and others interested, feel free to get in touch via the contacts page.

Keep Calm And Carry On

London prepares for the Olympic Games in the shadow of terrorism.

By: Raffaello Pantucci

05/07/2012 ( 2:39pm)

In a decision that took everyone by surprise, on July 6, 2005 the International Olympic Committee (IOC) awarded London the 2012 Olympic Games. Camera crews at the ceremony in Singapore had to swivel their equipment to catch the English team’s response, poised, as they all were, to expect a Team Paris victory. Then-Prime Minister Tony Blair, who had taken the time prior to the G8 Summit he was hosting at Gleneagles, Scotland, to support the London presentation in Singapore, captured the nation’s jubilation when he said “it’s not often in this job that you punch the air and do a little jig and embrace the person next to you.” Revelers in Trafalgar Square in central London unfurled flags of thanks and celebrated long into the night.

This joy was not shared by a group of young men in Leeds, who were instead preparing themselves to make a quite different contribution to Britain’s history. Having trained with Al Qaeda in Pakistan, the three young British-Pakistanis and a convert friend had prepared a series of explosive devices using hydrogen peroxide with chemical detonators. Initially aiming to carry out their attack on July 6, 2005 they were delayed when the leader’s wife had difficulties that required him to postpone their attack by a day. Waking up early on the morning of July 7, they headed down to London where they were spotted, in the words of eyewitnesses, “euphorically” embracing before each headed on to different London transport lines to detonate their rucksack bombs among the morning commuters. Fifty-two people were killed, and London’s joy turned to ash as Britons realized Al Qaeda terrorism had come to their shores.

Now, almost seven years after that terrible day, London is a transformed city that has spent many millions on security, faced a series of terrorist threats both domestic and external and is gearing up to welcome some 10,500 Olympic and 4,500 Paralympic athletes alongside many millions of eager spectators—not to mention the potentially billions of television viewers. As the opening of the 2012 London Olympics approaches, how prepared is the city for the big day?

The Threat

At a Jan. 25 conference at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) in London examining Olympic security, Home Secretary Theresa May clarified that, “We know we face a real and enduring threat from terrorism and we know that the games—as an iconic event—will represent a target for terrorist groups.” With the official security level placed at “severe,” which means “an attack is highly likely” according to assessments by the Joint Terrorism Analysis Center, the terrorist threat is diverse with many different return addresses.

Lindsay Clutterbuck was a detective chief inspector in specialist operations at New Scotland Yard and is currently a research leader at RAND Europe who worked on a project in 2007 on possible threats to Olympic security. She told Homeland Security Today the problem for British security forces is that they “cannot just focus on jihadi terrorism or the IRA [Irish Republican Army]—there is a need to look globally.” This means that, not only do they need to worry about international terrorist networks linked to Al Qaeda or affiliates, but they also need to worry about London being used as a platform by other terrorist organizations seeking to advance their cause in the glare of Olympic attention.

But what exactly does this threat look like? Clutterbuck said it is “hard to see the interest in the Olympics to the IRA as it exists today, except as an opportunity to advertise the fact that, as Gerry Adams once said of the Provisional IRA during their ceasefire from 1994, ‘They haven’t gone away, you know.’” She added that no Irish Republican group has launched a successful attack on the British mainland for nearly 10 years. When attacks did occur, they tended to be aimed at the British government rather than at a large public event like the Olympics.
Well-connected sources indicated to Homeland Security Today that a raising of the threat level in 2010 was linked to a specific threat emanating from Irish groups that had managed to send a viable explosive device to an official site in London.

The desire by Irish groups to attack the United Kingdom is longstanding. As John Bew, deputy director of the International Center for the Study of Radicalisation, put it to Homeland Security Today early last year, Irish groups are “trying something every day” and there was “absolutely no question” they were trying to target the British mainland. However, when asked about potential targets, Bew estimated it was likely they would aim at official or financial targets and most likely telephone in warnings.

The larger threat is perceived as emanating from Al Qaeda-inspired or linked networks. This was the sense of a conference hosted at the University of Oxford in early January aimed at helping Britain’s security forces prepare for the games. Participants discussed the threat from international terrorist networks like Yemen-based Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), Somalia’s Al Shabaab, Nigeria’s Boko Haram or terrorist networks based in Pakistan. Primary among these is, of course, Al Qaeda, but of late, local groups like Lashkar E Taiba or Tehrik E Taliban Pakistan (TTP) have become seen as increasingly international threats. In January 2011, Britain added TTP to its list of proscribed terror groups, reflecting a sense that it was a direct threat to the United Kingdom and that its support networks existed in the UK. As Minister for Immigration Damien Green put it to Parliament, “proscribing the TTP will enable the police to carry out disruptive action more effectively against any supporters in the UK.”

Participants at the conference were particularly concerned by the potential for some sort of assault on the games by a group emulating the success of Lashkar E Taiba’s assault on Mumbai, India, in November 2008.

The threat to the UK has been somewhat persistent over the past year, though Homeland Security Today’s security sources boldly stated they saw the overall threat from international terrorism decreasing. Plots with links to Pakistan were broken up in London, Stoke and Birmingham. In the linked London-Stoke cases, the plotters were planning some sort of campaign in the UK using AQAP’s Inspire magazine as their guide, while the Stoke group was also developing a madrassa in Kashmir that it planned to turn into a terrorist training camp. The Birmingham case has yet to go to trial, though Homeland Security Today is given to understand that it involves individuals who trained in Pakistan and were prepared to be suicide bombers. What is not clear is who was telling them to do this or where they had trained.

More worrying recently has been the upsurge in British connections with Somalia. Late last year, Kenyan authorities disrupted a cell in Mombassa that included at least one Briton—a young convert named Germaine Grant. A troubled former criminal, Grant had been radicalized while serving in Feltham Young Offenders Institution—the same British prison where Richard “shoe bomber” Reid was radicalized and where Muktar Said Ibrahim, the leader of the cell that conducted a copycat attack on the London underground system on July 21, 2005, served time for petty crimes.

All of this emerged at the same time Al Shabaab officially announced its allegiance to Al Qaeda and London hosted the Somalia conference to bring worldwide attention to the country.

So far Al Shabaab has not launched any direct attacks on the United Kingdom, or anywhere outside Africa, but the group has been linked to networks and cells across Europe, Australia and North America. In particular, there have been a number of prominent Al Shabaab clerics now back in Somalia who spent considerable time in the UK and may have been British passport holders. Their support networks were most clearly seen in a case in Leicester where two men were suspected of supporting the group abroad and helping run the Al Shabaab-supportive The men were not charged, but they appeared online after they were cleared and at least one is now believed to have moved back to Somalia. The connections and networks all these individuals leave behind are unclear.

And finally there is Yemen, where AQAP continues to plot attacks abroad as it consolidates its territory on the ground. Since managing the failed but close-call attacks using Umar Farouk “underwear bomber” Abdulmutallab on a Detroit-bound plane on Christmas 2009 and the October 2010 attempt to send two bombs concealed in printers in cargo planes, the group has seemingly slowed down its international targeting. In part this is believed to be due to pressure on the ground and a number of deaths thanks to drone strikes—including one that claimed American-Yemeni preacher Anwar Al Awlaki and his Pakistani-American sidekick Samir Khan. But the group also seems to have decided to consolidate the territory it is holding on the ground. Nevertheless, master bomb maker Ibrahim Al Asiri, whose fiendishly clever devices were able to fool airport security officers at four different airports and British bomb disposal experts who went looking for them, remains at large and plotting.

The potential danger to the Olympics was brought into focus by a police and Home Office report leaked to the press in February. Addressed to the local authorities in Waltham Forest, a northeast borough of London that is home to part of the Olympic park, the report expressed concerns about “a high-level threat of Al Qaeda-inspired extremism from males aged between 20 and 38. The individuals of interest to the police are predominantly British-born second and third-generation migrants from Southeast Asia. There is also interest from a number of Middle Eastern political movements and Al Qaeda-affiliated groups from north Africa.” The report said the risk was driven by, among other things, “perceptions of inequality driven by relatively high deprivation levels, particularly within Pakistani communities.”

In an attempt to address these specific threats, the police have allocated three community engagement officers to Waltham Forest and each of the other Olympic boroughs.

But so far there have been no direct public threats to the Olympics from any of these groups. In fact, when asked, British security officials point to the potential menace from lone wolf terrorists or self-activating individuals inspired by groups’ ideology as the biggest potential threat. As Clutterbuck put it, the jihadis who are a problem “aren’t an organization.”

There is a strong sense that British security services have a very good overview of domestic groups that have made connections with Al Qaeda or affiliates abroad. But when it comes to what can loosely be termed the lone wolf threat, the picture is much less clear.

The potential danger of such individuals was brought rudely to everyone’s attention by Anders Behring Breivik’s attack in Norway that killed 77 people in a bombing and shooting rampage last July. In that case, a lone wolf terrorist was able to maintain good operational security, obtain bombs and guns, and effectively launch a large-scale terrorist attack without alerting authorities.

Beyond Terrorism

The threat to the Olympics, however, is not solely linked to terrorism. In a report published by the Home Office in January titled London 2012 Olympic Safety and Security Strategic Risk Assessment (OSSSRA) and Risk Mitigation Process, the Olympic Security Directorate laid out a five-risk matrix addressing: terrorism, serious and organized crime, domestic extremism, public disorder, major accidents and natural events.

Beyond these threats, Home Secretary May highlighted the “strong possibility” of a “threat from cyber crime [and] from so-called ‘hacktivist’ groups. These groups may attempt to target the games and may also attack the websites of high-profile sponsors associated with the games.” Of late, British police have been under particular pressure from cyber criminals and have been involved in trying to thwart the efforts of the online collective, “Anonymous.” A hijacked recording of a conference call between British police and their American counterparts that was leaked on YouTube highlighted the degree of activity that British authorities were monitoring in the United Kingdom. And since then, they have been involved in a number of arrests at home, but also investigations abroad.

While hacktivists are a risk, however, according to the Home Office, “the most likely (and current) threat is cyber-enabled ticketing fraud and e-crime carried out by organized crime groups.”

