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Thursday, July 01, 2010 

The demise of al-Qaida in Britain.


At the end of a little noticed trial last week, the leader of al-Qaida in Britain was jailed for five years. If you're somewhat surprised that there was next to no media coverage dedicated to this most important of breakthroughs against takfirist jihadist terrorism in the UK, then there's a simple explanation. Al-Qaida in Britain only existed in the mind or minds of Ishaq Kanmi and a couple of his friends.

To call Kanmi, or as he grandly styled himself in his forum posts which brought him to the attention of the wider world, Umar Rabie al-Khalaila, a fantasist would be an insult to those Walter Mittys who manage to keep their delusions to themselves. It also pays them a compliment they don't deserve to compare them to the fictional group of jihadis in Chris Morris's Four Lions, where it hopefully isn't a spoiler to say that they at least succeed, whether intentionally or not, in blowing themselves up.

There is however no getting away from the resemblance Kanmi and his friends had to Morris's merry band of martyrdom seekers. When he wasn't posting on jihadist web forums, Kanmi and buddies were calling themselves the "Blackburn Resistance", filming themselves firing starter pistols in someone's back garden, taking photographs which show them handling what look like Airsoft rifles, and that all important terrorist in training mainstay, crawling about in wooded undergrowth while wearing camouflage gear. The key difference is that in Four Lions the stupidity of the characters doesn't undermine their ability to actually carry out attacks, having managed to at least make contact with some senior leaders out in Pakistan, even if their trip out there ends in miserable failure and ignominy.

In the case of Kanmi and friends, they decided that they didn't need any actual links with al-Qaida members or those of a similar bent; they could just say that they were and people would sit up and take notice. Styling himself as Umar Rabie al-Khalaila, Kanmi posted the news about the formation of this latest franchise of the al-Qaida brand on the alekhlaas.net jihadist forum, at the time the largest of its kind (it has since disappeared like many other formerly important similar sites). The message was posted in Arabic, but whether it was Googlish Arabic or not is unclear. What it did do was suggest that the group aimed to kill both Tony Blair and Gordon Brown for the crimes both had committed in Iraq and Afghanistan, and urged like-minded individuals to join them, at least unless their conditions (getting out of the aforementioned countries, the release of Abu Qutada, etc) were met. How these recruits to the cause were meant to do so other than by messaging the poster of the original thread is unclear. In any case, the message was swiftly deleted by the admins on alekhlass, and that, might have been that.

Instead, as you might have expected, the security services seem to have been watching, or were otherwise swiftly alerted to these upstarts threatening the lives of our glorious leaders now past. The news that al-Qaida in Britain had been "formed" was leaked or otherwise handed to the media on Wednesday the 16th of January 2008, the message having been posted to alekhlass on the 2nd. This led inevitably to a huge amount of speculation, most of it utter rot. Despite the fact the message had been posted in the open section of the forum rather than where the real propaganda from al-Qaida and other groups was usually hosted, and had been deleted almost immediately, some of the similarly fantastically inclined ignored these slight problems with the major story and went wild with it. Admittedly, threatening to kill the prime minister is always going to be taken extremely seriously, regardless of the provenance of the group or individual doing so, yet it was clear as anything that this was the work of those with little idea of what they were letting themselves in for, as I, ahem, pointed out at the time.

Not that it seems Kanmi was regarded as a high priority; he wasn't arrested until the following August, when he and one of his fellow "lions" were boarding a plane to Finland. Despite his status as emir of al-Qaida in Britain, Kanmi also wasn't exactly concerned of how and where he accessed jihadist material: the police recorded him doing just that in the central library in Blackburn. Exactly what their plans were in Finland is unclear, yet it seems in this case that their leaving the country was not to be permitted; unlike say, Rangzieb Ahmed, whom the police and MI5 allowed to fly to Pakistan, where they then urged the police to arrest him, and where he was subsequently mistreated.

As in all the cases involving wannabe jihadists, it's difficult to know just how dangerous they really were and whether they wouldn't perhaps have grown out of their youthful radicalism. They certainly weren't found with anything even approaching material that could have been used in explosives, although Abbas Iqbal, whom Kanmi was to travel to Finland with, was convicted of preparing for acts of terrorism, but considering the sentence passed was for a massive whole year, how serious his potential offence would have been is equally unclear. As Rusty Shackleford on the anti-jihadist website The Jawa Report says, having been involved in the prosecution of Kanmi, they were "at least potentially dangerous". The same can be said of almost anything or anyone; the only really damning thing that can be said of Kanmi is that he was in contact with another person whom when arrested was discovered with 72 litres of petrol in his cellar and the usual array of explosive documentation and videos.

Far more instructive were the comments of the judge, Mr Justice Mackay, who said the "mere assertion" that a serious terrorist group had been set up, even if it was bogus, would have caused alarm to the public and was intended to do so. Except, of course, the public would never have known if the news hadn't been supplied to the media, or indeed have been anything near as concerned if it was made clear that this group was all in the mind of a few non-entities up in Blackburn playing at being holy warriors, as it looked from the very beginning. The sentences then passed were fairly appropriate. The difficulty, as always, is in sorting the hangers-on and blowhards from those who are genuinely a danger to the public, such is their belief and allegiance to takfirist jihadist ideology. Calling yourself Umar Rabie al-Khalila in the comfort of your own bedroom and claiming to have met Osama bin Laden and currently be fighting in Iraq when you've never been south of Watford Gap really ought to give the game away.

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"Blackburn Resistance" sounds like a 70s football hooligan lot...

The video is comedy gold.

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