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Tuesday, January 29, 2008 

Getting to the bottom of the beheading plot.

The one disadvantage of the four men who formed the alleged "Birmingham beheading plot" being caught so bang to rights that they've pleaded guilty is that it's unlikely we're now going to learn in anywhere near in full just how far their plans went, and what links, if any, they had with other jihadists overseas.

For those who might have forgotten, the very day after the first arrests, the Daily Mail screamed "AL QAEDA WAS BEHIND PLOT TO BEHEAD SOLDIER". The Sun and Times, as per usual, were at the forefront of the speculation, with the Times claiming that the men arrested may have had a list of up to 25 possible targets, and that two of the men had attended a camp "directly linked to al-Qaida". One newspaper even claimed that two Muslim soldiers had been used as "bait", something that the police later made clear was completely untrue. Indeed, West Midlands police were so angered by the leaks to the press that they made it clear they had hampered their investigation, although it took another two months for Peter Clarke to make a speech saying the leaks might have put "lives at risk" for the Tories and Lib Dems to ask any questions whatsoever.

Although it's still very early days, none of the evidence disclosed today has even suggested that the men had found a target. Rather, Parviz Khan, the apparent ringleader, whose house had been bugged by MI5, was recorded talking of using drug dealers to target a soldier by getting them to approach him and offer cocaine, then grab him off the street once they'd piqued his interest. Why drug dealers would have cooperated with Khan isn't explained, or indeed how they would have managed to so successfully follow their target so as to get close enough to grab him also isn't identified. Basiru Gassama, who pleaded guilty to knowing about the plot but not informing the authorities, was according to the prosecution to have provided the details of the target, but never did. The only solid thing appears to be that they planned to behead a soldier, record it, and most likely distribute it through jihadist forums.

As for links to al-Qaida, Khan has also admitted to supplying equipment such as night-vision goggles, sleeping bags, walkie-talkies and waterproof map holders to his "terrorist contacts" in Pakistan. Whether this was intended for use in Afghanistan by the remnants of the Taliban and the others still fighting there is uncertain, although what use some of the material would have for use in the part of Pakistan affected by the earthquake there is certainly unclear.

Rather, what the opening of the trial appears to show is the continuation of a theme: that instead of having cast-iron links with terrorist groups overseas that are controlling the cells, the groups that have had their plots foiled up to now have almost all been acting entirely alone, coming up with their own ideas, often either overblown and too difficult to pull off, or incompetent, in the case of last year's failed attacks on the London nightclub and Glasgow airport. While it's reassuring somewhat that they're either pretentious or immature, what is more troubling is that they're home-grown, autonomous and fully acquainted with classic terror tactics. The beheading plot was nothing more in reality than a murder plot, but its political subtext would have been overwhelming.

Again, it shows the terror threat is real, but that it continues to be exaggerated for short-term political gain. Refusing to give in to demands for extending either the detention limit further or for a return to Musharraf's supposed plan for tackling radicalisation continue to be justified by the failures and weaknesses of the plots foiled, not to mention the civil liberties implications or the chilling effects on the Muslim community itself.

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FWIW your blog is on my 'must read' list, which shows I have a lot of time for your point of view on most issues. However I have a serious issue with a statement in this post:

"Again, it shows the terror threat is real but ..... "

Really? You don't seriously believe that do you? Do you really believe it gets anywhere close to the co-ordinated, organised, highly motivated 20+ year IRA campaign for example? Statistically, you have a vastly greater chance of winning a lottery jackpot in any one week than being the victim of a so called 'Terrorist'. Similarly, 25,000+ deaths on our roads so far this century against how many alleged terrorist deaths?

The entire foreign policy edifice of the Western 'Alliance', under the tutelage of the USA, is made possible and sustained by the alleged gravity of this so-called 'terrorist threat'; similarly so with accelerating surveillance/Police State type domestic legislation . Without it, our involvment in both Afganistan and Iraq would not be possible. So, the plain fact is that, if the bungling stupid domestic criminal elements that 'hate the West for 'what it is doing to fellow Muslims' (arguably with ample reason) cannot bring off some really scary 'terrorist attacks' by themselves, why then, our erstwhile security services and their Agents Provocateurs will just have to goad them in their plotting before miraculously saving us all from a fate worse than death.

Have a look at this: The Fear Factory
and this: Truth or Terrorism

and tell me things are not much the same here in the UK

It makes me feel good to read you every day. Sanity.

Sabretache: There's a lot of truth in what you say, but I think one of the biggest mistakes the left made prior to 7/7 was that we somehow imagined either that this wasn't going to happen here and the threat had been completely overhyped (it was and continues to be, it's true) or that if it did it would be a direct response to our foreign policy.

There's no possible way that you can link this beheading plot to foreign policy. This was, quite simply, based on hatred and fanaticism, not out of any real political gain it would have achieved, but purely to cause fear to the armed forces and especially to any Muslims thinking of joining.

The difference with the IRA is that the IRA always had identifiable and some would say quite legitimate political aims, even if they went about achieving them by planting bombs. Just what did Pervaiz Khan want other than to slaughter a fellow man because he was in the army? What most of the takfirist jihadists are after, quite apart from just our withdrawal from "Muslim lands" is to establish a caliphate and drag everyone back with them to a barbaric, halcyon age that never really existed. Although they'll never achieve the above, in the meantime they'll slaughter innocents and pretend that somehow Islam provides a justification for it. We should always be prepared to negotiate with such groups, but just what is there to agree upon with al-Qaida for instance?

In that sense, the terrorist threat certainly is real and will continue to be with us for sometime. The real key is tackling it without resorting to draconian measures or dropping bombs on foreign countries. It does pale into insignificance with road deaths, but you can't compare accidents to premeditated attempts to murder as many people as possible, regardless of religion, creed, colour or sexuality.

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