In response to questions from Homeland Security Today, Home Office spokesman Richard Worth said, “The cyber domain also provides both threats and opportunities when it comes to dealing with public disorder. Our cybersecurity work for the Olympics will take account of the implications from the recent riots in London and elsewhere in the UK.”

This was a reference to the fact that during the riots in the UK last year, Blackberry messenger and other social media tools proved to be important means for rioters to marshal and target their efforts. In response the British government jailed a number of individuals with heavy sentences for posting inflammatory messages on Facebook and looked into how the government can better monitor and control such online networks.

But the menace that would likely “wake up a chief police officer screaming in the middle of the night,” according to Clutterbuck, is the “combined threat.” In other words, a situation in which these threats converge simultaneously: a riot breaks out at one site, while a bomb goes off in another and hacktivists choose just that moment to launch an attack on communications networks or websites.

The subsequent demand on resources would be difficult to manage and might lead to the system becoming overwhelmed. And beyond the problems associated with the Olympics, there is always the danger of criminals using the elevated police attention in one place to carry out a large theft or some other operation in another. In February 1994, while much of Norway’s attention was on the opening day of the Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, thieves snuck into an exhibit linked to the games and stole one of Edvard Munch’s famous “Scream” paintings. Distracted by the games, police only noticed much later that the gallery had been robbed. The difficulty for London police will be to maintain normal levels of policing in the UK’s bustling capital while also raising their game to meet the enhanced needs of the Olympics.

“Forward Defensive”

On Feb. 22, London’s security apparatus launched a major two-day security exercise called “Forward Defensive.” Involving some 2,500 people, the exercise involved officials right up to the ministerial level and was intended, according to Metropolitan Police Assistant Commissioner Chris Allison, “to test how senior decision makers manage the impact of the incident, the investigation to catch those responsible and a range of issues such as travel disruption, protest and organized crime which may impact on the smooth running of the Olympic Games.” The exercise simulated an attack on London’s underground system, using an abandoned underground station in the middle of the city as the staging point. Actors playing injured citizens could be seen being marshaled by emergency services while police and ambulance services practiced how they would respond to such a scenario. During the second day, police and investigators discreetly went through the motions of how they would conduct an investigation into the incident.

The particular difficulties of responding to a terrorist attack in the underground were brought home during the July 7 bombings, and a recent coroner’s report on the incident highlighted a number of problems in the response. Seven out of nine recommendations in the report were directed at emergency responders—including calls for inter-agency training, a review of the protocols used in emergency situations, a new system to devise a common rendezvous point at an emergency scene, a review of the system to confirm the power to train lines is off during an incident, and an improvement of medical supplies available in underground trains and platforms. An additional two recommendations were directed at hospital staff, in particular asking for them to be further trained in dealing with mass casualty incidents.

Following a model of attack similar to the July 7 bombings involving a bomb in a bag left in an underground train, “Forward Defensive” tested many of these systems, and authorities seemed pleased with the results. But given the £487 million ($765 million) for additional policing and wider Olympic security that is expected to be spent during the games, and the total £582 million ($914 million) that the Home Office reports it is budgeting for the Games’ venue security, it is not surprising that they are glad the test went well. It is a substantial amount of money to spend at a time when the British government is pushing through a tough austerity package to try to help the UK out of its current financial doldrums. As Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport Jeremy Hunt put it, “what we didn’t know when we won the bid in 2005 was that we would be right in the middle of the worst financial and economic crisis since the 1930s.”

In response to questions from Homeland Security Today, the Home Office reported that the money was not only covering the additional policing, but also “making venues secure, including physical security, such as fences, and search and screening equipment, and personnel security.”

What was not clear was whether this also included the substantial military deployment rallied to help at the games. In late December, it was announced that 13,500 military personnel were to deploy in support of security during the Olympic games, a figure greater than the 9,500 British troops currently serving in Afghanistan. Of these forces, 7,500 were to be used in “venue security,” a further 5,000 in support of police, while 1,000 were being kept in reserve as a contingency force. Among these forces are likely to be additional EOD (explosive ordnance disposal) units, since only the Metropolitan Police has a dedicated EOD unit, and the games and torch relay will span the country. Additional Typhoon fighter jets are to be deployed near London alongside surface-to-air missile positions. Airborne Warning and Control System planes will be in the sky, while HMS Ocean, an amphibious assault ship that is the largest in the British Navy and serves as a landing platform for helicopters, is to be stationed in the Thames.

Watching a test run of the forces in early March, Defence Secretary Philip Hammond said the forces would be part of an “umbrella of security” over the games.

This massive deployment was something that Homeland Security Today encountered in person when attending a conference in Oxford in early January. Officials present noted that many of them were being drafted to prepare for the games. During the conference, presentations were made about subjects as diverse as the threat from terrorist groups in South Asia, crowd psychology during a terrorist incident and how communities in the UK were working to counter the terrorist threat. Beyond the British domestic deployment, a number of national teams, like those from Israel and the United States, will likely send their own security teams to escort athletes. A report in the Guardian newspaper from November 2011 broke the story that Team USA was planning on sending an additional 1,000 agents to help with team security.

Keep Calm and Carry On

Security Minister James Brokenshire delivered the key message for the London 2012 Olympics in a comment after the Forward Defensive exercise: “We are determined to leave nothing to chance to deliver a safe and secure games that London, the UK and the world can enjoy.”

With more than 380,000 applicants for accreditation to work at the games needing vetting and the numerous sites and threats faced, the logistical challenge is considerable. But the longer-term problem is the fact that after the games there is likely to be a substantial drop in appetite to maintain the current levels of high spending on counterterrorism.

Security experts both in and out of government suggested to Homeland Security Today that the sense is that if the UK can safely get past the games, then the threat from international terrorism will continue to slowly recede. Since 2007 the UK has not faced a serious plot with external connections that was able to get to the implementation phase. Any plots since have involved lone wolves. This has fed a public perception that the threat is going down, regardless of whether that is really true. That the internal security assessment to some degree matches this perception means that it is almost certain major budget cuts to security are going to take place after the Olympics.

There are implications from this. As Tobias Feakin of the Royal United Services Institute laid out in its February 2012 report, UK Terrorism Analysis, “We currently have in the UK a generation of police officers who almost exclusively have experienced growth in their budgets, so this situation is new to them, and so are the changes that budget cuts will bring around.”

The longer-term implications of this drop still need to be considered, and of course, this trajectory may be sharply adjusted in the face of a successful attack. But what is clear is that some sort of a threat remains. It will menace the London 2012 Olympics and is likely to continue beyond the games. Threats notwithstanding, Britain wants to ensure the games go ahead without any hitch, finally redirecting the public mood that was so abruptly soured on July 7, 2005 and bringing the country some light in dark economic times.



The site

The actual site of the Olympics is a substantial one, stretching across London and down through nearby Dorset, which will host the sailing events. The main Olympic stadium has been completed, at a cost of £486 million ($763 million). It joins a state-of-the-art aquatic center costing £269 million ($422 million), a velopark, a basketball arena, an indoor handball and fencing arena called the Copper Box, the Riverbank Arena for soccer and an Olympic Village. And of course, prior to the games, there will be a torch relay that will cover much of the country. Some 8,000 torchbearers will carry it through more than 1,000 urban areas.

It’s all a potential target set that is worryingly large, in particular since the expectation is that, if an attack were to take place, it would be more likely to happen at a low-profile site or somewhere unrelated to the Olympics. The logic, as explained to Homeland Security Today by a security official, is that the Olympic sites will be hardened and seem impregnable, so would-be terrorists will opt for others. At the same time, simply by conducting an operation in the UK during the games, or any time in the run-up, terrorists could cause an incident the international media would report as an attack on the Olympics.

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.

A short post for HSToday about Lone Wolves, this time offering some thoughts on the countering them aspect. Some more considered and substantial thoughts on this in the pipeline.

What Can Be Done About Lone Wolves?

By: Raffaello Pantucci

12/20/2011 ( 9:47am)

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano recently vocalized a threat that has preoccupied security planners. She said “the thing that’s most noticeable to me is the growth of the lone wolf.”

The threat from lone wolf terrorists isn’t new, but ever since Anders Behring Breivik’s successful massacre in Oslo in July, security planners’ concerns have been kicked up a gear as they realized just how grim an effective Lone Wolf attacker could be. And effectively countering them remains an elusive art.

Preventing lone wolves is something that is inherently difficult. An individual who sits at home passively consuming literature they find online and then decides to construct a bomb or some other lethal device using commonly available material is very hard to detect or prevent. The usual trip-wires that are in place to catch individuals who are in communication with networks of radicals abroad are not triggered. And if these individuals are careful enough, it is perfectly possible for them to stay under the radar until they decide to carry out their act.

Take for example Roshonara Choudhry, who, according to her own account, radicalized on a diet of Anwar Al Awlaki videos and tried to kill a Member of Parliament who’d voted for the Iraq War.

Similarly, Arid Uka radicalized online and traveled to Frankfurt airport where he shot dead two US servicemen deploying to Afghanistan.

Within the US, we’ve seen the reputed radicalization of Nidal Hassan and Abdulhakim Mujahid. Hassan was a disgruntled US Army officer who killed 13 in a shooting spree at Fort Hood, Texas. Abdulhakim Mujahid was a former convict who opened fire on a recruiting station in Little Rock, Arkansas, killing one soldier and critically wounding another. Evidence indicates both men had some level of connection to Al Qaeda networks abroad. It’s unclear whether they were commanded by the terrorist group to carry out their alleged attacks.

The problem from a counterterrorist’s perspective is how do you detect and prevent radicalized individuals from engaging in jihad? If they’ve maintained good operational security, then the first time they will appear on radars will be when they carry out their plot – and that’s something that’s clearly too late for counterterrorists.

Consequently, there’s been a surge of efforts by different forces globally to engage this specific threat. In the United Kingdom, the approach has been to push community actors, social workers, teachers, hospital staff and others to be alert to the potential for disaffected individuals and to set up a program called the Channel Project under which at-risk individuals can be identified and dissuaded early from taking the path they seem to be headed toward.

Several hundred young people who were identified by their community have gone through the process. While this approach clearly also will snare individuals who might get involved in complex networks, the idea is to cast a net that is wide enough to identify individuals who might be operating beyond these networks.

