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Monday, October 21, 2013 

Coming over here, bombing our mosques...

Back in the febrile environment of the days after the failed 21/7 attacks of 2005, the Daily Express ran a headline which has stayed lodged in my memory.  "BOMBERS ARE ALL SPONGEING (sic) ASYLUM SEEKERS" it screamed, while underneath the legend ran: "Britain gave them refuge and now all they want to do is repay us with death".  Quite apart from how the Express decided to prejudge the trial of the men, it was just about as inflammatory a statement on a 21st century front page as can be imagined.  Not long after, with the rest of the tabloids also in full panic mode, Tony Blair declared that the "rules of the game are changing", and the tone was set for the next five years of foiled plots, parliamentary battles and repeated fearmongering.

Tomorrow, I can't help but suspect the Express won't be splashing on the conviction of Pavlo Lapshyn, who pleaded guilty today to the murder of Mohammed Saleem, as well as conspiracy to cause explosions, having planted bombs outside 3 mosques.  Lapshyn had been here in the UK for just 5 days before he stabbed Saleem to death, out of what he told police was a purely racist motivation.  He was caught only thanks to old fashioned detective work, albeit using modern technology, as officers identified him using CCTV footage, then took his picture round local businesses, until he was finally identified as the work experience student recently arrived from Ukraine, living in a flat at the back of the software firm he had won a placement with.  Inside they found further unfinished devices, making clear that had he not been apprehended, Lapshyn's one man campaign against Muslims would have continued, and possibly resulted in further fatalities.

That no one was injured or killed by his bombs was by luck rather than judgement.  Each device had been more powerful than the one before, and it was only due to prayers starting later at the Tipton mosque during Ramadan that the congregation hadn't been caught in the blast.  Packed with nails and other shrapnel, it made clear the bomber's intentions were deadly serious.  Coming in the aftermath of the murder of Drummer Lee Rigby, the police have found no evidence Lapshyn was acting out of a sense of vengeance, or that he had any interest in far-right politics in this country.  It seems, simply, that his hatred for non-whites had reached such a peak that he wanted, like others before him, to foment racial conflict.  His move to England gave him the opportunity to act on his beliefs.

There was comment at the time, including from the police themselves, about the apparent lack of interest from the wider media in the series of attacks.  West Midlands' deputy chief constable David Thompson pondered whether there would have been more coverage of their appeals for information if it had been another faith being targeted during their main festival season.  One suspects that rather than it being purely down to attitudes towards Muslims, the biggest contributing factor was the attacks had all taken place outside London, such is the bias towards the capital when it comes down to it, both in terms of interest (amongst journalists themselves) and resources.  It should also be noted however that both the Daily Mail and Telegraph felt the need to question the claims of Tell Mama, a charity that measures attacks on Muslims, after it reported a large increase in such incidents after the murder of Lee Rigby, including on mosques.  Lovely as it would be to think that we've reached a point where every potential terrorist incident isn't reacted to by the entirety of the media descending on an area for a week, on this occasion it was more down to a combination of indifference, the scale of what had happened, and where it had took place.

Thankfully, the lack of wide coverage was probably beneficial.  Almost no one knew who Lapshyn was, and the very few who did failed to recognise him due to the poor quality of the initial CCTV footage released.  Had he been aware there was a massive search on for him, he may well have attempted to leave the country; instead, he felt safe enough to carry on as he had done since he arrived.  What we didn't know previously was despite politicians keeping an extremely low profile during the search, the home secretary had been suitably exercised to contact the West Midlands force, while MI5 was also involved.

As much as the case gives pause for thought over the the way all involved approached it, as well as how it has since been reacted to, it also reinforces a few things we already knew.  First, and regardless of where the perpetrator is from, far-right terrorism remains a threat, and it's one which the media has repeatedly ignored or minimised, whereas it has willfully exaggerated that from jihadists, impugning the Muslim community in the process.  Secondly, just as those who become Islamic extremists tend to sup from the same sources, so too do those on the far-right: the Turner Diaries is the far less intellectually stimulating version of a lecture from Anwar al-Awlaki, let alone Sayid Qutb's Milestones.  Lastly, it further suggests that the threat from "self-starters", regardless of their ideology, is increasing, while that from major, large cell, easier to foil plotters continues to decrease.  The security services and police can't stop those who don't share their plans or aren't loose with their tongues.  Tempora and Prism aren't useless, but the privacy trade-offs when they might be fighting yesterday's battles are far too great.  Some recognition that Muslims are just as much targets as everyone else wouldn't go amiss either.

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