In contrast, in France, a different approach is taken. There, individuals are arrested and prosecuted on the basis of being involved in terrorist plotting. No distinction is made as to whether they are acting alone or not – the focus is on the fact that they have broken the law, an approach that is reliant on radicalized persons showing up on law enforcement radar before they carry out a terrorist attack.

France moves to detain individuals on the basis of suspicion or loose contacts with extremists, and so far, this procedure seems to be working.

For the United States, the approach has been to identify individuals, usually through their online activity, and then send in teams of covert agents to establish what it is the individual might be planning. When an individual proves to be a radical who seems to be working on a terrorist attack, the federal undercover agents will usually assist the individual in order to establish a documented record of a person’s actions that can be used in court.

A perfect example of is the recent case of Jose Pimentel, a 27-year-old New Yorker who was arrested for building pipe bombs that he allegedly planned to use to avenge the death of his hero, Anwar al Awlaki.

A quintessential computer-jihadist, Pimentel operated a website where he posted radical material and spent considerable time gathering jihadist-related materials from the Internet. Alerted to him, police put him under surveillance two years ago. Eventually, police sent in an undercover agent to ascertain just how serious Pimentel was and to help authorities catch him on video building a bomb.

Currently awaiting trial, Pimentel appears to be a case of lone jihadi radicalization that has become all too familiar in the US.

But while this approach has proven very effective in catching would-be terrorists, it is not at all clear whether it is something that actually is eliminating – or accelerating – the problem of lone wolf terrorism. For example, a question that cannot be answered is whether Pimentel would have continued down his path in trying to carry out a terrorist attack without the instigation of the undercover police officer. By all accounts, Pimentel was an isolated individual who alarmed other radicals with his rants and rarely left his mother’s house where he lived and was an occasional drug user.

None of this, though, points to a hardened radical who would have been capable of mounting an attack like Anders Behring Breivik. However, once Pimentel had what he believed was a fellow plotter to conspire with, he moved into action. And this raises the awkward question of whether some lone wolves are actually being created by the very counterterrorist operations that are supposed to prevent them from becoming true lone wolf terrorists.

The approach of identifying possible lone wolves and then persuading them that they are part of a plot might be having the effect of turning armchair observers into active radicals. Who is to say they would have progressed to the point of actually carrying out an attack if they had not had the support of the network of undercover law enforcement operatives around them?

The problem of lone wolves is that it does not yet have a perfect solution. And as the problem evolves, many more strategies to try to counter them will be necessary. But the root of the problem continues to be the Al Qaeda ideology that many lone wolves claim to be followers of, and that continues to find resonance among young western Muslims.

Until this ideology fades, we will continue to see the emergence of more lone jihadists.

Raffaello Pantucci is London Correspondent for Homeland Security Today and an Associate Fellow at the International Center for the Study of Radicalization (ICSR). He is author of the recent report, A Typology of Lone Wolves: Preliminary Analysis of Lone Islamist Terrorists.

Have been travelling where this is unaccessible for some reason, so there is going to be a bit of a blast now as I catch up with posting a bunch of things that were recently published in other places. First up, a longer article for Homeland Security Today magazine from their October edition, teeing up the current state of terrorism and other problems in the UK in the run up to next year’s Olympics in London. A longer piece next year focusing on that is in the works.

Seeking Balance In Britain

Just when it seemed the jihadist threat had faded, British authorities are facing challenges from both old and new sources.

By: Raffaello Pantucci

10/21/2011 (12:00am)

On July 11, Britain’s Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre (JTAC) reduced its threat level from “severe” to “substantial.”

“This means that a terrorist attack is a strong possibility and might well occur without further warning,” Home Secretary Theresa May cautioned while announcing the decision. “The change in the threat level to ‘substantial’ does not mean the overall threat has gone away—there remains a real and serious threat against the United Kingdom, and I would ask the public to remain vigilant.”

But it was not an organized terrorist act that would rock Britain this summer. On Aug. 4, in the Tottenham neighborhood of north London, police shot Mark Duggan, 29, an alleged gangster and drug dealer, when they attempted to arrest him. Police said he was resisting arrest, fired first and was killed in the exchange. The next evening crowds from the African and Caribbean communities in North London gathered to protest what they saw as a racially motivated shooting and general police persecution of local youth. However, some violent elements chose to hijack the peaceful protest and it rapidly raced out of control.

It was a stunning turn of events for a country that thought it had its threats under control and could even relax—even as it geared up security for the July 2012 Olympic Games.

Driven by crowds of marauding youths in London, then in Manchester, Birmingham, Bristol and Liverpool, the riots quickly escalated into mass-scale looting and burglary with police seemingly helpless to stop them. With costs in London alone estimated to be about £200 million ($330 million) and thousands arrested for their involvement, the rioting cast a shadow on the country as it prepared for the games.

The Olympics have long been identified as a potential terrorist target. As Jonathan Evans, director general of MI5, put it to the parliamentary committee tasked with oversight of the security services, “The eyes of the world will be on London during the Olympics…[and] those eyes will include some malign ones that will see an opportunity to gain notoriety and to inflict damage.” But the riots showed that it was not only terrorist threats that were a potential spoiler.

At press time, it remained unclear what exactly sparked the riots. Unsurprisingly, politicians tended to cast blame as it suited their political constituencies. Prime Minister David Cameron deployed a stern conservative response highlighting how “broken families” were to blame and that there was a “moral collapse” going on in the country. This reflected a line taken by Home Secretary Theresa May in the immediate wake of the riots when she referred to the rioting as “looting and thuggery” and promised a firm police response.

Opposition Labour leader Ed Miliband, on the other hand, hinted that poverty likely played a role and that the excessive greed shown by bankers during the financial crisis fed the public rage that erupted so violently in early August. This echoed Labour’s London mayoral candidate (and former mayor) Ken Livingstone’s repeated claims on television as the riots took place that the austerity package passed by the government and the lack of job creation underlaid the troubles.

But while there was a lack of clarity about what caused the riots, it was clear that British police failed to maintain order in the capital city for considerable periods of time. As rioting spread beyond London to Birmingham, Manchester and other major cities, people started doubting the government’s capacity to maintain public order.

Regaining control

After the initial evening’s chaos in London, police took a heavy hand. The Metropolitan Police force flooded the streets with an additional 10,000 officers. Auxiliary officers were called in to support full-time staff and were asked to pull 12-hour, all-night shifts. Once the streets were reclaimed, the next move was to release thousands of still photos from closed circuit television cameras in city centers, asking the public to identify individual rioters.

Nevertheless, questions were asked about why things got so out of hand in the first place. One suggested reason was that the police had been distracted by the recent loss of a number of senior leaders in a tabloid newspaper phone hacking  and bribery scandal.

Acting police head Tim Goodwin reassured the public that police had the situation under control, but politicians concluded that not enough was being done and asked Bill Bratton, former head of both the New York and Los Angeles police departments, to come and provide his advice.

Meanwhile, former London Police Chief and current mayoral candidate Brian Paddick argued that Bratton’s hard-line approach was unlikely to work in the United Kingdom and may contravene the European Court of Human Rights. Instead, Paddick advocated a more holistic approach to policing in the UK. Underpinning all of this was a need “to give everyone enough of a stake in society that they feel they want to work within its norms and values … and a belief that the police can and will protect them,” said Paddick in an interview on CNN.

But overall, the general sense in London was that this spasm of violence was largely beyond comprehension. As reports came in of schoolteachers and affluent residents among those convicted for involvement in the rioting, the economic rationales became further confused. Londoners interviewed byHomeland Security Today varied in apportioning blame, with most calling it criminal youth taking advantage of a chaotic situation, while others pointed out how much more dramatic events were on television than in real life. What was clear, however, was there had been a dramatic loss of control by Britain’s police services—something they compensated for during the August Notting Hill carnival in central London. The annual festival has been a target for troublemakers in the past, but this time police arrived in heavy numbers in a show of strength—deploying as many officers as they did in the wake of the rioting and forcing the event to close an hour early.

An unchanging assessment

Security services felt on much surer ground when looking at the terrorist threat from Islamist extremists. For all the disorder of the riots, the government’s basic assessment of the jihadist terrorist threat did not change. On July 12, the Home Office issued CONTEST, its third Counterterrorism Strategy.

CONTEST highlighted that “international counterterrorism work since 9/11 has made considerable progress in reducing the threats we face. Al Qaeda is now significantly weaker than it has been for ten years.”

But at the same time, the threat has fragmented in a variety of different directions. Heightened threats emanate from al Qaeda affiliates globally and from Northern Irish dissident groups, as documented both by CONTEST and Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC), which oversees Britain’s intelligence community.

CONTEST was the culmination of a series of reviews of British counterterrorism strategy. In the weeks prior to its publication, the government published its review of the key “prevent” aspect of the strategy—the part that attempts to stop individuals from choosing a path of terrorism. It concluded that the strategy needed to be redefined.

This came in the wake of the coroner’s inquest into the July 7, 2005, bombings, which absolved the security services of blame for not preventing them, but also showed that more could have been done.

No surprise

The lowering of the general threat assessment by CONTEST and the Home Office was not surprising. Counterterrorism experts and watchers had long noted that the foreign threat in the United Kingdom seemed to have gone down.

Security agencies remained on high alert, as highlighted in February 2011 when MI5 Director Evans stated “the amount of surveillance that we undertook with police colleagues [in the past year] was the highest at any point that we have ever had to put out to the streets,” but this translated to fewer plots coming to fruition and a general sense that the threat was in hand.

At the same time, however, the government remained concerned that “we continue to identify far more people engaged in terrorist activity in this country than we can successfully prosecute and convict,” Evans said. He added the alarming fact that, “we know that some of those [terrorist] prisoners are still committed extremists who are likely to return to their terrorist activities.”

For example, in a plot currently working its way through the courts, a member of a network planning a series of attacks in London is believed to have been radicalized in prison. Afghan security services, meanwhile, were shocked to discover that a man responsible for an April suicide bombing of the defense ministry in Kabul was radicalized in a British prison. In the next few years a number of other individuals implicated in serious terrorist plots will be released onto the streets.

What changed in the minds of the security services, though, was the provenance of the terrorist threat to the UK. According to CONTEST, “over the last year the threat to the UK and to UK interests from terrorists in Yemen and Somalia has significantly increased. People from this country [the UK] are also traveling to these areas to fight. Some are returning here to plan and conduct operations.”

An ISC report quoted MI5 as assessing “that any short-term attacks against Western targets in retaliation for the death of [O]sama bin Laden are more likely to be carried out by AQAP [Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula in Yemen] than al-Qaeda core.”

Additionally, there has been a noticeable increase in Northern-Irish-related terrorism. According to CONTEST, in 2009 there were 22 attacks. In 2010 there were 40, and this year so far there have been 16, with “many more successfully disrupted.” This comes alongside a spike in rioting in the region, most recently in Portadown, County Armagh, that resulted in a series of arrests and numerous police and civilian injuries.

But this story of threat diversification is not new. Nor is a general sense in the United Kingdom that the country still faces danger from terrorism, albeit from many sources. As James Brandon, director of research at UK counter-radicalization think tank Quilliam, told Homeland Security Today in an interview: “The threat has clearly now evolved. It is no longer the traditional threat that emanated from people of Pakistani origin going to train in South Asia. This is no longer going on to the same scale. But there are new challenges.”

Among them, Al Shabaab in Somalia has attracted Western recruits, Brandon said, while instability continues to mount in Yemen, which has a long-established link with jihadists in the UK. Beyond those countries, terrorists potentially could exploit the widespread instability across the Middle East.

But, he added, “at present something seems to be missing from the equation to translate this into visible terrorism and violence.”

Islamic radicalization is not taking place on the scale it was, he said. Hard-core salafism and deobandism remain a significant force, but by Brandon’s analysis, many of the key groups that fed Al Qaeda in the past no longer have the reach in the community they once did.

“The reason for this is two-fold. First, there is no current-affairs catalyst pushing people from non-violence into violence. Previously, there were issues like Iraq, Afghanistan or the Danish cartoons that would push them over the edge. The catalyst to push them to go the final yard is simply not there today.

“Secondly, pro-jihadist voices are a lot subtler than they used to be. They may still be around, but they do not reach the same audience and have to play their cards more carefully,” he said.

From the observations of counterterrorism experts and UK government reports, it seems the overall terrorist threat is ongoing, but it’s hard to say whether it is on the wane or on the increase.

Instead, they point to the fact that the UK has not faced a successful attack since July 2005, though there have been a number of very near misses. Most expect that this is likely to remain the general trend for the foreseeable future, with a particular spike in attention around the upcoming Olympic Games.

Lone wolves and the right wing

An unpredictable element in the mix is the potential threat posed by lone-wolf or lone-actor terrorists. CONTEST specifically singles them out as a “significant” threat, and the potential menace seemed to crystallize in the form of Anders Behring Breivik’s attack on Oslo, Norway. In a methodically planned attack in late July, Breivik pulled the trigger on a plan he had been cogitating for nine years. In the ensuing chaos 69 people were shot to death at a summer camp and another eight killed in a bombing outside government offices during a lone-wolf terrorist attack that has made European security officials reconsider their planning for such threats. As one official put it to Homeland Security Today, the previous focus was on “monitoring groups,” and Breivik showed that such single-minded attention sometimes missed very dangerous elements.

The Breivik attack alarmed British security officials because his claims and history seemed to have strong links to Britain’s right-wing community. Born in the UK to a Norwegian diplomat, he signed his manifesto with the English-sounding name Andrew Berwick. He was reported to have attended rallies organized by the English Defense League (EDL) that formed in response to the perceived threat from Islam in the UK. While the EDL denied he was a member, and Breivik criticizes the group as naïve in his manifesto, the incident awakened people’s concerns about the right wing in the UK. As Matthew Feldman, a lecturer at the University of Northampton and a regular prosecution witness in right-wing terror cases, put it in an interview with Homeland Security Today, this nexus of lone-wolf terrorism and the right wing was particularly concerning.

“I think there is an important connection between individually undertaken acts of terrorism and links to the wider culture of intolerance on the far-right,” said Feldman. He added that understanding how lone wolves draw upon a “wider culture of intolerance” will be key to ensuring such acts do not take place elsewhere in Europe.


The overall message from the most recent raft of reports is that the menace of international terrorism to the United Kingdom is decreasing. There has not been attack planning on the scale seen previously.

At the same time a constant patter of smaller-scale terrorist threats continues to plague the UK. Irish dissidents continue to battle on, and right-wing extremists may be emboldened by the actions of Anders Behring Breivik in Oslo.

And while the August chaos shook Britons, it remains unclear whether it was anything more than a temporary eruption. The hard-line response and the speed with which political leaders on all sides used the situation to bolster their own causes did not shed any further light on what drove the chaos. While the loss of control alarmed British security officials as they prepare London for next year’s Olympics, the fact they are getting to learn the lessons a year out should mean they are better prepared for domestic threats while maintaining vigilance to foreign dangers.


The Internet Threat

The jihadist threat from the Internet continues to remain complex, acting as both a radicalizing agent but also providing terrorists with operational support beyond simply instructions on how to make bombs.

In a speech to a London think tank, Home Secretary May highlighted how groups were using tools like Google Earth, Google Street View, cloud computing and peer-to-peer networks to plot terrorist attacks. She particularly highlighted AQAP’s use of online parcel tracking to time where the devices the group planted on DHL transport planes last October were intended to explode.

At the same time, however, CONTEST specifies, “we continue to see no evidence of systematic cyberterrorism.” It points to a specific instance of an attack called the “here you have” virus that was claimed by the Tariq Bin Ziyad Brigades for Electronic Jihad as an example of a terrorist assault launched online, but the relatively low impact of the virus showed the immaturity of the threat. (Tariq Bin Ziyad was a Muslim Berber general who led the conquest of Spain in the year 711.)

The biggest menace to online counterterrorism capacity identified by CONTEST was the loss of individual operatives and experts to the private sector. Commenting to the ISC, Ian Lobhain, head of Britain’s Government Communications Head Quarters—Britain’s equivalent of the US National Security Agency—pointed out his biggest problem was losing staff because he was simply not able to compete with the private sector’s salaries.


Preventing terrorism

While recent reports on the terrorist threat to the UK do address right-wing terrorism—albeit to a lesser degree than some experts like Feldman would advise—the focus remains on Islamist radicalization. The reports highlight a number of current problems in Britain’s counterterrorism strategy, with much of the focus on its “prevent” component. The key element of discussion is the fact that “prevent’s” current broad scope has both diluted it and confused things by supporting non-violent extremists in the hope that they might be able to rein in the violent fringe.

In what has been seen as a direct repudiation of this approach, CONTEST stated, “the focus of prevent to date has been on violent extremism and terrorism. It has not explicitly considered non-violent extremism. However a significant percentage of people who engage in terrorism have previously been associated with extremist groups. Some terrorist organizations—of all kinds—also share and make use of ideas which are popularized by extremists.”

The new approach will be widened to “address radicalization to all forms of terrorism,” according to the report, while also narrowed in focus to ensure the government does “not securitize its integration work.”

It seems unclear how things have been going so far, with next to no clear monitoring of the effectiveness of more than 1,800 projects conducted under the auspices of “prevent.” Additionally, there are concerns about the Research, Information and Communications Unit (RICU), a cross-departmental unit set up in 2007 to improve the government’s capacity to broadcast “hearts and minds” messages in its counterterrorism operations. As CONTEST lays out, “RICU’s counter-narrative work has not been as successful as we want. RICU must do more to identify credible partners and to develop powerful and specific narratives across a range of communications channels, especially the Internet.”

A new piece on recent plotting in the UK for HSToday, a few editorial choices I might not have made, but the overall point was to cover a couple of recent plots in the UK. Once the book finally lands, a lot more on this topic. In the meantime, in Bucharest recently for the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, a local news outlet wrote a piece on a presentation I gave for those who can read Romanian (or any of the romance languages).

Britain’s Jihadist Networks

10/11/2011 (11:34am)

Western jihadism may have suffered a serious blow with the deaths of Anwar Al Awlaki and Samir Khan, but the war in the United Kingdom to counter terrorist networks continues. In the week prior to Awlaki’s reported death in Yemen, an operation against a group of seven Birmingham natives resulted in serious charges leveled against them as part of an alleged Pakistani-connected plot to carry out a terrorist operation in the UK.

In addition, charges were brought against a pair of German converts to jihad who had attempted to enter the UK to connect with radicals there who were intercepted at the border with copies of articles from Awlaki and Khan’s Inspire magazine.

The separate arrests were made following intelligence-led operations that disclosed not only the degree in which British security services are in close contact with their counterparts around the world, but their vigilance in identifying potential terrorist networks at home. In both cases, links abroad showed how the UK remains a hub of radical activity in Europe.

The arrests in Birmingham appear to have come after a long-term operation by a local counterterrorism unit and MI5 to pinpoint a cell of individuals they believe were providing support for terrorist networks in Pakistan and planning a “bombing campaign.”

The arrested men are between 20 and 32 years old, and their names indicate they are Pakistani natives. In the immediate aftermath of the arrests, the police said only that the men were part of a “large operation” that was “Al Qaeda inspired” and was the most “significant” counter-terrorism operation so far this year.

Since then, charges have been filed that reveal a network with links to Pakistan that involved a “suicide bombing campaign/event.” According to court documents, since last December 25, two of the men, Irfan Nasser (30) and Irfan Khalid (26), plotted to commit “acts of terrorism within the UK or assisting another to commit such acts.”

The men allegedly travelled to Pakistan for training that “include[ed] bomb making, weapons and poison making” and professed their “intention to be[come] a suicide bomber,” according to West Midlands Police. They also allegedly made martyrdom films, planned a bombing campaign, sought to purchase chemicals and build explosives detonators, recruited others and provided advise to other wannabe jihadists on how to travel to Pakistan.

Another man, 26-year-old Ashik Ali, also is suspected of having been involved in the conspiracy and having expressed his “intention to be[come] a suicide bomber.” He does not, however, appear to have made the trip to Pakistan. His older brother, Bahader (28), was charged with fundraising and not reporting the plot to authorities. Twenty-five year-old Rahin Ahmed was charged with supporting others to go to Pakistan to train and raise funds. Mujahid Hussain (20) was charged with fundraising and failing to inform police of the alleged terrorist plot . Hussain was not initially arrested, but turned himself into police a week after the initial arrests.

Another older man, Mohammed Rizwan (32), was charged with failing to report the alleged plot to police,  as was an unnamed 22-year-old woman.

While the charges against the group are serious, unarmed officers conducted the initial raids, suggesting the police knew that the men did not possess weapons or explosives. Authorities have acknowledged that the group was under law enforcement surveillance in the run-up to the arrests.

Given previous problems that police have had in charging terrorism suspects, it’s unlikely they would have moved to arrest all the suspected terrorists unless they were certain they had evidence that would stand up in court. It’s unclear how, exactly, the links to Pakistan were identified, but reportedly they were overheard during conversations monitored by British security forces, who were able to ascertain the mens’ intentions. However, because intercepted communications cannot be used in court, it’s likely police uncovered incriminating evidence during the raids on the mens’ various properties.

Among the community in which the men lived, they reputedly were known as radicals, though no one suspected they were violent. In an interview with the Daily Telegraph, a neighbor reported that Ashik Ali was “incredibly intense and devoutly religious.”

While it’s unclear whether the men have links to Islamists previously arrested on charges of plotting attacks, numerous counter-terrorism operations have been conducted in the areas of Birmingham where the men are from.

One of the first properties searched by police was registered to a man involved with a network that sent supplies to Taliban forces in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The leader of the network, Parviz Khan, is a former football player who’d hatched a plot to kidnap and behead a British Muslim serviceman. While Khan was able to lure others into his alleged conspiracy, one, Mohammed Irfan, is alleged to have only been involved in helping manage the supply network Khan is suspected of operating.

The discovery in the same area of Birmingham of another network that allegedly was established to get people to South Asia for training and fundraising has raised concerns about Muslim radicalization in the area.

As authorities focused on the other cases involving apparent links to jihadist networks in Pakistan, a separate case was unfolding in another London court room. There, charges were leveled against a pair of alleged German jihadist converts who’d been caught trying to enter Britain at the border in Dover. According to authorities, they allegedly intended to connect with radicals already in England. The two men, Christian Emde (28) and Robert Baum (23), were intercepted during an intelligence-led operation as they attempted to enter the UK through the port at Dover.

When border security agents searched their luggage, they found a computer and a hard drive full of material that’s become indicative of radicalized Muslims, including articles from Inspire, the slick magazine published by Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). The articles were, “Destroying Buildings” and, “How to Make a Bomb in the Kitchen of Your Mom.”

Authorities also found the essay, “44 Ways to Support Jihad,” by Anwar Al Awlaki, who was AQAP’s external terrorism operations chief until he was killed in a CIA-directed drone strike in Yemen on a convey he was travelling in late last month.

The two men initially claimed they were trying to get from Brussels to Egypt, but were dissuaded by the cost of flights.

In an interview with Der Spiegel, Baum’s mother said her son had made a gradual shift towards radicalization. As a child, he reportedly sought to join the Army to serve in Afghanistan but ended up in a desk job. He apparently converted in January 2009 and ended up in a number of dead-end jobs. In October 2010, he announced his intention to go to Egypt with other Muslims to learn Arabic. It was a suspicious change in behavior that panicked his mother, who alerted authorities.

Although law enforcement paid him a visit, it didn’t appear to discourage him – he continued to operate in Salafist circles and allegedly went to hear the sermon of a radical preacher. He also continued on his trip to Egypt, returning to Germany in February 2011.

Baum’s travel partner was a man known to be active among local jihadist circles and was under surveillance by German intelligence services. At one point, police approached the imam at a mosque in Solingen, Germany where the two regularly attended, warning him that the two men might be extremists. The imam asked the men to stop attending the mosque.

What Baum and Emde were planning in the UK is unclear, but according to a German journalist, the two men were in contact with British extremists via Facebook and websites like The disclosure indicated British extremists appeal to a broader community of radicals in Europe and that the UK is a haven for hardcore, domestic radicals.

While the activities of the two Germans seems relatively low on the ladder of terrorist activity, prior to their arrests evidence allegedly indicated that they had a resolute interest in becoming involved with radicals. And when combined with the case in Birmingham, it could be construed that there’s a community of extremists living in the West Midlands who have connections to radical groups in Pakistan.

If true, it would mean the UK has been unable to eliminate its domestic terrorist threat. While the quality and quantity of the threat certainly has subsided, evidence strongly suggests it hasn’t yet gone away.

Raffaello Pantucci is an Associate Fellow at the International Center for the Study of Radicalization (ICSR) at King’s College, London. He is Homeland Security Today’s London correspondent.

A longer article in the latest HSToday, that predates the current chaos regarding a certain person who was killed in Pakistan. Looks at why terrorists remain fixated with aviation. The whole article can be found below, but those who want to read it in the magazine can find it here or at your local newsagents (if you are in the US).

Airport Security: Aiming At Aviation

Why terrorists continue to focus on planes as their number one target.

By: Raffaello Pantucci

A suicide bomber in the reception hall at Moscow’s Domodevo International, a shooter randomly targeting US servicemen as they wait for a bus outside Frankfurt International airport, parcel bombs placed upon international freight carriers heading for the United States intercepted in Dubai and the UK’s East Midlands Airport—aviation and airports have never seemed to be a higher priority target for terrorist groups.
This is not in itself a new phenomenon, but given estimated costs and disruption for each plot veering into millions of dollars and the guaranteed media attention that they bring, it seems equally clear that this is a problem that is only likely to get larger over time.

A short history of explosive flight

Terrorists have long sought out airlines as priority targets. Sept. 11, 2001, stands out as a major recent watershed, but this was merely a tactical fusion of two separate strands in terrorist targeting that had gone on before.

For groups seeking quite specific tactical aims, the idea of kidnapping aircraft laden with passengers provided a group of hostages that could be bartered for money or fellow comrades sitting in jails, all the while advancing their political cause before a global audience. Throughout the 1960s-1990s, terrorist groups of many different stripes would target aircraft, from the Japanese Red Army who in 1970 hijacked an internal Japanese flight that they redirected to North Korea, to Kashmiri extremists who in December 1999 hijacked a Kathmandu, Nepal, to Delhi flight and ended up securing the release of three fellow comrades sitting in Indian jails. The international nature of air travel meant that groups were guaranteed global media attention that would often translate into successful media operations whether or not the specific tactical aims were achieved.

This global attention and disruption was also at the heart of targeting aircraft with bombs to bring them down mid-flight. On June 22, 1985, Sikh extremists placed suitcases full of explosives on Air India flights originating from Canada. One exploded over the Atlantic Ocean near Ireland while the other went off on the ground at Tokyo’s Narita airport, both bombs killing a total of 331 people. The campaign was part of a radical Sikh campaign to seek separation for an Indian state. Three years later, a bomb placed in a suitcase on Pan Am flight 103 from London Heathrow to John F. Kennedy Airport in New York brought down that aircraft over Lockerbie, Scotland, killing all 259 on board and a further 11 on the ground. The bombing was part of a Libyan sponsored campaign that also included the bombing in September 1989 of a flight from Brazzaville, Congo, to Paris, killing 170, and the hijacking in 1986 of another Pan Am flight on the ground in Karachi, Pakistan. All these attacks were part of the shadow war between Colonel Muammar Gadaffi’s Libya and the United States.

The Sept. 11 attacks, however, brought these two deadly strands together in a manner that had not yet been seen—turning a hijacked craft into a flying bomb.

Echoes of the plot could be found earlier. In December 1994, a cell of Algerian Islamists linked to the Armed Islamic Group (known by its French acronym GIA) hijacked a flight from Algiers to Paris and, according to a French intelligence asset, intended to crash it full of fuel into the Eiffel Tower. The plotters were taken out on the ground in Marseilles by French special forces, and as a result their final intentions will never be known.

Weeks after the raid in Marseilles, police in Manila, Philippines, reported to an apartment fire and caught Pakistani national Abdul Hakim Murad in an apartment full of terrorist material. Murad later confessed to being part of a conspiracy masterminded by Ramzi Youssef to bring down about a dozen flights en route from Asia to the United States with undetectable bombs left on board the flights. The plotters had already tested out one of their devices on a Manila to Tokyo flight, killing a Japanese businessman. Youssef, who a year earlier had masterminded the 1993 attempt to topple the World Trade Center towers, was the nephew of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and continued to plot with his uncle until he was captured in Islamabad, Pakistan, in February 1995. Upon capture he was found to have US flight plans in his possession.

These dots were never connected until after September 2001. Some security planners were reported by the 9/11 Commission to have considered scenarios along the lines of 9/11 prior to the event, but no one had considered the implications of what might be required to respond.

Post-Sept. 11, however, there has been a noticeable drop off in attempts to hijack aircraft. While passengers with personal agendas or mental disorders threaten sporadic aircraft, there has not been an organized hijacking since September 2001, something that is a testament to the effectiveness of the 9/11 plotters. Having seen what can happen, it is now unlikely that a flight full of passengers will sit docilely by while they are flown to certain death.

None of this has, however, reduced the attraction of airlines and aircraft as a target for Al Qaeda. Subsequent to his arrest in March 2003, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed revealed plans to attack Heathrow airport in London either using a hijacked craft or a mortar. Three months after his successful 9/11 strike, he had dispatched Richard Reid and Saajid Badat—two British Muslims who had been directed to Al Qaeda camps in the years prior to 2001 through the network around the Finsbury Park mosque in London—with bombs in their shoes to bring down transatlantic flights. Badat backed out at the last minute with a message to his handler saying “you will have to tell Van Damme that he could be on his own,” while Reid attempted to board a flight in Paris. Showing up looking unwashed and with no baggage, he was initially turned back by security but was able on the second day to board a Paris to Miami flight.

Russian terrorism takes flight

Even in the wake of the more stringent checks placed on aircraft and passengers caused by 9/11, Al Qaeda remained fixated on airlines, a consistency also visible among terror networks in Russia that targeted aircraft both before and after 2001.

In March 2001, a team of three Chechens armed with knives and what they claimed was a bomb hijacked a flight from Istanbul to Moscow, redirecting it to Medina in Saudi Arabia where they released some of the passengers and demanded refueling, supposedly to go on to Afghanistan. Fearing a bloody resolution if the terrorists blew the plane up as they threatened, Saudi authorities decided to storm the craft, resulting in the death of a hijacker, a passenger and one of the crew. The two captured terrorists were quickly identified as Aslanbek Arsayev, a prominent Chechen who had served previously as minister for state security in Chechnya, and his brother Supian Arsayev. Both men were eventually extradited to Russia and their current whereabouts are unknown.

Subsequent to the September 2001 attacks, Russian Military Air Forces Commander in Chief General Anatoly Kornukov was quoted as saying that “it would be impossible for terrorists to hijack several aircraft simultaneously in Russia.” Showing a certitude born from previous experience when he ordered the shooting down of a South Korean passenger plane that had accidentally violated Russian airspace, Kornukov told a Russian reporter, “if I knew for a fact that there were hostages aboard the hijacked plane and the terrorists were heading straight towards the Kremlin I would report so to the defense minister and suggest he destroy the aircraft. That would be the lesser evil. And then let others judge my actions as they will.”

As it turned out, it was not hijacking on which the Chechens focused. Three years later, Chechen fighters bribed their way onto a pair of planes leaving Moscow’s Domodevo airport on internal routes. Waiting patiently until they knew both flights would be in the air, the bombers detonated their explosives at 11 p.m. on Aug. 24, 2004, bringing both craft down and killing a total of 89 people.

Posthumously identified as Satsita Dzhebirkhanova and Amanta Nagayeva, the “black widows” were identified as Chechens who had suffered family losses as a result of the war and who had been dispatched by Chechen leader Shamil Basayev as part of a campaign called “Operation Boomerang.” According to Cerwyn Moore, an expert on Russian Islamist terrorism at the University of Birmingham, UK, the entire operation was “designed to demonstrate the weakness of Russian security measures … breaching security Domodevo not only caused embarrassment for the Putin administration, it also posed a security dilemma for the Russian authorities.” And as we saw in January, it is one that they have not yet managed to resolve.

For Russians, terrorism from Chechnya and the Northern Caucasus has become something of a routine affair. Aside from the targeting of airplanes, there have been takeovers by terrorists of hospitals, schools and theaters as well as periodic bombings of everything from the Moscow subway to outdoor concerts and the grim apartment bombings of September 1999 that claimed 293 dead. The decision, however, to target the international airport’s arrivals lounge in January 2011 was, according to Moore, specifically “to send a message to both the Russian authorities but also to the outside world … that the Russian authorities’ most secure transport hubs could be attacked.” The subsequent international media coverage guaranteed that this message reached a wider audience, though it is unclear that it will have any tangible impact on the group’s aims.

Al Qaeda’s innovative wing

In August 2006, British and Pakistani forces moved in to arrest a network of plotters that they had under surveillance as part of a large-scale plot, directed by Al Qaeda’s upper echelons, to bring down as many as eight aircraft on transatlantic routes.

Coordinated using a network of British extremists, six of whom had recorded martyrdom videos, the plotters were planning on using devices ingeniously devised to pass airport security. Using highly concentrated hydrogen peroxide hidden in soft drink bottles as the main charge, hollowed out batteries filled with explosive to provide the detonator and a disposable camera light bulb as the trigger, the bombs would have been likely to pass airport security and killed thousands. According to former Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, the attack “would have rivaled 9/11 in terms of the number of deaths and in terms of the impact on the international economy,” a statement that highlights quite precisely the double-impact that terrorist groups try to achieve through attacking airplanes.

Since this point, however, the Al Qaeda core has seemingly backed away from aviation, preferring more traditional targets like bombs in city centers. The Najibullah Zazi plot in New York, the April 2009 plot in Northern England and the July 2010 plot in Oslo, Norway, all seemed to target buildings in city centers. And the rumors swirling around the global intelligence community in late 2010 were that Al Qaeda was hoping to stage a Mumbai-style attack on an unspecified European city.

Instead, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), the Yemeni affiliate connected to Yemeni-American preacher Anwar Al Awlaki, has eagerly taken up the mantle of targeting aviation. Echoing their ideological leader Osama bin Laden in their English-language Inspire magazine, they declared, “if our messages can reach you by words, then they wouldn’t have traveled by planes.”

The group was behind the attempt by Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab to bring down a flight en route from Amsterdam to Detroit in December 2009, and then just under a year later for the double-parcel bomb on airfreight craft en route to the United States.

Both attempts were directed and claimed by the group, with Anwar Al Awlaki seen as the ideological and operational leader and Ibrahim Al Asiri, a Saudi bomb maker, as the designer of the devices. Al Asiri had previously designed the bomb that his brother Abdullah had hidden in his rectal cavity and tried to use to kill Saudi security chief Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Nayef. Showing his ongoing capacity to design devices able to get past airport-style security, in December 2009 he constructed the device that Abdulmutallab carried in his underwear, first on a plane from Ghana to Amsterdam and then on to Detroit. It is also believed that he designed the devices secreted in printers that were intercepted in October 2010.

This final operation was celebrated by the group in a special November 2010 edition of Inspire in which they provided images and details of what they dubbed “Operation Hemorrhage.” Alongside claiming responsibility for the two parcel bombs hidden in printers that had been intercepted at the Dubai airport and the UK’s East Midlands airport following a tip passed on by Saudi intelligence, the group also claimed responsibility for the downing of a United Parcel Service plane that crashed in early September 2010 near the Dubai airport. The plane went down for unspecified reasons, and the group claimed responsibility, declaring that “we have succeeded in bringing down the UPS plane but because the enemy’s media did not attribute the operation to us we have remained silent so we may repeat the operation.”

Non-government academic experts, who requested anonymity, told Homeland Security Today that, more likely than not, the group was simply claiming responsibility for something it had not done. But one former British official verified the impressive technical quality of the devices that were found in Dubai and the UK. While international air cargo has long been known as a security weakness in the international supply chain, these devices were able to penetrate security and then were only identifiable to British security officials who were looking for them after they were specifically told where to look by their Emirati counterparts who had located the other device. The bombs showed a new level of technical proficiency.

How the group had achieved this seems to be a combination of human and technical intelligence, something boasted by the “Head of Foreign Operations” in Inspire magazine. In preparing for the attack he claimed that, “we have researched the various security systems employed by airports. We looked into X-ray scanners, full body scanners, sniffing dogs and other aspects of security. The resulting bomb was a device that we were confident that, with the will of Allah, it would pass through the most stringent and up-to-date security equipment.” Later in the magazine the authors highlight in detail how they sealed the device in plastic and then cleaned the bag afterwards so that the device would be undetectable.

While much of the magazine remains anonymous (or penned under what look like pseudonyms), according to Thomas Hegghammer, a prominent scholar of Al Qaeda, this article “is almost certainly written by Awlaki.” Citing a number of references typical of Awlaki’s writing and the “long-held suspicions of intelligence analysts,” Hegghammer believed that this article signaled Awlaki’s “coming out.” Significantly, it also highlighted Awlaki’s personal obsession with targeting aviation—something born out by the parcel bomb attempts and the Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab attempt, both of which he is believed to have played a key role in directing.


In a seminal 1974 article written for the RAND Corporation, “International Terrorism: A New Kind of Warfare,” ( renowned terrorism expert Brian Michael Jenkins discussed the threat of terrorism and the then-increasingly common form of international air travel.

“Jet air travel furnishes unprecedented mobility and with it the ability to strike anywhere in the world. Recent developments in news broadcasting—radio, television, communication satellites—are also a boon to publicity-seeking terrorists,” he wrote.

It is a nexus that current terrorist groups have been targeting with regularity, recognizing the publicity and chaos that disrupting air travel can cause for relatively low cost. While likely overestimating the cost of their disruptions (they claim it will “cost America and other Western countries billions of dollars in new security measures”), AQAP proudly boasted that “Operation Hemorrhage” cost the group merely $4,200—a more credible figure that highlights how cheap terrorism can be.

What is equally likely is that the groups will learn from their mistakes in targeting international travel, but also that they are likely to learn from the lessons of the two more successful attacks carried out in early 2011—the Moscow Domodevo bombing and the shooting at Frankfurt Airport.

Unlike AQAP’s efforts, these two attacks were effective in killing people and likely required a lot less planning. It is in fact likely that there will be an increase in attacks like that at Frankfurt airport—random acts of violence pursued by loners who believe they are part of an international movement—but whether they take place at airports will not be something that security planners can factor in any more than they can factor in similar attacks in other places. Heightened states of security already exist at most international hubs, and doubtless in the wake of the Frankfurt and Moscow incidents the security perimeter will be pushed out further in much the same way that a July 2007 attempt to drive a car bomb through the departures hall of Glasgow International Airport resulted in increased security at regional British airports.

But for terrorists the optimal target will continue to be aircraft in transit. The problem from a terrorist’s perspective is that a bomb at an airport is very similar to a bomb in any other public place, except the security is tighter (the exception would seem to be Russian airports where, at least in the case of the double-plane downing, individuals at the airport have been corrupted with small, on-the-spot bribes). Consequently, it can seem easier to simply deposit a device on a public transport system where security will be far less. Furthermore, it lacks the drama of an attack on an international flight.

As Brian Michael Jenkins put it in 1974, “terrorism is theater” and an airplane full of people traveling between two developed economies remains the only sure way to guarantee a large media splash, dramatic economic damage and intense attention for your cause. Given AQAP’s continuing fixation with aviation, security in the air will continue to be a major headache in the years to come.


Evil by e-mail

Further evidence of Anwar Al Awlaki’s obsession with aviation and the United States was seen in e-mails that emerged in the trial of a Bangladeshi man employed as a British Airways information technology worker who was incarcerated in February for plotting with Awlaki.

In an e-mail to the Bangladeshi in early 2010, Awlaki wrote that he “was excited by hearing your profession” and that “I pray Allah may grant us a breakthrough through you. As a starter, can you please answer these questions in as much elaboration as possible: can you please specify your role in the airline industry, how much access do you have to airports, what information do you have on the limitations and cracks in present airport security systems.”

In responding to the preacher, Karim stated he knew “two brothers, one who works in baggage handling at Heathrow and another who works in airport security. Both are good practicing brothers and sympathise towards the cause of the mujahideen.” Two men were picked up by police in Slough in the wake of Rajib Karim’s arrest, though neither was charged with anything. One was subsequently fired from his job at Heathrow.

A later note from Awlaki highlighted the preacher’s overriding desire to attack the United States using planes. “Our highest priority is to attack the US. Anything, even on a smaller scale compared to what we may do in the UK, would be our choice. So the question is: with the people you have is it possible to get a package or a person with a package on board a flight heading to the US?”

Two weeks after this e-mail was received in February 2010, Karim was arrested at his desk at a British Airways office in Newcastle. Awlaki went on to plan “Operation Hemorrhage” and clearly found other ways to gather information about airport security. Showing how this might have taken place, in late 2010 British intelligence officials released a story to the media that highlighted their belief that terrorist networks were “periodically testing” security at some of Britain’s regional airports. Images were released to the Guardian newspaper that appeared to show improvised explosive devices as seen through airport X-ray machines.

My contribution to the post-Inquest analysis into the July 7 bombing in London, this time for HSToday (looking back, I have been covering this lot since May 2008). This focuses on the training camps element, the group of older radicals around which the group was congregating in Northern England – detail on which has emerged during the Coroner’s Inquest. Lots of interesting information to come out during the hearings, all of which is complicating my book as it has added a whole new wealth of stuff I need to include. More on that soon!

The Missing Links In Britain’s 2005 Bombings

By: Raffaello Pantucci

04/21/2011 (12:00am)

Poring through the mountain of information that’s been published in the wake of British Coroner Lady Justice Hallett’s inquest into the July 7, 2005 bombings in London, many surprising new pieces of the plot puzzle have been revealed. One particularly interesting piece offers insights that US counterterrorism and law enforcement authorities might want to learn from.

It seems that the Islamist community out of which the July 7 team of terrorists emerged drew their inspiration from a group of older radicals who’d fought in jihadist battlefields abroad. This disclosure highlighted the risk that’s posed by older jihadists in radicalizing new generations of fighters, and serves as an important lesson for the United States with regard to leaping to conclusions that condemn entire communities of Muslims.

These plots tend to emerge from particular networks – focusing attention on them is the most productive way to counter terrorism at home.

According to newly published information from Britain’s domestic intelligence agency, MI5, and the West Yorkshire Police, July 7 bomber Mohammed Siddique Khan first appeared on counterterrorists’ radar in 2001 during an investigation codenamed Operation Warlock. This was an investigation that had been launched to try to piece together what, exactly, was going on and who was present at an outward-bound terrorist training camp under surveillance in Britain’s rural Lake District.

Khan was photographed as one of the participants, though it was only years later that authorities identified him. One of the trails of evidence that initiated investigation of the jihadist training camp was the activity of an individual named Martin “Abdullah” McDaid, who is a convert to Islam who’d claimed to be a former member of Special Forces. He was one of the organizers of the terrorist training camp, and according to newly released information, he’d been on MI5’s radar since 1998.

Based on intelligence, the West Yorkshire Police identified McDaid and fellow convert, James McClintock, a 44-year-old father of four from Dundee who’d converted to Islam in his 20s and changed his name to Yaqub Mohammed, was apprehended in Afghanistan in Dec. 2001 on suspicion of being a foreign fighter. Dubbed the “Tartan Taliban,” he was released a month later after repeatedly claiming he had no ties to terrorist organizations. He returned to the UK.

McLintock also was detained in Manchester in 2003, but was released without charge. He again was apprehended in early 2009 in Peshawar, Pakistan.

Based on recently released information, McClintock reputedly had achieved a high status among local Muslim communities in Northern England for his involvement in the Afghan war against the Soviets, and later during the conflict in Bosnia.

Fellow Muslim convert, Dr. Rasjid Skinner, a consulting psychologist at Bradford hospital,  told the Times that McClintock’s “reputation preceded him. He was a decent chap and something of a Boys’ Own hero. He was known to have fought the Russians in Afghanistan.”

According to McClintock, he was on his way to Pakistan to meet a friend when he met young Saudi’s on their way to jihad in Afghanistan who persuaded him to join them.

Less is known about McDaid, but one former radical Homeland Security Today interviewed said he recalled meeting McDaid at the Central Mosque in Leeds and found him to be a hard-line salafi-jihadist.

According to a former senior police source, both McDaid and McClintock were figures of interest based on their travel patterns and connections, but that there was never any evidence obtained that would hold up in court. Nevertheless, McDaid’s activities in helping run training camps reputedly was of such concern to one counterterrorist official that in 2002 they leaked the information about him to the Times – though nothing ever came of the tip.

A third organizer was a local Pakistani-Briton named Tafazal Mohammed, also known as “Tafs.” Additionally, there was a reference to a mysterious convert named Max Gillespie, or Abdul Rahman. Both were suspected of not only running the training camps, but having established a series of bookstores in Beeston out which they are suspected of having assisted in running study groups and carrying out respectable social work among the community and developing protest materials for dissemination.

Also part of this web of connections was Mohammed Siddique Khan and his friends, all of whom are reputed to have sought to do more with their lives than the limiting parameters they found in the world around them in an impoverished Leeds suburb. Khan and one of his fellow bombers went so far as to become trustees at one of the bookshops established by Mohammed and Gillespie, though by the time of the bombing they’d moved on.

From the springboard of the network that these men cast, the young radicals moved up the chain to connect with networks in London already in direct contact with Al Qaeda in Pakistan. They were able to go on at least three or four separate trips to Pakistan to train.

While it’s unclear whether it was McDaid, McClintock or “Tafs” who provided the men with the connections, it’s known that a key Al Qaeda facilitator in Luton, a city on London’s outskirts, had called telephone numbers connected to Khan from one of the bookstores that the men had established. This mysterious link to Al Qaeda seems to have been the person who sent Khan and a fellow aspiring jihadist on a “fact finding” mission to Afghanistan in 2003 to supposedly discover the truth of what was happening in the war.

But the real point in all of this is the fact that not only was Khan on the radar of security services as part of another Al Qaeda linked cell that was trying to plot an  attack, but he was part of a community that was motivated by a group of older radicals with field experience.

This is an all-important detail when considering how to cast a net of suspicion over communities in the manner that Rep. Peter King did during his recent hearings on radicalization in US Muslim communities. The truth is it is a very small and focused portion of Muslim communities that are involved in radical activities. Focusing on them should be the purpose of counterterrorism efforts, rather than the catch-all approach that seems to be favored by King.

A new piece for HSToday, covering some of the ground I already touched upon with my earlier piece on Rajib Karim,but now going into greater detail about Awlaki’s clear obsession with flights to America. One detail I should clarify, the way the piece reads, it looks like I said that it was the voice message Awlaki sent Rajib and his brother that got security forces switched onto them. I do not know this for certain, though this certainly seems one of the earlier pieces of communication between Awlaki and the Karim to have been released. In fact, it seems likely that he was on radars for a while before this.

Britain Convicts Awlaki Acolyte Targeting US Bound Planes

By: Raffaello Pantucci

03/08/2011 (12:00am)

Last week a court in London convicted Rajib Karim, a 31-year-old Bangladeshi national in the UK working for British Airways of plotting with the Yemeni-American Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) leader, Anwar Al Awlaki, to attack flights bound for the United States.

According to information released during Karim’s trial, Karim exchanged emails with Awlaki in Yemen thinking through ways attacks could be carried out. The target for Awlaki remains America. In an email exchange with Karim, he is alleged to have stated “our highest priority is to attack the US.”

The prosecution asserted that Karim is “committed to an extreme jihadist and religious cause” and was “determined to seek martyrdom.”

Karim denied he got a job with the airline so that he could plan a terror attack, and maintained that “Islam teaches that you can’t target civilians.”

Karim’s conviction is clear evidence of a third attempt by Awlaki to attack aircraft bound for America. In the first known case, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, a young London-educated Nigerian, hid an explosive in his underwear and boarded a flight from Ghana through Amsterdam to Detroit. He was overwhelmed before the explosive he carried could fully detonate and currently is in American custody awaiting trial.

A year later, a second attempt came in the form of a set of parcel bombs that originated in Yemen bound for targets in the US. Acting on information from a Saudi informant, one of the bombs was intercepted in Dubai and the other at East Midlands Airport in the UK. In a subsequent “special” edition of Inspire, the publication produced by AQAP, the group claimed credit for the attempted bombings, which it dubbed “Operation Hemorrhage.”

In the case of Karim, it is less clear exactly what Awlaki was planning, but emails between the two men disclosed a series of possibilities. An IT worker at British Airways at time of arrest, Karim moved to the UK in 2006 when he immigrated with his wife and child seeking medical aid for the child. The child got better, and while the move seems genuine enough, Karim by this point was a radicalized individual providing funding and logistical support for the Bangladeshi jihadist group, Jamaat al Mujahedeen.

Meanwhile, Karim’s younger brother, Tehzeeb, spent his time attempting to connect with jihadists in other parts of the world and ended up traveling to Yemen where he connected with Awlaki.

Having made contact with Awlaki using a path that went through the same language school in Sanaa as the one used by Abdulmutallab, Tehzeeb boasted to Awlaki about his brother who worked at British Airways in the UK. This immediately piqued Awlaki’s interest and the Al Qaeda spiritual leader contacted Karim to hear more about his position and how he could help him with his plotting to attack America.

Karim told Awlaki of knowing “two brothers, one who works in baggage handling at Heathrow, and another who works in airport security. Both are good practicing brothers and sympathize towards the cause of the mujahedeen.”

Several other men also were arrested in the initial sweep after Karim’s arrest, but nothing came of the possible charges against them. One was fired from his position at British Airways.

At another point during the plotting when it was announced that British Airways staff were going to go on strike, Karim suggested (and was encouraged) by Awlaki to sign up to act as replacement staff. But he was rejected on the basis that he had worked for the firm for less than five years.

Clearly seeing the potential of the Bangladeshi brothers, Awlaki paid special attention to them, and at one point even sent them a special voice message confirming that rumors of his death were untrue. It is likely that this communication tipped off intelligence agencies to Karim.

When initially arrested, Karim was calm, according to police sources, who suspect that his coolness stemmed from his belief that the security programs he had installed on his computer would keep his secrets hidden from investigators. Coupled with his cover as an IT worker for British Airways and a public persona co-workers described as “mild mannered, well-educated and respectful.”

Karim believed himself a perfect sleeper jihadist.

Police nevertheless were able to crack his encryption codes and methods of hiding information and uncovered a treasure trove of documents and information regarding his communications with Awlaki and his jihadist brother. They were able to piece together his plotting and his growing desire to leave the United Kingdom to conduct jihad.

Karim wrote on January 29, 2010″ “Without anything happening and also not being able to have any concrete plans to do anything here, my iman [faith] was getting affected. I started feeling like a real munafiq [hypocrite]. It has been three years that I have been living here away from the company of good brothers and spending a good part of my working day with the kuffar [infidels] … that’s why I desperately wanted to make hijrah [journey to fight jihad].”

For Awlaki, clearly, the preference would have been for Karim to attempt an attack in the West. And given Karim’s connections and position, it is easy to see how close he came.


My latest for HSToday, though a bit belatedly posted. A quick overview of the debate about a shift in counter-terrorism policy in the UK.

By Raffaello Pantucci

02/25/2011 (12:00am)
Nine months on the job, British Prime Minister David Cameron’s government finally announced its long awaited review of its counterterrorism policy. He used a keynote speech at the annual Munich Security Conference to advance the ideas that underpin the government’s renewed direction for combating international terrorism.


Cameron said the problem Britain faces “cannot be ignored or contained,” but rather must be confronted “with confidence” by way of addressing “the issues of identity that sustain it by standing for a much broader and generous vision of citizenship in our countries.”

The Prime Minister’s bold language masked a long-standing internal debate in the UK about how to confront the threat of international terrorism within the kingdom.

Cameron’s address was the culmination of a series of policy announcements on counterterrorism that started with a discussion in Parliament on January 20 that focused on the prickly issue of detention without charge.

Under the old system, police could detain a person for up to 28 days without charging him of anything while authorities attempted to assemble a case against the person.

Every seven days the individual would be brought before a judge who would adjudicate on their continued detention, but the principle was that in increasingly complex cases, police would need more time to dig through the reams of documents and data that police were turning up in the process of their terrorism investigations.

Not only was this process controversial, but both ruling parties had complained loudly about it.

Announcing its cessation of the policy and a return to previous legislation that gave police only 14 days, Minister for Immigration, Damien Green, said “since July 2007, no one has been held for longer than 14 days, despite many terrorists arrested since then … I can announce that the Government will not be seeking to extend the order allowing the maximum 28-day limit.”

A week later, Home Secretary Theresa May, delivered a more comprehensive announcement to the House on the government’s counterterrorism policy.

May highlighted that, in addition to the change in pre-charge detention, the government also was changing the policies on control orders to focus on surveillance rather than house arrest. It also was going to give the new policy a two-year shelf life; restricting use of stop and search powers to instances when there is an immediate threat; and to stop councils from using surveillance techniques without first clearing them with a magistrate.

Contentious issues like the further proscription of groups like Hizb ut Tahrir, the use of phone intercepts in court and further defining what can be constituted as terrorism or promotion of terrorism, were, in the end, not concluded. Further analysis of these issues apparently is required.

While he was in Munich, Cameron announced that “under the doctrine of state multiculturalism, we have encouraged different cultures to live separate lives … we’ve failed to provide a vision of a society.”

The policy that had allowed non-violent extremists to flourish and to receive public funds had failed and, “instead of ignoring this extremist ideology,” the government now must “confront it, in all its forms,” Cameron stated.

Calling for the rebirth of a British identity, the Prime Minister said, “instead of encouraging people to live apart, we need a clear sense of shared national identity that is open to everyone.”

Cameron’s speech awakened a heated debate in the British commentariat, where, on one hand, individuals like Douglas Murray, a prominent rightwing commentator and director of the Center for Social Cohesion, spoke of “Europe’s mainstream party leaders” finally “realizing what others have long noticed: Multiculturalism has been the more pernicious and divisive policy pursued by Western governments since World War II.”

On the other hand, Dr. Nafeez Mossadeq Ahmed, a professor at the University of Sussex and a skeptic of the government’s counterterrorism policy, decried the speech.

“By blaming ‘state multiculturalism’, Cameron is … missing the point,” Ahmed said. The real issue, he continued, is deepening inequalities, something that will “deepen under coalition cuts” and “an interventionist foreign policy that has been heavily disfigured under the influence of short-sighted (and self-interested) US geostrategy.”

In a radio interview following the speech, the assistant secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain said, “again, it just seems the Muslim community is very much in the spotlight, being treated as part of the problem as opposed to part of the solution.”

The opposing views provide a snapshot of the tense debate that’s taking place in the UK regarding its shift in counterterrorism policy. In the midst of the Prime Minister’s announcement, Lord Carlile of Berriew Q.C., the outgoing head of Parliament’s Independent Review of certain Terrorism Legislation, issued his final report on control orders. The report concluded that the cumulative effect of Britain’s counterterrorism legislative architecture is “to make the UK a safe haven for some individuals whose determination is to damage the UK and its citizens.”

While the government dismissed this as emotive language, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, leader of the Liberal Democrats who had vigorously campaigned against a wide range of counter-terrorism policies, was obliged to defend himself against accusations of having completely reversed his position on a number of counterterrorism issues.

The cumulative effect of the counterterrorism review is going to be hard to measure in any practical way. Already some entities that were previously receiving funding for counterterrorism under the banner of preventing violent extremism, have announced that their funding will be cut.

Meanwhile, other issues are being sidestepped. For example, the ongoing inability of Britain to deport individuals wanted on terrorism charges to the US is not addressed in the review.

In the weeks prior to the recent varied announcements about changes to UK counterterrorism policies, a British judge announced it would be permissible for Abid Naseer – a Pakistani accused of having been involved with the network that allegedly supported Najibullah Zazi, the Afghan-American who pled guilty to trying to carry out a suicide bombing on New York’s subway – to be deported to the US to face charges.

But there is no evidence that this has actually happened, or is going to happen anytime soon.

So, while Cameron has finally laid out his markers on how he plans to counter terrorism in the UK going forward, and while there is a clear rhetorical shift, it still is unclear that there’s been much practical change.

A slightly belated article on the recent events in Moscow for HSToday (belated in that there are now hints it has been figured out who the culprits are). There should be a longer interview I have done with Ces that should appear soon (and of course, thanks for taking the time to talk to me about it!).

Culprits Behind Latest Moscow Bombings Still A Mystery

By: Raff Pantucci

02/04/2011 (12:00am)

The New Year started with a deadly explosion in Moscow. Terrorists detonated a powerful bomb inside Moscow’s Domodevo international airport, killing 35 persons and injuring more than one hundred. Moscow had barely dodged an earlier attack on revelers in Red Square on the night of December 31.

News of the earlier failed attack emerged in the wake of the investigation into the bombing at the Domodevo airport. According to Russian media that quoted intelligence sources, the attackers were gathered in a rented house in Kuzminki Park where they were assembling an explosive device that they reportedly intended to explode at Red Square.

But the bomb detonated prematurely, when the cell phone that was to be used as the trigger was left turned on and received a text message from the phone company, setting off the bomb. The explosion killed the bomber and destroyed the safe house they were using. Two or three other suspected bombers were seen fleeing the scene who are believed to have been responsible for the later bombing at Domodevo airport.

Russian authorities have been tight lipped about sharing information on the plotters involved in the airport attack. In a particularly blunt statement, a spokesman for the National Anti-Terrorism Committee (NAK) said “the investigation is ongoing, and only the [investigators] can say what’s what. Everyone else needs to shut up.”

That pronouncement though had not stopped speculation that the bombers had ties to the North Caucasus and Islamist fighters from Chechnya or neighboring Dagestan.

In an attempt to allay speculation, Prime Minister Vladmir Putin said “this terrorist act, according to preliminary data, has no relation to the Chechen Republic.” Putin’s statement, however, increasingly has been contradicted by reports that individuals from the region were behind the bombing. According to Russian terrorism expert, Cerwyn Moore of the University of Birmingham, the most likely culprits were Islamists in the North Caucasus led by Dokku Umarov, who “has vowed to launch attacks in Russian cities.”

According to Moore, it was not necessarily the case that this was a plot that was centrally directed. “It may well be that this attack is only loosely linked to the core of the insurgency – many attacks in the past were launched almost as independent operations – under the framework of a loose network of affiliates.”

The affiliate that’s under suspicion is a group called Nogaisky Jamaat near Dagestan, a neighboring province of Chechnya. A number of suspects were leaked that support this speculation. An ethnic Russian convert named, Vitaly Razdobudko, from Stavropol near where Nogaisky Jamaat is from, are being sought in connection with the plots, and reports suggested that the woman who was blown up prematurely was the widow of Temerlan Gadzhiyev, a dead leader of the group.

Whoever proves to be culpable, it is unlikely that this is going to be the last such attack in Russia. In 2004, two female suicide bombers who’d bribed their way onto planes from Domodevo brought both aircraft down, killing 88. It was a particularly grim year that started with a suicide bombing in the Moscow underground in February which killed 39, and ended in September with the Beslan school massacre, which killed 331. The carnage has continued regularly since then, with two more female suicide bombers blowing themselves up in Moscow’s underground last March, killing 40.

Among the speculation about outside terrorist connections, one report from Pakistani stated that Russian agents had been in contact with sister services in Pakistan in connection with the incident. The suspicion is that some of the individuals might have trained in Waziristan – a development that is supported by media interviews of European radicals regarding Chechens who were at training camps in Pakistan.

The decision to target the international arrivals area at Domodevo airport would suggest that the group responsible for the bombing there intended to send a message beyond Russia. However, the lack of a claim for responsibility would seem to contradict this theory and denote that the bombers’ key constituency is on the home front. As Moore put it, “the fact that the violence has continued, in varying degrees of intensity for nearly twenty years, indicates that the movements in the region have a social base – and is largely indigenous.”

The underlying problem that has kept violence brewing for almost two decades has not dissipated, and it is uncertain that the response to the latest attack is going to do anything to bring these issues to a close.